President Paul Kagame has called on the world to work towards addressing the gaps in connectivity and digital transformation that still hamper access to technology for many, if not one is to be left behind.
The Head of State made the appeal at the opening of the 8th edition of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) World Telecommunications Development Conference (WTDC), in Kigali on Monday. The conference which runs up to June 16 was held on the African continent for the first time.
President Kagame said that despite the Covid-19 pandemic accelerating the adoption of digital technologies, many challenges still remain, including many people around the world who can’t access the internet and technology, which has resulted in inequalities.
“Access to high-speed internet has not kept up with the fast pace of digital transformation and the digitization of the economy in general,”
“If such inequalities are left unchecked, development will accelerate more and more in some parts of the world, while elsewhere it slows down. The numbers speak for themselves. One-third of the world remains offline, and the majority are women in developing countries,” President Kagame said.
“The responsibility to shape the future of the digital economy, and ensure no one is left behind, lies with us and all of us, working together. No company, country, or institution has the resources to do it alone,” he said.
President Kagame said that there is a need to prioritize public-private partnerships, to expand affordable digital access, and equip vulnerable citizens with digital literacy skills.
President Kagame pointed out that the majority of people who remain offline are women mostly in developing countries, adding that only concerted efforts from all sides can address these challenges.
“The responsibility to shape the future of the digital economy and ensure that no one is left behind lies with us, and all of us working together,”
“No company, country or institution has the resources to do it alone. We must therefore prioritize public private partnerships to expand affordable digital access and equip vulnerable citizens with digital literacy skills,” the Head of State said.
As the world looks to achieve universal and affordable connectivity, President Kagame said that the meeting in Kigali is an opportunity to fully exploit and drive the broadband agenda and the youth should be at the forefront of it.
President Kagame gave assurances to the youth speaker who appealed to the leaders to pay attention to their demands, that she was heard very clearly.
“Young people are already the most connected members of society but that also means they are the most exposed to online safety and privacy risks,” President Kagame said, highlighting what Rwanda has done in the area of cyber security.
“Last year we passed a personal data protection and privacy Law to create a safe and enabling environment for both consumers and entrepreneurs,” he said.
Under the auspices of ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies, WTDC brings together more than 2,000 members of the international community, including Heads of State, government ministers, national delegations from 153 countries, prominent leaders from the digital sector, high-level representatives of regional bodies including the African Union and European Union, and top officials from non-governmental bodies.
Between 6 and 16 June, they will strive to draw up a bold new roadmap for harnessing digital technologies to drive socio-economic development and re-energize progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set by the UN for 2030.
Ramping up global connectivity has gained greater urgency amid the COVID-19 pandemic of the past three years. While Internet use surged in 2020, reaching 4.9 billion users worldwide, some 2.9 billion people remain unconnected and in growing danger of being left behind.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, addressing more than 1,000 delegates present at the opening ceremony via video message, called on the delegates in Kigali to come up with concrete solutions to address digital inequalities.
, said: “The potential of digital technologies to help us make up lost ground in our efforts to achieve the 17 SDGs is tremendous. But so too are the challenges. Over one third of humanity still has no access to the Internet…Your task is to map out a new Action Plan to bring the nearly three billion unconnected people into our global digital community, because leaving no-one behind means leaving no-one offline.”
Addressing key development priorities
Rwanda’s Minister for ICT & Innovation and Chair-Designate of WTDC, Paula Ingabire, told delegates gathered at the Kigali Convention Centre that urgent action is needed to drive connectivity to desired levels in the shortest time possible.
“WTDC is our opportunity to conclusively address the issue of affordable and meaningful connectivity. We must mobilize ourselves to agree on urgent issues that require our consensus now, if we are to continue building foundations for a successful digital future,”
“We can and we must take action over the next four years to ensure connectivity that enables the world’s sustainable development,” Minister Ingabire said.
The ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao reiterated the message of the UN Secretary General of not leaving anyone behind, calling on the youth to be the catalysts of this urgent call.
“I echo the UN Secretary-General’s call for universal connectivity with affordable services by 2030 and hope WTDC will make headway on removing all remaining barriers to connectivity,” said Zhao,”
“We have obligations to the world’s youth, and to each other, to connect the unconnected, drive the development of new technologies central to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and continue to show the world what ITU can do as a technical and, equally important, development agency,” he added.
The Kigali Declaration and the Kigali Action Plan will set out the priorities of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Sector (ITU-D) for the next four years.
To strengthen international collaboration, this 8th WTDC is placing added emphasis on new strategies to encourage commitments from both the private and public sectors to rapidly ramp up inclusive, sustainable connectivity through the Partner2 Connect Digital Coalition.
“This conference is all about mobilizing leaders from government, the global tech sector and beyond, to bring digital inclusion to even the hardest-to-connect communities and unleash the power of digital partnership to deliver on our 2030 sustainable development pledges,” said Doreen Bogdan-Martin, Director of ITU’s Telecommunication Development Bureau, which organizes the conference in support of ITU’s mandate to ‘connect the world.’