Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be here with you today in Bamako. And it is an extraordinary honour to have this graduation year named after me at this most venerable institution. I am deeply humbled.
Education – and notably higher education – underpins everything we do; every service which is provided by governments or industry; and every opportunity for social and economic development and empowerment.
It is here, in great institutions like this one, that we nurture the human brainpower and build the human capital which is the basis for all human progress.
As Nelson Mandela once famously said, ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.’
And I expect nothing less from ESTM graduates: I confidently expect to see them change the world, and to make it a better place for future generations.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to say a few words about the importance of science and technology in particular.
The sum of scientific knowledge and understanding has increased exponentially over the past two decades, and I believe that this is in very great part due to the massive uptake and proliferation of information and communication technologies.
Globally, we have seen the number of mobile cellular subscriptions grow almost five-hundred-fold, from just 11 million at the end of 1990 to over five billion at the end of 2010.
Twenty years ago, virtually nobody was online. Today, two billion people have access to the Internet, and there are close to 900 million mobile broadband subscriptions worldwide.
I believe that this will have a profound affect on the future of each and every person on the planet, and that this will have huge implications for the future of science.
We are already seeing many examples of this, across multiple sectors, and I am positive that we shall see many more over the coming years.
Take the field of medicine, for example, where massively powerful computers and the power of online collaboration have enabled huge advances in our understanding of human biology and chemistry, helping us unlock the secrets of life itself.
ICTs are also driving a revolution in the provision and delivery of healthcare – through applications as simple as using text messages to remind patients to take their medicine or as complex as surgery performed remotely using telemedicine.
We cannot pretend to be able to predict just how the development of the information society will enrich the lives of everyone on the planet. But I believe the information society will turn out to be as transformational – and as surprising – as the widespread use of electricity.
Originally aimed at providing better lighting, electricity totally transformed our world, powering large-scale industrialization, stimulating national and international commerce, and allowing skyscrapers and mass urban transport systems to be built.
I am absolutely confident that we will be astonished by what will be achieved over the next twenty years – and that there are people here in this room today who will play a vital part in those great achievements.
I am truly moved by your honouring me here today in this way, and I am grateful to be able to play a small part in the life of this great school.
I will look forward to hearing the stories of greatness which come from the graduates here this year, and to being astonished by the strength of your human ingenuity; by the power of your works to make the world a better place for all; and by the integrity of your faith in the power of science to transform the future.
I thank you once again for this great honour. And as a proud citizen of Mali myself, I ask each one of you to go forth into the world, and to shape a bright future for this country, for Africa, and for the world.