Kathy Gibson is at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town – Drone technology is driving new economic growth in Africa, particularly in the areas of agriculture, healthcare and logistics.

The World Economic Forum is partnering with the government of Rwanda with support from UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) on the African Drone Forum: Symposium, Expo and Flying Competitions, an international drone and unmanned traffic management event that will be hosted in Rwanda in February 2020.

The event will include a regulatory summit that brings together leading figures in drone technology from the private sector and airspace regulators to highlight and discuss what is possible for the future of drones in Africa..

Edward Anderson, senior resilience specialist at the World Bank in Dar es Salaam, comments that drone technology has the potential to help create a more equitable society.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) has the potential to help Africa adopt technology that will give it a competitive edge.

“In mobile phones we saw a leapfrogging: when we talk about drones and autonomous system, it could be another leapfrogging technology.”

Drones have a major role to play in reaching largely rural populations who live far from roads, as well as in digital mapping applications, Anderson adds.

Africa is already a leader in the drone revolution with the first national scale deployments of drone delivery in countries such as Rwanda and Ghana and smaller scale tests in Malawi and Zambia.

Africa also faces unique challenges that drones can help address, such as limited ground infrastructure, reflecting the fact that just one-third of Africans live within 2km of an all-weather road, and that there is a more than $50-billion investment gap in infrastructure throughout the continent.

The African Union has highlighted drones as a priority technology for the continent in 2018. Many African countries, however, don’t allow for robust drone use, in some cases barring most civilian groups’ access to airspace.

“Increasing drone use in Africa does not only bring great benefits to business, agriculture and the health sector but quite literally save lives by taking deliveries off the roads and into the sky,” says Timothy Reuter, head of aerospace and drones at the World Economic Forum, “To unleash this potential, new policies need to be put in place that safely open the skies to drones as most African countries do not yet permit the most beneficial applications.”

Rwanda’s groundbreaking use of medical delivery drones supported by an open regulatory approach, developed with support from the World Economic Forum, has shown exactly what a forward-thinking government can accomplish.

Rwanda was selected as host for the event because it is currently one of the only countries that has policies in place that allow for the types of applications being demonstrated in the competition.

By hosting the African Drone Forum in Rwanda in February 2020, the World Bank, World Economic Forum and the Government of Rwanda hope to highlight the benefits Rwanda has created by expanding drone use in the country while encouraging other countries in the region to take a similar approach.

“We are excited to host the Africa Drone Forum, a platform that will bring together policy makers, drones enthusiasts, experts and industry leaders to explore potential use case applications for UAV technology on the African continent,” says Paula Ingabire, minister of ICT and innovation in Rwanda. “It’s an opportunity for Rwanda to share our experience in pioneering the use of Beyond Visual Line Of Sight (BVLOS) UAV operations, and our development of drone regulations.”

In this year’s flying competitions, global experts will invite companies that are leading the way in drone technology to compete. During the challenge, the World Economic Forum will curate discussions with regulators throughout Africa on how to create policies that enable the safe deployment of drone technologies in their own countries.

This year’s competitions are also supported by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA), the Republic of Korea and a number of development partners.