All roads converged to Kigali on Wednesday 10th May, 2017 for the third edition of the audacious “Transform Africa Summit”.  The annual summit, which was born in Kigali, is hosted by the President of Rwanda and Chairman of the Smart Africa Board- H.E. Paul Kagame and is attended by several dignitaries including: Heads of State, Government and Intergovernmental Organizations, First ladies, Mayors of African Cities and ICT industry leaders, innovators and investors. The third conference was guided by the theme “Smart Cities Fast Forward” and explored ways to ‘harness the unlimited possibilities of digital technology’ to support more ‘inclusive, resilient and sustainable cities in Africa’ in the face of rapid urbanization and population growth. This year, the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) was represented at this strategic gathering by its Engagement Officer- Natasha Kassami.

The summit opened with remarks from the Executive Director of Smart Africa- Dr. Hamadoun Toure who welcomed delegates to Kigali and to the conference before sharing on the “Smart Africa Alliance” which was comprised of 17 member states at the time of his address but saw new members join by the end of the summit. ‘The only way we can move is if African countries work together as one’, he shared before talking directly to the youth in the room, ‘the leaders of the African continent believe in you and your potential to innovate’ he added. His welcome remarks were followed by speeches from the African Union Commissioner (AUC) for Infrastructure and Energy- H.E. Dr. Amani Abou-Zeid, the ITU Secretary-General- H.E. Houlin Zhao, the Minister of Youth and ICT, Rwanda- Hon. John Philbert Nsengimana and the President of Rwanda himself- H.E. Paul Kagame who all took time to address the relevance of the theme and the need to further build a ‘conducive environment for innovation and ICT’. While addressing the delegates, Hon. Nsengimana also unveiled the “Africa Smart Cities Blueprint”-  a framework that aims to serve as a catalyst to fast-track ICT-driven initiatives in cities across Africa. He shared some of the successes of Kigali which included the establishment of a smart public transport system, the use of drones to deliver emergency medical supplies, among others. H.E. Kagame notably mentioned during his address that ‘to get the cities we want, we must always keep the people we serve at the center of our efforts.” His foresight and leadership on the Transform Africa movement left many inspired, challenged and prepared to participate in the lineup of activities at the summit.

This high-level opening session was followed by an enriching conversation on “Harnessing the Potential of Smart Cities for Africa” with heads from UN Women, UNESCO, Econet, Carnegie Mellon University and the Ministry of Telecom and Mass Communications, Russian Federation. The discussion highlighted many key issues including the digital gender gap, challenges in access, affordability and developing a conducive environment for entrepreneurs. “There will always be tension because entrepreneurs want to move quickly while policy makers want to take a more conservative, slowed approach,” Strive Masiyiwa (Executive Chairman of Econet) shared while responding to a question on policy recommendations for creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. Other panellists highlighted the ‘role of higher education institutions in establishing smart cities’ giving the example of Carnegie Mellon University’s (Pittsburgh) research in creating driverless cars in partnership with Uber.

There were close to 27 engaging parallel sessions and pitching events that took place over the three days of the summit including sessions on “Building the Innovation ecosystem for the Sustainable Development and Growth in Africa” and “Transforming Government for Successful Smart Cities”. The final day of the summit gave the floor to several accomplished and formidable women in government, UN and private sector to address the gender divide. It was opened by remarks from the Rwandan Minister of Gender and Family Promotion who further addressed the need for ‘governments to put in place systematic measures to bridge gender divide so that women and girls become competitive in technology.’ She shared about the ‘Smart Africa Women’s Declaration’ which drew focus on 3 main principles:

  • To increase access and affordability of digital devices
  • To increase participation of girls in STEM
  • To increase digital literacy in girls

Other keynote addresses on the final day were delivered by the Executive Director of UN Women, the Vice President of Zambia- H.E. Inonge Wina and the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda- H.E. Jeanette Kagame. The final day also saw the crowning of 2017 “Ms Geek Africa”, a competition aimed at encouraging girls to solve the problems of the continent using technology. Over 100 ideas were submitted for the competition, the top 17 from each of the transform Africa member states presented their ideas during the TAS in the presence of the First Lady of the Republic of Rwanda. Of these Ruth Njeri Waiganjo a fourth year Computer Science studentfrom Nairobi Kenya emerged as the winner with her solution to profile matatu (taxi) drivers and by so doing improve road safety. She walked away with a cash prize of Rwf 3,000,000 (~USD 3,500) to further develop her idea.

In concluding, the Executive Director of Smart Africa- Dr. Hamadoun Toure shared some of the highlights of the Transform Africa Summit. These included:

  • The launch of the “Smart City Master Plan”
  • The endorsement of the “Africa Smart Women and Girls Declaration” to bridge the digital gender divide
  • The African Mayors of Smart Cities convening
  • The crowing of the 2017 Ms. Geek Africa
  • The investment of <40,000USD in start-ups
  • The attendance of the summit by Heads of State from Mali, Niger, Togo, Sao Tome to mention but a few
  • The joining of new member states to the Smart Africa Alliance
  • 50 exhibitors (28 corporate, 22 start-ups, 19 sponsors) exhibited their products at the summit
  • The coverage of the event by 200 journalists

Dr. Hamadoun offered thanks to the Head of State and other delegates. ‘I feel smarter, refreshed, recharged and ready to close those deals, implement MOUs that have resulted from this conference,’ the Rwandan Minister of Youth and ICT mentioned before bidding the delegates farewell.

We at the ResilientAfrica Network were privileged and benefitted greatly from these discussions towards building a Transformative and Smart Africa. We reiterate the words of H.E. the President of Niger during his closing remarks, “long live Africa and long live collaboration.