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Imperative of Science and Technology in Accelerating African and Rwandan Development

Imperative of Science and Technology in Accelerating African and Rwandan Development

This video was recorded at MIT World Series: Karl Taylor Compton Lecture Series. 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."

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