Speaking yesterday at the Transform Africa Economic Forum, Rwanda Presdent, Paul Kagame advocated for the advancement of a single digital market for Africa, that ought to be viewed as, quote, “a facilitator of economic integration.”
The economic forum was the 2017 brain child of President Kagame and Zimbabwe-born businessman, Strive Masiyiwa, the founder and executive chairman of global telecommunication, Econet. The main objective of the forum is to initiate conversation between the government and leaders in the private sector, on how best to leverage the abilities of technology to drive Africa’S development agenda.
Kagame pointed out that integrating the Africa’S digital technologies will have a positive impact on the business climate and in extension, the countries’s development. Citing the telecommunications setor as an example of sectors that cut costs and improve efficiency through integration. Telephone calls between African countries are often routed through Europe and Asia before being received, which keeps costs very high and discourages regular intracontinental communication.
“I’m sure people here know it very well, better than I, how even when we are communicating the traffic follows the same route as the planes, where the traffic has to first be channeled outside Africa and then channeled back to us,” Kagame explained, “What are you integrating, if you don’t include this? Why don’t we have that happening without having to pay for a visa for the traffic to first go out of Africa and then receive it back?”
Kagame added that in spite of Africa not being at parr with more advanced countires, with regards to technology, its best shot lies within cooperation. “We still have a long way to go but nevertheless regional cooperation on technology has produced good results to some extent on our continent in recent years. Other urgent integration projects have languished on the African agenda, sometimes for decades. We surely can find ways of speeding that up,” he said.
He says that the desired change will involve creating conversations through platforms such as the Transform Africa Summit, to foster technology cooperation. “Behind it there has to be political will in real terms. I think business leaders need that political will as well because it comes with the thinking and what you connect with in the interest of our continent and our people,” he said.
Kagame also happens to be the African Union Chair. He went on to say that citizens and private sector members are aware of the benefits ad are ready to embrace the new trend. “Our people especially our youth have to eagerly embrace the digital economy and expect to play a full part in it. Innovation is also anchored in the private sector in terms of both research and distribution of products and services,” Kagame said.
The president insists that it is also important to maintain implementation of initaives such as the African Continental Free Trade, which work to provide practical working examples to regional cooperation. “At the same time, let’s build on that momentum to stay on course with implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area which will unlock tremendous opportunities for our region and our world. It has helped simply by providing practical confirmation of the truth that we have everything to gain from working together and also therefore being more connected,” Kagame said, adding that, “Examples of successful regional integration such as Smart Africa’s focus on One Africa Network have helped lay the groundwork for even more ambitious projects such as the African Continental Free Trade Area.”
Also speaking at the summit, Masiyiwa said that promoting integration in its various aspects across the continent would drive prosperity in the continent. “We want free trade in Africa. But who trades? Business people. It’s time for our people to start trading freely across the continent as Citizens of the continent. This is why we need free movement of goods, people, services and capital,” he said.
Dr. Hamadoun Toure the Executive Director of Smart Africa said that integration efforts such as signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) was a positive step forward in proving that borders are no longer much of a factor in development. “Borders do not matter anymore, Africa has opened doors to its people to do business freely. This is the spirit that ought to drive the continent,” Toure said.