Col. David Kanamugire has helped the rejuvenated country of Rwanda make significant strides forward in cybersecurity. But he is most certainly not resting on his laurels, with daunting challenges in both the short and long terms, not just for the Central African country but for the continent as a whole.
The CEO of Rwanda's National Cyber Security Authority (NCSA) said Thursday that it is a strategic imperative to create resilient infrastructures that facilitate sustainable opportunities for Africans to actively and meaningfully participate in the cyber field. He made the remarks in a speech at the first-ever CybertechLive Africa online conference.
The senior military officer has been a main figure in his country's cyber sector for a number of years, having previously held positions including director of technology in the Ministry of Defense. Kanamugire was appointed in late August as head of the NCSA, which was established in 2017.
Africa faces a number of challenges in terms of competitiveness in the cyber field. One of them is to generate opportunities for the increasing number of youth, whose role in the economy should not only be that of consumers, but also of active participants in technological innovation and development, the CEO said. "We have to have our young people actively involved in high-paying cyber driven jobs that will most importantly be able to generate lots of revenue, create meaningful jobs, and increasingly this will depend so much on the nature of the cyber economy, the cyber infrastructure and the cyber security that we have."
In order to make sure that the youth are highly trained and skilled, the cyber chief stated, there must be specific focus and emphasis on the quality of education, on the knowledge creation systems, and the ecosystem that must be built so that cyber is considered in all its dimensions.
Kanamugire said that another challenge is the high rate of urbanization, with the continent's urban population projected to reach 1.3 billion by 2050. With such large numbers of people migrating into African cities, "the ability to create jobs, to create opportunities to have meaningful life, will depend so much on the resilience of the cyber infrastructure that must be put in place."
The CEO also pointed out the factor of population growth, citing a prediction that by 2050 two out of every five children born on earth will be in Africa. Such a situation, he predicted, will have many implications for the continent's economic competitiveness and for the opportunities for youth to be meaningfully engaged in cyber. He cited World Economic Forum projections that, in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, the youth population will increase by nearly a half billion, while in the rest of the world it will decrease by about 220 million.
Thus, the cyber chief said, "to make sure that this digital dividend does actually not turn into a digital calamity," a number of steps must be taken. One of them is to shift the focus on cyber issues from IT rooms to boardrooms and other main venues where strategic issues are discussed. "It has to be at the center of all the planning. It has to be at the center of all projections. The economic modeling of Africa's economies must have the cyber component deeply ingrained within their plans," he said, because cyber will assume an increasingly large role in the future.
Another strategic imperative, according to the CEO, is building highly resilient systems that will withstand an increasing number of cyber connections, expand in line with the growing population, and be capable of coping with growing threats from all over the world. "So the failure to build such a resilience in our cyber security system infrastructure will result in vulnerabilities that will not only deny Africa an opportunity to meaningfully contribute, but also will be a bedrock of cyber threats to the rest of the world." Innovative technological capacities must be built so Africa has significant capabilities to create and innovate in the cyber domain, he added.
Kanamugire noted that Africans are looking at cyber not only as consumers, but also as active participants in a cyber-driven economy, such as R&D and the production and marketing of various cyber-enabled services globally. "We have to have the capacity to be active participants in critical technologies like artificial intelligence, machine learning, autonomous systems, and other areas where the future will increasingly depend on. So we have to build such a system where the youth, the education systems and the infrastructure that supports this perspective is fully resilient and actively connected to the rest of the world."
To achieve these goals, the CEO stressed, Africans will need to build very strong and meaningful partnerships with other countries. "In an increasingly cyber-driven society and economy, every single country, every single organization is interdependent on the rest of the ecosystem, and for this, global partnerships will be very critical," such as ones at the academic level, in research and development, in exchange of best practices, and in sharing of cyber threat information, he said.
According to the cyber chief, this will require bilateral, multilateral and international forms of engagement that make cybersecurity a central part of each society, country, and organization's development.