Ladies and gentlemen,
As co-vice-chair of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development, and chair of the Working Group on Youth, it is a tremendous pleasure to be with you here today in Kigali.
I would very much like to thank President Kagame and the Rwandan administration for all the support they have shown in making this meeting possible.
I would also like to thank all the young participants for joining us today. You are absolutely essential to the process, and we are are counting on you to inspire us!
As I am sure you are aware, 2011 is the UN Year of Youth, which makes the work of this particular Broadband Commission Working Group even more relevant and timely. There are a number of youth events scheduled in the UN calendar during the year, and we have been working hard to dovetail our work with these special occasions.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We need to bring the benefits of the broadband revolution to everyone – wherever they live and whatever their circumstances. Broadband is the most powerful tool we have to accelerate progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals, and to drive social and economic progress on a global scale.
If you are connected, it no longer matters if you are geographically or socially isolated; you are still connected to the information society. But if you are not connected, you are – literally – cut off from a whole portion of the world’s riches.
This is why it is my firm belief that in the 21st century, broadband networks will come to be considered basic infrastructure, like roads, water or energy networks today.
But if broadband access is to become ubiquitous, and deliver tangible benefits to all, it will first need to be accorded top priority on the development agenda of all governments.
Rwanda, of course, is well ahead of many other nations in appreciating this, and in having made concrete and tangible efforts to develop national broadband infrastructure – and it is a special honour to have President Kagame as one of the two Chairs of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
Broadband will also need to become much more affordable than it is today. Progress is being made, with increasing affordability in almost all markets worldwide, due to increased competition and improved infrastructure – with the rapid growth in submarine cables around Africa, for example, making a huge difference.
The sorry truth, however, is that according to the latest ITU data, broadband access still costs more than half of average monthly income in some 32 countries worldwide. We need to see prices coming down below 10% or even 5% before we can expect to have everyone online.
This is just one reason why I am pleased to be here with you today. Because when I look around the room, I see nothing but possibilities. With your combined talents and enthusiasm, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome.
As young people, here today, there isn’t a single one of you who doesn’t clearly recognize the importance of information and communication technologies in the modern world – and this is already a huge step forward.
When I was growing up in Mali, it was very different. I, personally, was enormously lucky in having the benefits of a really good education in Mali – delivered by fine teachers in sound academic institutions. And I was luckier still to be one of the privileged few who went on to pursue further education abroad, in both Moscow and Leningrad (now St Petersburg).
But you are even luckier than me!
Because in the 21st century, with broadband, no young African should ever again need to be sent abroad in order to enjoy the benefits of an excellent education.
Indeed, what we can expect to see, over the coming years, is an explosion of first-rate home-grown educational establishments here in Africa, which will cater person-to-person for those who live close to schools and universities, and online for those who don’t.
Would anyone here care to guess where are the world’s biggest universities today?
Indeed, nine of the top ten universities in the world, ranked by number of enrolled students, are now in developing countries and each establishment has more than half a million students enrolled.
Here in Africa, we see the University of South Africa ranked 25th globally, with 250,000 enrolled students, and two universities in Egypt, Ain Shams and Cairo, accounting tor over 325,000 students between them.
This could never have happened without ICTs and broadband, which have brought two crucial new forces to play: the death of distance, and the democratization of information and knowledge.
This is the true beauty of the Internet – it finally makes the world’s riches accessible to all.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This brings me to my next point.
While young people stand to benefit enormously from ubiquitous broadband, the world also stands to benefit hugely from young people’s ideas, inspirations and innovations.
Already, at work and at home, we are seeing young digital natives coaching their elder digital immigrants, and I am convinced that it is you, not us, who will be deciding the future of broadband applications and services.
Young Internet giants like Facebook, Google, Skype, Yahoo and YouTube were not created by old people, but by young and enthusiastic entrepreneurs. This is even true for slightly older technology giants, like Apple and Microsoft.
Human brainpower is the only resource we have which is unlimited and renewable. So let’s capitalize on that, and put all these fine brains to work to create a better society for all.
I would like to come back here in a few years time and see the tremendous successes that you have made of your lives and careers.
I would like to see how you have made the world a better place through increased access to broadband – especially in under-served areas.
And I would like to see how you have made it possible for the next generation of Africans to get the best education possible, right here in Africa!
I expect you to be smart, and to be creative – and I look forward not just to the outcomes of this meeting, but also to watching your lives unfold and your careers flourish!