While movie fans around the world are preparing for the premiere of the Hollywood film Black Panther, which is centered on the challenges faced by an isolated African technocracy, hundreds of technology leaders gathered in the capital of Rwanda to discuss a blueprint for future development across the Continent.
On Valentine’s Day, representatives from 29 nations gathered at the Kigali Marriott to declare their love for African technology. The Africa Tech Summit is a meeting of the minds; attendees hail from the worlds of business, technology, governance, humanitarian relief, education, science, art, and entertainment. It should be noted that while this is the third edition of this summit, it is the first on African soil since the two previous conferences took place in London. The Rwandan Ministry of Youth and Information Technology accepted the challenge of organizing and hosting the summit this year, and the results have been very encouraging.
A technology conference can take place anywhere; in fact, one of the reasons the Africa Tech Summit was previously hosted in London is because this used to be the financial capital of the world—at least before Brexit. The time to host this conference on the Continent was long overdue, and Kigali was certainly the right choice; tech officials made sure that visitors arriving at the Kigali International Airport were greeted by an infomercial explaining that Rwanda currently enjoys nationwide 4G coverage, which in the near future will be upgraded to Long Term Evolution networks. This is the type of promise that tech investors need to see and experience.
Just like with any high-profile technology conference, strategic attendance by Facebook was expected in Kigali. The social networking giant has already invested $24 million in Andela, a Nigerian tech incubator that teaches software development and seeks internal talent to come up with viable solutions to improve the lives of young Africans. Regional Facebook representative Proud Dzambukira underscored the need for significant investments towards science, technology, engineering, and math education in the Continent over the next 10 years.
The strong investments made into IT infrastructure by the Rwandan government are already paying off. The country is rapidly growing its rate of internet adoption, which is still at a very low 22 percent in the Continent. Granted, Rwanda has somewhat gambled on this investment since the government still needs to look after the education, health and agriculture sectors of the country; nonetheless, a speaker from the pan-African Ecobank started off the summit by encouraging investors to take a chance on disruptive technologies that can contribute to overall tech literacy and development.
Many of the initial panel discussions in Kigali were centered on potential investment opportunities. Venture capital investors from Australia, China, Germany, Russia, and the United States were among the participants in these discussions. Lectures and workshops on Day 1 were delivered by representatives from Oracle, iFlix, Dalberg, Liquid Telecom, Yego, Trine, and many more. One of the most elucidating comments of the conference was delivered by the IBM representative, who urged developers to listen to people who have problems in Africa; the idea is to always focus on using tech to provide solutions.
In the end, the Africa Tech Summit Kigali will certainly be remembered as a solid step towards encouraging greater tech entrepreneurship across the Continent.