From Smart Africa to smart pol­i­tics?

The Africa Report - - POLITICS - In­ter­view by Pa­trick Smith

This ur­bane poly­glot cham­pion of the dig­i­tal revo­lu­tion in Africa is not an ob­vi­ous in­sur­gent politi­cian, but Ha­madoun Touré in­sists it is time to re­tire Mali’s po­lit­i­cal class. In its place, he wants the coun­try to be run by tech­nocrats com­mit­ted to ac­count­abil­ity and di­a­logue. That is why he is run­ning, with­out any ex­pe­ri­ence in na­tional pol­i­tics, for the pres­i­dency in elec­tions on 29 July. “I’ve gone through the coun­try and sent en­voys ev­ery­where to test the men­tal­ity of the peo­ple […]. All the politi­cians have lost cred­i­bil­ity. They want some­one new, some­one who has not been cor­rupt. And the only way not to have been cor­rupt was not to have been part of it, of any gov­ern­ment. And I’m the only one to­day.” He cur­rently works as ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Smart Africa, a dig­i­tal al­liance of 22 mem­ber states. He was also sec­re­tary gen­eral of the In­ter­na­tional Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion Union from 2007 to 2014. With that ex­pe­ri­ence, Touré is push­ing for hi-tech so­lu­tions to de­vel­op­ment prob­lems. These in­clude widen­ing ac­cess to broad­band and boost­ing fi­nan­cial and public-ser­vice ac­count­abil­ity. That is part of the ‘Open Waves’ cam­paign for a sin­gle dig­i­tal mar­ket in Africa, launched in Ki­gali at the Trans­form Africa sum­mit in May.

Like other con­tenders in the pres­i­den­tial election, Touré salutes the ac­tivists – Sy Ka­di­a­tou Sow of An tè A Bana and Mo­hamed Yous­souf Bathily (Ras Bath) of the Col­lec­tif pour la De­fense de la République – who are mo­bil­is­ing the youth vote. “They have been very coura­geous at a time when the old politi­cians were afraid to speak out […]. Many old politi­cians had tried to hide be­hind them. These peo­ple are the age of their kids.” Assert­ing that Mali’s se­cu­rity pol­icy has failed, Touré ar­gues for a joined-up so­cio-eco­nomic plan to deal with the de­ser­ti­fi­ca­tion, de­struc­tion of graz­ing lands and wa­ter short­ages that have been among the back­ground causes of com­mu­nal clashes in the cen­tral and north­ern re­gions. “It’s been hap­pen­ing since 1960. How come [the gov­ern­ment doesn’t] say ‘What’s the

“All the politi­cians have lost cred­i­bil­ity. They want some­one who has not been cor­rupt”

link?’ and study the prob­lem. There are no mills or fac­to­ries in these re­gions.” Much of it goes back to bad gov­er­nance, Touré says. He points to the in­iq­ui­tous sale of land by cor­rupt of­fi­cials. A be­liever in “to­tal trans­parency”, he prom­ises “to de­clare ev­ery­thing, in­clud­ing my own rev­enues from day one […]. I have com­mit­ted to do­nat­ing 100% of my salary, half of it to women’s as­so­ci­a­tions, half to hand­i­capped peo­ple.” Asked about the rapid growth of the strict Wah­habite sects of Is­lam and the un­der­min­ing of more open Sufi groups in Mali, Touré says: “The av­er­age per­son doesn’t know the dif­fer­ence be­tween the two […]. I was meet­ing with a group of our re­li­gious lead­ers and I told them that the way some of them were preach­ing can be a lit­tle bit dis­turb­ing.” He adds: “The level of knowl­edge, the teach­ing, the tone has to be agreed […]. There should be some code of con­duct.” On Morocco’s ap­pli­ca­tion to join the Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity of West African States, Touré ar­gues it would be a pos­i­tive step to­wards greater eco­nomic in­te­gra­tion but adds that Algeria, Mali’s tra­di­tional ally in North Africa, should be part of that con­ver­gence. “I’m re­ally an African­ist, I see Africa only strong when it’s a sin­gle mar­ket […]. Our 54 small mar­kets don’t make sense.”

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