New African Union Chairman Paul Kagame Is Good For Africa’s Tech Ambitions

Written by Peter Pedroncelli

Rwandan president Paul Kagame, once dubbed “The Digital President,” became the new chairman of the African Union (AU) this week in a move that’s expected to elevate the relevance of an institution not exactly valued by all Africans.

The tech-savvy Rwandan leader is now set to guide a panel of 55 African heads of state on issues relating to African integration.

For years, Kagame has been calling for African governments to drive greater digital adoption and innovation, saying they need to collaborate on solutions for unlocking Africa’s full potential.

Kagame took over the chairmanship from Guinea president Alpha Conde at the A.U. Summit’s assembly of heads of state and government at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, NewVision reported.

The African Union “has long been seen as a club of mostly corrupt, inept and power-hungry men with nothing to offer Africa other than presiding over the collapse of their economies,” according to an editorial in the Ugandan publication, the Observer. However Kagame “managed to capture the African people’s imagination with an electrifying speech at the African Union.”

In his acceptance speech, Kagame said that African nations need to create a single continental market, integrate their infrastructure and revitalize their economies through technology, AllAfrica reported.

Kagame announced the launch of the Single African Air Transport Market, which is designed to lower the cost of air transport in Africa. He also promoted the Continental Free Trade Area, which aims to make intra-Africa trade easier, and said he hopes it can be adopted this year.

“By committing to break these barriers, we will send a tremendous signal in Africa and beyond that it is no longer business as usual,” Kagame said.

Rwanda has become Africa’s tech development star in recent years.

The Rwandan president is known as an advocate for the benefits that a technology-reliant country can provide to its people. Under Kagame’s watch, Rwanda has implemented technology programs, built successful tech partnerships with the private sector and created an environment where innovation can thrive.

Kagame’s government has invested more than $100 million in a 2,796-mile fiber network in an effort to become an information and communication technology services economy, according to ITNewsAfrica.

The country continues to role out 4G internet, and a successful One Laptop Per Child school program is the envy of many education systems.

Rwanda is partnering with U.S. company Zipline to pioneer the use of drones to deliver blood and other medical supplies to rural areas, Rwandan publication New Times reported.

Rwanda ranked first for government success in promoting information and communication technology in a Global IT Report by the World Economic Forum, according to Mail&Guardian.

Kagame is also the chairman of Smart Africa, an organization that aims to provide leadership in accelerating socio-economic development through information and communication technologies.

public transport Wi-Fi
Paul Kagame is the new chairman of the African Union. Image – AP – Ronald Zak

Kagame’s tech focus amplified through African Union

As chairman of the African Union, Kagame will be well placed to influence and establish policies and frameworks which will enhance the role technology plays across the continent, while encouraging African Union members to embrace technology and its transformative nature.

A big part of Kagame’s mandate during a one-year term at the helm of the continental union will include emphasizing the role that technology can play in boosting economies, creating jobs and addressing challenges throughout Africa.

A refugee during the Rwandan genocide, Kagame spent 30 years living in Uganda. He returned to Rwanda in 1990 and became president in 2000. He has remained in office beyond the two-term limit mandated in the Rwandan constitution — a cause for concern and criticism in Rwanda and beyond.

Kagame has been dubbed the digital president by International Telecommunications Union.

“His leadership has guided African development overall, and promoted the ICT sector as a dynamic industry as well as an enabler for Africa’s socio-economic transformation,” ITU News reported.

Kagame is a tech addict, a tweep — a Twitter person — and social media analysts say he is Africa’s most conversational president, according to KTPress Rwanda. In 2014, Kagame had a bigger following on Twitter than any other African leader.

“(By) placing information and communications technology (ICT) at the core of our transformation agenda we can make sure that Africa is never again left behind,” Kagame told a gathering of 2500-plus delegates from 81 countries at the Transform Africa Summit in Kigali in 2015.

Kagame has promoted technology as an enabler of empowerment for women, AFKInsider reported in 2015. “Everyone is responsible for integrating ICT into the work of their institutions,” he said. “Technology is not just about gadgets, but results on the ground that benefit citizens. It can transform the lives of people who may have never touched a smartphone.”

In his African Union acceptance speech, Kagame addressed the controversial issue of funding for the Ethiopia-based organization. He said it’s a shame that more than 50 years after inception, the African Union needs a donation from China to build its own headquarters. The A.U. predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was established in 1963.

African Union member countries have approved a levy on imports and the proceeds will enable the A.U. to fund its own activities and programs moving forward, Kagame said.

Moguldom editor Dana Sanchez contributed to this report.