Tribune : How Rwanda can leverage the Fourth Industrial Revolution to strengthen post-COVID-19 resilience
Rwanda has long placed technology and innovation at the heart of efforts to boost the country’s economic development. COVID-19 has highlighted the urgent need to develop digital capacities that can build more resilient systems for a healthier society. Africa’s entrepreneurial young generation are well placed to harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create equitable opportunities for all.
By Paula Ingabire
Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda
For the last 28 years, Rwanda has deliberately explored every avenue available to deliver national transformation through economic growth. Technology and innovation have been at the heart of our transformation. We expect this to become an even greater driver of our economic development in the coming years.
With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the rapid innovations witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic, there is an increased urgency to develop digital and technological capacities to build more resilient systems for a healthier society and more sustainable economy. This is as true in Africa and the developing world as it is anywhere.
COVID-19 has revealed the true potential of digital technology. The status quo has been overhauled, a process that we previously thought might take 30 years, and in many places come about seemingly overnight.
The vision of a truly interconnected, borderless world now seems an imminent reality, rather than a distant dream. In the face of these rapid advances, our growing reliance on technology has been brought sharply into focus. With this, the need to rapidly increase Africa’s capacity to innovate is obvious.
Regulatory frameworks need to innovate rapidly
While major investments from public, private and institutional investors are needed across the continent to galvanize this innovation – there is also another key area in which urgent action is needed.
Policy and regulatory frameworks must innovate rapidly, in response to the global disruptions we have witnessed in recent years.
Globally, one of the most significant hurdles countries have faced has been the inability and lack of agility to respond to the pace of technological advancement with policy and regulation that strikes the appropriate balance between benefits and risks.
African governments have struggled as much as any others in this respect. Yet this disruption has created a genuine opportunity for our continent. In this rapidly evolving context of technology governance, Africa can gain a significant competitive advantage.
Africa has a young generation of innovators
Home to the world’s most youthful population, Africa is producing a generation of future innovators, entrepreneurs, and government leaders who have grown up surrounded by technology.
Many young Africans have been surrounded by cutting-edge technology since childhood: they may have only conducted financial transactions using their mobile phones, and know drones as the primary delivery mechanism for blood and medical supplies.
This young generation will not be bound by legacy infrastructure or, more importantly, legacy mindsets, which often hinder our ability to think outside the box.
Rwanda recognizes these opportunities, as well as the opportunity offered by regulatory innovation to unlock the potential of this generation.
Rwanda launches technology centre
Today, we are launching our Centre for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, in partnership with the World Economic Forum.
The vision of this centre is to shape the trajectory of Rwanda’s digital transformation through progressive technology governance that is agile and human-centred, in order to respond to the most pressing challenges for us as a country and for the broader benefit of Africa.
As we work to create more intelligent, connected, and resilient societies, the centre has prioritized data governance as a foundational enabler for growth.
Landmark legislation on data privacy
Last October, Rwanda passed its landmark legislation on the Protection of Personal Data and Privacy, an essential step in developing an innovation-driven economy that preserves the trust and privacy of its citizens.
Furthermore, we recognize the importance of cross-border data flows and harmonizing Africa’s data governance landscape to fully maximize the economic and social benefits of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and in the broader context of the global data economy.
We know this will be a crucial pillar to the development of our region in this new digital age.
AI vital to technological revolution
Beyond creating the right conditions for the strategic and responsible use of data, we have identified artificial intelligence (AI) as one of the most consequential technologies of our time.
We are developing a national AI policy agenda with the ambition of advancing Africa’s innovation capacity and uniquely positioning it to develop AI systems that are ethical and inclusive by design.
One such example is a recent pilot on the responsible use of an AI-enabled triage service, which examined critical issues such as safety, accountability, and transparency – issues that can vastly differ in severity depending on the demography and cultural context.
Africa has competitive advantage
The time has come for Africa to put itself at the very centre of a new technological revolution.
Our continent has a unique competitive advantage which stems from an undeniably entrepreneurial spirit that is built-in to our young generations – that is an ability to innovate out of necessity.
Through focused investment and policymaking, we can harness this spirit to solve problems that address underserved communities who make up the majority of the world’s population.
Let us harness the Fourth Industrial Revolution to create more equitable opportunities for all of humanity to live, learn and prosper.