President Paul Kagame says Rwanda has already reaped the benefits of using drones in the health and infrastructure sectors –a sign that other African countries can adopt and use drone technology for socio-economic development.
The Head of State made the observation on Wednesday at the opening of the very first Africa Drone Forum (ADF) in Kigali, which is supported by World Bank, DfID and other partners.
“Rwanda is committed to fostering innovation and entrepreneurship, as a key pillar for transforming our country and our continent, both socially and economically,” President Kagame said.
“We are already seeing some of the benefits, not to mention the even bigger potential that lies ahead. The use of drones to deliver life-saving blood products and vaccines to remote health centres, is already a reality in Rwanda, through our partnership with Zipline,” he added.
He also revealed that a Rwandan company, Charis UAS, is using drone technology for crop monitoring and mapping, to support the productivity of Rwandan farmers.
While rooting for the use of drones, President Kagame also said that another application which is already in use in Rwanda involves the inspection of power transmission lines from the air, to help make the electricity grid more reliable.
“There is also a pilot project to test the effectiveness of drones for mosquito spraying,” he said, adding that “there is so much that can be done with this technology. The African Drone Forum therefore comes at the right time,”
In a bid for African countries to fully adopt the use of drones in development, President Kagame said that there is a need for countries to put in place policies and regulations that promote innovation rather than slow it down.
Restrictions on the usage of drones for security reasons in some African countries has been blamed for the slow adaptation of drone technology.
“Our experience in this sector has been that the priorities of safety, security, and innovation can all be effectively catered for, within the regulatory framework,” President Kagame said, allaying any fears of security threats.
Kagame also urged for the continued investment in physical infrastructure and human capital, to go hand-in-hand with the adoption of drone technology.
He pointed out that beyond limiting themselves to using drones, African countries can also design and manufacture drones on the continent, as demonstrated by examples at the forum.
In doing so, African manufacturers can come up with drones whose technology is tailored to the specific needs of the continent while creating new industries that generate employment and prosperity.
While adopting drone technology, President Kagame said that cross-border cooperation is essential, pointing to the drone flying competition that preceded the forum in the Western Province District of Karongi.
He said the flying competition illustrated how much there is to gain, by fostering regional cooperation in the sector.
“I trust that the 5th East African Community Aviation Symposium, taking place later this month, will bring us closer to regional harmonisation in terms of policy and regulation,” he pointed out.
He said that the African Drone Forum is about turning challenges into opportunities and create a mindset that says that it is all possible.
According to the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport Claver Gatate, the forum brought together over 800 delegates, including aviation leaders, experts in unmanned aircrafts, manufacturers, regulators and science and technology students from across the country, region and world.
“The forum provides an environment for technology demonstrations and discussions of how to create an enabling regulatory and policy ecosystem to unleash the social and economic benefits of drone technology while maintaining public safety,”
He said among other things, discussions will centre on how African countries can unlock lower skies and make drones the future of food and medical deliveries as well as using drones in agriculture and other sectors.
He said that the drone competition in Karongi will test the abilities of drone experts and also demonstrate how drones can be used to address socio-economic challenges.
Minister Gatete said that for the last three years Rwanda has been using drone technology, there is no society or security incident that has been registered, which should allay any fears for those who are yet to fully embrace drones.
The Regional Director, World Bank, Franz Drees-Gross, said that the World Bank supported the first drone forum on the continent because Africa is on the rise with growing economies and young populations.
“Profound democratic shifts will shape the next decade. Cities in Africa are growing very fast and by 2035, half of Africa’s population will live in urban areas,”
“For many countries, the labour force is also doubling with millions of young people seeking jobs. A key challenge in this demographic transition is to ensure that growth is broadly shared and that rural areas, where the majority of Africa’s poor live, aren’t left behind,” Gross said.
He pointed out that forecasts by the World Bank suggest that even with the significant shift in policy, extreme poverty will still be in the double digit in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2030, despite it dipping to low single digits elsewhere in the world.
“82 percent of the people living in extreme poverty in Africa still live in rural areas. So what we all seek together, is a future that brings opportunities to the young and to those in rural areas,” he said recognising the role of the African Union in harnessing policies that encourage the use and adaptation of new technologies that will fast track development on the continent.
Sarah Metcalfe, the head of DfID in Rwanda, reiterated the importance of drones in the development of the continent, saying that African drone business startups will be the game changer on the continent trying to solve some of the difficult challenges African economies face.
Citing the example of blood-delivering drones in Rwanda, Metcalfe said there is proof that if African unlocked her skies and harmonised regulatory mechanism, drones can be a solution to some of the development challenges the continent faces.