SMART Africa: A Tool to Propel Africa’s ICT Agenda Forward

March 2nd 2016 | By Charity Kabango
News Upto

Information and communication technologies are just as essential for modern society and economic development as electricity and water networks. Yet, despite recent high growth, the percentage of the population using internet in Africa is still low. In Kenya, this percentage stands at 36.7, in Uganda at 16.9, in Burundi at 1.39 and 9.17 in Rwanda. This compared to 89.9 and 86.75 in the United Kingdom and the United States respectively.

SMART Africa has made a commitment to advance Africa’s ICT led socio economic development. The recent concluded Transform Africa Summit in Kigali is an indication of this commitment. SMART Africa has been able to bring together leaders from the private sector, public sectors, development partners and civil society from across the world. It is this high level buy-in that makes SMART Africa uniquely equipped to push this agenda forward.

The last Transform Africa Summit was held nearly two years ago. During this Summit, on October 29th 2013 Heads of State and Government endorsed the SMART Africa Manifesto. The 2013 Transform Africa Summit brought together 7 heads of State and governments, the ITU, the AU Commission, 44 ministers from 11 countries and over 2,000 participants representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, regional, continental and international Financial Development Institutions adopted the SMART Africa Manifesto.

This year’s Summit was equally impressive. It was a chance to reflect on the challenges and the gains made in the sector across Africa. Whether it was how to address the gender divide, how to ensure Africa has the right skills in place or how to engage the private sector, the summit was the platform for dialogue around these important questions. The participants to the Summit also committed to raise $300 billion investments in ICT in Africa over the next 3 years.

It was also a chance to showcase the progress that SMART Africa has made over the last two years. This includes the recruitment of the Secretariat’s first Executive Director Dr Hamadoun Toure. The secretariat will be stationed in Kigali Rwanda and will be responsible for driving SMART Africa’s ambitious agenda.

Among the priority initiatives of the secretariat is the establishment of the SMART Africa Scholarship fund. SMART Africa has already raised over $800,000 USD to deploy in order to train up and equip Africa’s future ICT professionals. During the 2015 Transform Africa Summit, 7 students from the Carnegie Mellon University Rwanda and a number of students from ESMT Dakar were awarded full scholarships by the SMART Africa Scholarship fund in order to pursue their graduate studies in ICT related subjects.

What can’t be measured are the many conversations and synergies that happened along side the Summit. Young talent engaging with the private sector around professional opportunities, ICT entrepreneurs engaging with private sector and public sector leaders, young people discussing the innovative solutions that will shape our future in Africa, and angel investors taking stakes in a number of start -ups initiated by young entrepreneurs. These conversations will certainly ripple in the weeks and months to come.

This article was initially published on aKoma