11.05.2017 - ODG

Soft Power for Smart Cities in Kigali


Smart Cities will be built through investing in people, affirmed UNESCO’s Director-General Irina Bokova at the opening plenary of the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali, Rwanda, on 10 May 2017, in the presence of President Paul Kagame and leaders from government, business and international organizations.

“Whatever technology we may have, if we don’t invest in empowering people through education and skills, in promoting creativity and diversity, we will not succeed in driving innovation and building knowledge-based societies,” she said.

The Summit, in its third edition, aims to build a knowledge-based continent through leveraging ICTs.  “With half of humanity living in cities, it is imperative for Africa to prepare for this projected expansion,” said Dr Hamadoun Touré, Executive Director of Smart Africa.  “By promoting technology in cities in Africa, we can accelerate social and economic development in our continent.”

Setting the Summit into context, President Paul Kagame stated that “Africa has fastest growing cities but even so remains the least urbanized continent. Africa is not as prosperous as it should be because our cities are too small and disconnected. This situation is changing rapidly as Africa looks to emerge as one of the planet’s centres of growth, innovation and opportunity in the generations ahead. Digital technologies must be leveraged and put into the hands of citizens to build inclusive and sustainable places to live.”

He emphasized the importance of partnerships with the private sector and bridging divides, a recurrent theme through the session. “We must deliver on technology promise to bridge rather than deepen divides – this begins with the gender digital divide. So long as women and girls are lagging behind we are not on the right track,” said President Kagame. The summit will also highlight the crucial role of women and girls in Africa’s digital transformation agenda, during a special session in which UNESCO will participate.

Recalling the multifaceted nature of SDG 11 on making cities inclusive, resilient, safe and sustainable, Ms Bokova drew attention to UNESCO’s emphasis on the role of culture and creative industries. “You cannot have inclusive cities without culture in the broadest sens, a driver for job creation and social cohesion.”

As cities expand and become increasingly diverse, she also stressed that connectivity must be matched by local content in mother tongue that children can access from the earliest age to quality higher education, referring to UNESCO’s work to encourage mobility through the Addis Convention for the Mutual Recognition of Diplomas and the promotion of open and distance learning.

Commending President Kagame for his role in championing digital inclusion, including through the Broadband Commission, Ms Bokova stated that Rwanda demonstrated political leadership and vision, a clear strategy and plan, and strong partnerships, the three critical components to drive inclusive growth. 

During a private meeting with the Director-General, President Kagame said that UNESCO’s partnership in the Broadband Commission had been instrumental in the development of the Transform Africa Summit, and expressed appreciation for the scope of the Organization’s cooperation with Rwanda.

Mr Houlin Zhao, Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union recalled that 75% of the African population still lacks access to Internet, while the gender divide remains high. “ICTs and smart cities must provide opportunities for all  if we are to realize full potential of innovation, we need to work together to build trust and security to transform Africa,” he said.

The Summit began with a Youth Forum on “Smart Health Opportunities in Africa” during which youth innovators presented digital initiatives to improve sexual and reproductive health. These include mobile applications, a TV show, a storytelling programme, and a platform to access reliable medically approved information. “Our duty is to empower youth with life-saving information and at the same time to help them take the front seat to curb health issues affecting our communities,” said the First Lady of Rwanda, Ms Jeannette Kagame, chair of the Imbuto Foundation, founded in 2001.

“Our ultimate renewable energy is human ingenuity,” said the Director-General. “Investing in young people, in their talent is the key to building Smart Africa,” said Ms Bokova at the event.

Mr Jean-Philibert Nsengimana, Minister of Youth and ICT of Rwanda, officially launched the Africa Smart City Blueprint, a comprehensive guide to build livable, workable and sustainable cities, encompassing attention to challenges such as governance, safety, water management, transport, housing, health, education and sustainable environments.

The Summit included the participation by the President Faure Gnassingbé of Togo, Prime Minister Emmanuel Issoze-Ngondet of Gabon, Prime Minister Patrice Trovoada of Sao Tomé, as well as the Vice President of Zambia.

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