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African Countries Have the Resources to Finance their Development – JICA Chief

With much anticipation on the impact of ICT in the continent’s development, much is still unclear on what approaches are ideal in the process, considering the limited resources and deep social economic challenges.

For insights on the increased ICT interest, The New Times Collins Mwai spoke to Hiroshi Kato, the senior vice president at the Japan International Cooperation Agency.

The Japan International Cooperation Agency has been a lead development partner in Rwanda’s ICT sector for over a decade.

He spoke on the approaches, challenges in the process of increasing ICT uptake.

From the recently concluded Transform Africa Summit, what stood out for JICA as a major development partner in regards to ICT ambitions?

In recognition of the fact that ICT is one of the key enablers of Africa’s development, Africa already has a number of basic conditions met to promote advancements and incorporation of ICT. This can be applied for the development of the continent.

The second is that Transform Africa Summit organised by Smart Africa, is a continental driven initiative currently with about 24 member countries. The ownership by the stakeholders is very impressive.

This makes it an initiative worth supporting as a development partner due to the impact it’s likely to have.

JICA has been a lead development partner in the African ICT sector, what do you make of the continent’s preparedness in terms of integration of ICT in various sectors?

For Rwanda in particular, I think the country is in a good position to adopt and apply ICT across multiple sectors. Among the drivers is a strong government leadership and inclusion of the private sector.

This has led to the creation of an ecosystem through which multiple stakeholders, including ICT companies, can work together to improve the various critical sectors like agriculture, healthcare among others.

Another advantage is that the leadership has ushered in stable political conditions and a steady economic growth which has made it attractive for investments. This ensures that there is interest by the private sector to keep investing and working closely with government.

When we talk about Africa in general, not all countries are prepared. There are still some countries that have some gaps in infrastructure, resources and others have political, social and economic turmoil.  Others do not have private sectors interested in ICT.

JICA is interested in supporting countries in Africa in that aspect.

Most of the sectors in the country are in the process of digitisation and embracing ICT, what should they pay special attention to in the process?

In regards to skills in the ICT sector, Rwanda is in a very favourable position because of the role played by skills development agencies such as K-Lab through which young people can develop skills.

There is also the advantage that Rwanda has universities like Carnegie Mellon established here which has further enabled to produce a huge number of skills necessary for ICT.

In order for ICT skills to be applied in sectors like agriculture, healthcare and education, among others, you need to also upgrade the skills of people working in those sectors.

That has to be pursued in tandem with development of skills related to ICT. In those specific areas, a lot remains to be done.

As a development partner in regional integration, how would you rate the use of your support by East African Member countries?

Rwanda has adopted a strategy to develop as a knowledge-based economy. This is very wise because, with that, the country can overcome the handicap of being landlocked.

Even though the country relies on ICT and services, there is need to integrate and work closely with other countries in the region.

We are glad that the One Stop Border Post connecting Rwanda and Tanzania has been successful. In terms of connectivity, EAC member states are doing a good job compared to other parts of the continent.

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There is a lot of anticipation on the implementation of the CFTA with view to increase trade across the continent. What’s your country’s thoughts on the process?

Regional integration has been an agenda for African countries for years since the time of the establishment of the Organisation of African Union. Ever since, regional integration has always been an important political agenda. African leaders are now taking new steps to advance the agenda.

That shows that there is strong political will among African countries. Political will is there but that alone will not solve the problems. We need to have discussions among authorities of different countries covering aspects of legal issues, customs, easing trade, among other things.

Many things have to be done to set up such as adjusting custom regimes, regulations, among others. The discussions and adjustments should now follow the agreements by leaders.

As an agency that works closely with the private sector, what more should they do to fast-track implementation of the agreement?

The first and most important thing the private sector can do is to pressure the governments. Currently, the border transactions are quite costly which has frustrated a section of the private sector over time.

I personally would like to ask them to keep pushing their governments to implement the CFTA. From JICAs perspective, I think it would be important to unite their voices so governments can implement the agreement.

As a personal idea, I think different governments must hear the voices of the private sector when they are making such international agreements.

They have to take into consideration the wishes and desires of the private sector to ensure that the agreements are relevant.

There has been a call to reduce Africa’s dependence on the rest of the world to finance their development.  What gaps need to be fixed to achieve this?

I do not have exact figures but researchers say that African governments are not collecting as much revenue as they should.  This kind of internal resources mobilisation has to be efficient to promote the development of Africa.

There are a number of conditions that are hampering increased internal domestic resource mobilisation. Among the reasons is politics as some countries do not want to lose their public support as well as reliance on foreign direct investments.

As President Kagame said, there should be change of mindset among the citizens of the continent. If taxpayers can trust that their taxes will be spent wisely for the benefit of the people, they would be persuaded to pay more and be active taxpayers.

There is room for increased resource mobilsation in most African countries.

What is the way forward in regards to JICA’s cooperation with Rwanda and the rest of the region?

We hope to maintain the consistency. JICA has been involved in the continent for decades after the independence of African countries. We hope to maintain the cooperation and systems over time in technical support, capacity building  and other  ways.

Having said that, being consistent is not enough, there should be a constant change and evolution in the nature of our cooperation. There are new ways that we could pursue.

For instance, in private sector cooperation and development. That is what we have been doing in Asia for a while.

We have learnt that national development can be led by the sound development of the private sector. Government does not often generate value as much as private sector would.

Africa is now ready to apply that model of private sector led development. We would like to invite more Japanese firms to be involved in Africa.

Areas of sophisticated skills and knowledge also deserve more attention going forward. Previously, the focus was on medium level skills but now Africa is ready to advance further.

In that regard, we are trying to improve our programmes of intellectual exchanges such as university level and science and technology cooperation.

As a Japanese agency, we would like to also invite people in Japan to learn more about Africa, its potential and opportunities.

That is what we would like to do.

-New Times Rwanda

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Written by How Africa

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