President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has advocated for the advancement of an African single digital market which he said ought to be viewed as a facilitator of economic integration.
President Kagame was speaking at the Transform Africa Economic Forum, a side event of the Transform Africa Summit 2018.
The forum came out of a proposal made last year by President Kagame and Zimbabwe-born businessman, Strive Masiyiwa.
Mr. Masiyiwa is the founder and executive chairman of Econet, a global telecommunication company.
This was suggested with the intention to create a conversation between government and private sector leaders on leveraging the power of technology to drive the continent’s development agenda.
Mr. Kagame said that integrating the continent’s digital technologies will among other things have positive impact on countries’ development as well as business climate.
He cited an example of the telecommunications sector which he said could reduce costs and improve efficiency through integration.
Currently, due to lack of integration, telephones calls between African countries are often routed through Europe or Asia.
“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.
“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 posed.
The President said that despite not being technologically advanced like other economies, Africa’s best chance lies in 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.
The desired change he said involves 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.
President Kagame, who is also the African Union Chair, said that the citizens and private sector members are ready to embrace the new trend and are well aware of the benefits.
“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,” the Rwanda leaders said.
The president said at the same time, it was important to main the implementation of initiatives such as the recently signed African Continental Free Trade Area as it serves to provide practical 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 (AfCFTA) 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,” President Kagame said.
“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 (AfCFTA),” he added.
Speaking at the summit, Mr. 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 the 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,” Mr. Toure said.