In 2010, a report by Swedish telecommunications company Ericsson made a bold claim, stating that the doubling of broadband speeds could add up to 0.3% to a country's GDP. At the time, establishing the relationship between connectivity and economic growth was still a novelty. Today, the link between economic growth, economic empowerment and access to the internet is considered common knowledge. It was therefore no surprise that last month's World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa adopted Connecting Africa's Resources through Digital Transformation as its theme. Moreover, the event was hosted by Rwanda, whose government is seeking to make information and communications technology a cornerstone of its economy.
More than 1,200 participants from over 70 countries gathered in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, from 11th to 13th May to discuss the concept of the technology driven Fourth Industrial Revolution--a notion originated by the Forum's founder Klaus Schwab--and how Africa can take advantage of it. The Rwandan government's strategy of focusing on ICT illustrates the potential to develop a new kind of development model on the continent, breaking with a historical reliance commodity exports, whether copper and iron ore, oil and gas, or flowers and fruit. The country has achieved average economic growth of 7.5% over the past 15 years, reflecting its emergence as one of the continent's more exciting economies.
Rwanda's President Paul Kagame called for "a continent free of pity and apprehension, a place of opportunity and partnership" that "should not be still playing catch-up when the fifth revolution comes around". Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina, the president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), went further, arguing that Africa had no choice but to be ambitious in embracing the ICT revolution. Delegates did concede, however, that access to technology was not the solution in itself but a tool for tackling the continent's various challenges, and for promoting Africa's human capital.
Internet For All
One WEF project that fits in with the Rwandan model is the Internet For All initiative, which aims to help provide internet access to some of the 4bn people around the world that are still not connected. According to available data, the internet penetration rate across Africa is 28.6%, well below the global average of 46.4%. The first public-private programme will target the Northern Corridor countries of Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan and Uganda. It hopes to give...