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A symbol of hope

19 February 2019

The UK is ambitious to increase its trade with the rapidly emerging economies, and is prepared to prioritise it over maintaining trading levels with its established trading partners.

One of the four Industrial Strategy Grand Challenges outlined by the government and intended to put the UK at the forefront of the industries of the future concerns AI and data. Two new research programmes announced by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) are looking to transform engineering, urban planning and healthcare. The programmes are supported with £48 million of funding delivered through the Strategic Priorities Fund.

Minister for Digital, Margot James, said: “We are determined to make sure the UK remains at the forefront of cutting-edge technologies and through our modern Industrial Strategy we are working with industry, business and academia to develop innovation that will change people’s lives for the better."

UKRI is delivering funding through the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund to use AI and data in pathology and imaging to revolutionise early diagnosis of diseases and conditions and their treatment. And digital twins – digital replicas of physical systems assisted by Artificial Intelligence (AI) – have the potential to be used to view aircraft engines in-flight to identify safety risks, model wind turbine design for improved energy generation and allow customers to model new fashion on a virtual twin of themselves.

Seemingly, a world away, Kigali in Rwanda is now the ninth safest capital city on the planet. In 1994, this African nation suffered one of the worst genocides in history. Over 100 days, its government slaughtered one-tenth of the country’s population and displaced more than 2 million people. But even before, Rwanda was a country in crisis; the ongoing civil war had destroyed its already fragile economy, severely impoverished its citizens, and made it impossible to attract external investment.

Fast-forward to 2017, and this nation of 12 million people is undergoing a complete transformation. When President Kagame emerged as Rwanda’s de facto leader, he set out his ambition to transform the country from one of Africa’s poorest nations into a leading knowledge economy by 2020. Nobody anticipated the extraordinary growth that would follow. On its path to becoming a middle-income country, Rwanda has sought advice from China, Singapore, and Thailand.

The key has been knowledge sharing. Through investing in IT infrastructure and forward-looking skills, Kigali, currently home to 1.22 million people, a population set to triple by 2040, is quickly becoming a leader in the knowledge-based sharing economy.

The rest of Africa looks to Rwanda as a land of opportunity and a symbol of hope. It is leapfrogging developed countries in fundamental areas such as smart city infrastructure, vocational training, and strategic foreign investment. 4G/LTE networks cover more than 95% of the country, and there is a national roll-out of fibre-optic broadband. As its citizens and businesses get connected, Kigali is becoming an African hub for multinational tech companies, including Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

As a result of providing businesses with the necessary infrastructure to develop and deploy their own IoT applications, investments in IoT infrastructure across Africa and the Middle East are projected to reach $7.8 billion by the end of 2017, money which goes a lot further when the projects are spearheaded by local initiatives. This technical infrastructure is crucial to Kigali’s aims of empowering and inspiring citizens to innovate, creating fresh opportunities - especially for young people - and sharing knowledge with neighbouring African nations.

What strategies should the UK adopt to keep pace with Rwanda?