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Imperative of Science and Technology in Accelerating African and Rwandan Development

09/18/2008 3:30 PM Kresge
H.E. Paul Kagame, President, Republic of Rwanda

Description: The news these days from Africa isn't all bad. In fact, in some places, it's downright hopeful, as Rwandan President Paul Kagame attests. "Our continent is no longer all about violence and disease and human disasters that scarred many African countries in recent decades," says Kagame. "We are now becoming a continent of opportunities."

There are those who doubted Rwanda could "constitute a viable state," says Kagame, but 14 years after bloody genocide and civil war, his country has managed an astonishing revival -- enough "stability and resilience to allow the economy to grow at an average 7% annually in the past several years." Other African nations have been expanding at the same pace; oil producers are zooming along at even faster clips. Kagame attributes this recovery to such factors as the "leapfrogging power of mobile technology," where hundreds of millions of new cell phone users, even in remote areas without electricity, drive the growth of new business. And the number of internet subscribers in Africa is growing more than three times as fast as the rest of the world, says Kagame.

Cell phones and the internet allow Rwandan and other micro entrepreneurs to develop business networks. Kagame describes how technology helped a Kigali bakery expand beyond its neighborhood to reach more customers and suppliers, enabling workers to move into larger homes. In Kenya, Kagame recounts, a new agricultural commodity exchange "has reduced barriers between farmers, traders and consumers," with the internet and cell phone text messages providing timely market information. This network has improved the incomes of farm families by 25%, leading to better healthcare and education. Rwanda's power utility is also reaping the benefits of technology, keeping track of customers and accounts more efficiently, and no longer relying on government handouts.

But while technology has enabled Africans "to leapfrog some features of underdevelopment," Kagame says it is not enough. "Our vision of becoming a middle income country by 2020 requires thinking and acting inventively, boldly and creatively." Kagame wants to build a foundation not just in technology but in science. Doing this requires a heavy investment in all levels of education. "Without a knowledge base," he says, "Africa's imperative for agricultural and industrial development to create wealth will remain unrealized." He calls for members of the MIT community to join "in overcoming our challenges and turning them into rewarding opportunities."

About the Speaker(s): Paul Kagameis also the leader of the guerrilla Rwandan Patriotic Front, whose invasion of Rwanda is cited as the primary reason that the Rwandan Genocide ended. Born a Tutsi, Kagame and his family moved to a Ugandan refugee camp to escape the violence of the 1959 revolt sparked by the Belgian military and carried out by the Hutu population. Political instability and tribal conflict fueled the ethnic persecution that would take place for decades.

Kagame helped launch a five"year liberation war in neighboring Uganda in 1980. He served as a senior officer in the Ugandan army between 1986 and 1990, during which time he received training as a distinguished ally in the US Army's Command and General Staff College. In October 1990, Kagame returned to Rwanda after 30 years in exile to lead the Rwandan Patriotic Army in the struggle for the liberation of Rwanda.

On July 19, 1994, he was appointed vice president and minister for defense in the Government of National Unity. In 1998, he was elected chairman of the Rwandan Patriotic Front, a partner in the Government of National Unity. On April 17, 2000, Kagame was unanimously elected president of the Republic of Rwanda by the Transitional National Assembly. He took the oath of office on April 22, 2000.

Kagame has received a number of awards for his efforts to bring stability and peace to Rwanda, including the 2003 Global Leadership Award by the Young Presidents' Organization, the Andrew Young Medal, the Information and Communications Technologies Africa Award, the African National Achievement Award, the African Gender Award, and several honorary doctorates. He also received international recognition for outlawing the death penalty in Rwanda in 2007.

Host(s): Office of the President, Office of the President

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MIT World — special events and lectures

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