Fear of future can hamper much-needed change, Kenyan President says

William Ruto urges governments to grasp opportunities of 'silicon-powered age'

Kenyan President William Ruto called on world leaders to champion technological change in Dubai on Tuesday. Antonie Robertson / The National
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Fear of the future must not be allowed to deprive the next generation of new opportunities, the Kenyan President has said.

William Ruto said governments' concerns about change brought by technology can be a “huge drawback to progress”.

And while all change “produces its winners and losers”, he urged governments to grasp the opportunities of the “silicon-powered age” and to stop trying to maintain the status quo.

“The silicon-powered era has caused a mass extinction of professions and ways of life and [is] replacing them with new ones," said Mr Ruto at the World Governments Summit in Dubai on Tuesday.

If you sacrifice the benefits of progress hoping for security, we risk losing both
William Ruto, Kenyan President

“Nothing in the past century compares in terms of sheer speed and scale of transformation as well as implication for human well-being and disruptive social economic change … with what we have experienced over the past few decades since the advent of computing … and of course artificial intelligence."

Mr Ruto said it was wise to be vigilant of adverse implications “yet these must never be grounds to stand in the way of solutions to humanity’s pressing needs”, with the new industrial revolution bringing opportunities.

"The fear of the unknown can be a real and huge drawback to progress and governments," he said. "However, if they are to remain relevant, agile and responsive, [they] must, as of necessity, move, facilitate, encourage and champion change."

Mr Ruto, who narrowly won the Kenyan election in 2022, also reflected on the digital transformation in the East African country over the past two decades.

He highlighted the success of mobile phone-based money transfer service, M-Pesa, that had the established banking sector “up in arms” when it launched in the 2000s as it allowed payments to be sent by text message.

“The public eagerly embraced the liberating efficiency of mobile phone-based cash transfer. Many types of businesses quickly saw the benefit."

He said the Kenyan government had digitised 80 per cent of its services and was aiming for 100 per cent by the end of the year.

“Our transformation agenda in Kenya dictated that affordable credit and financial inclusion be made available to the majority as a matter of urgency … liberating millions from predatory lenders through a digital lending and savings platform.”

Mr Ruto said from the difficult conversations in Kenya at the advent of the digital revolution in 2007, the country had “fully embraced” this world despite warning that vigilance was needed amid “changes, threats and dangers”.

“If you sacrifice the benefits of progress hoping for security, we risk losing both,” he said.

Mr Ruto also spoke about climate change. Last year he hosted Africa's first climate summit and it ended in a joint declaration asking that big polluters deliver increased resources to poorer countries.

He was named by Time magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential leaders shaping global climate action and has also unveiled plans for Kenya to plant 15 billion trees.

But some environmentalists have criticised his stance for championing tree-planting while also failing to stop illegal logging in public forests.

“Africa is the de facto epicentre of a green industrial revolution,” Mr Ruto said.

“It is no longer tenable nor sustainable to extract natural resources from Africa, processed elsewhere using green[house] gas-emitting technologies.

“Green industrialisation in Africa will simultaneously address unemployment, reduce inequality, discourage migration while enhancing manufacturing efficiency and industrial sustainability. All it takes is investment.”

Meanwhile, the summit continues in Dubai. The second day of the gathering featured a video interview with Sam Altman, chief executive of Open AI.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to address the assembly on Tuesday.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to attend the last day on Wednesday before inaugurating Abu Dhabi's landmark Hindu temple later in the day.

India is one of three countries, alongside Qatar and Turkey, to be named guests of honour at the Dubai summit.

More than 25 world leaders and heads of state have convened in Madinat Jumeirah for the event.

Updated: February 13, 2024, 12:43 PM