May 17th is World Telecommunication Day. It was first celebrated in 1969 to commemorate the International Telecommunication Union in 1865.
Since then, the day has been observed by over 100 countries including Rwanda, with the aim of enhancing public awareness about the benefits of communication technology. These include making information and communication more accessible to people residing in under-developed regions in order to increase the global reach of technology across all nations hence improving the socio-economic wellbeing of people, among other reasons.
Though the day is majorly known as the World Telecommunications Day, it was joined with the Information Society Day, after the UN at the World Summit on Information, tabled the request.
Rwanda having four telecom communication companies—Tigo, Airtel, RwandanTel and MTN—has risen above all odds to become an Information and Communication Technology success story in East Africa.
Fourteen years back, MTN was the monopoly Telecom Company and costs were quite high. With the introduction of other Telecom companies competition has increased and call rates are reasonable.
Patricia Muhoza, a student at the National University of Rwanda said telecommunication technology has made distances between loved ones shorter.
“I no longer need to go see my relatives and friends every day. With the cheap calls, I can talk to those in the village and only visit when I have to. It has really reduced my movement and spending especially when other telecom companies came in,” Muhoza said.
The benefits of telecommunication technology extend to improving businesses, charity, entertainment and maintaining culture and the Arts in Rwanda.
MTN being the pioneer telecom company that started in 1998 has the largest market in Rwanda. They have been witness to the changes that have improved the lives of several Rwandans.
According to John Bosco Sendahangarwa, MTN Rwanda’s Corporate Communication Manager, telecom companies have the social-corporate responsibility to improve the lives of the people they serve.
“We partnered with OSSA (Operation Smile South Africa ) three years ago and embarked on rare operations intended to enable Rwandans with cleft lips and cleft palates smile again,” Sendahangarwa said adding that, “MTN has already donated over $10,000 last year alone.”
Additionally, the entertainment industry and local artists have been boosted with sponsorships from MTN. For example, the Salax awards that are entirely MTN sponsored.
Last year, RwandaTel lost patent to providing mobile phone services however, their internet and landline business is still intact. This did not stop people from calling cheaply, thanks to Tigo whose call rates are quite affordable for low-income earners.
“We care about children because they are the future. Tigo offers commodities that are meant to improve their lives such as clothes to wear, food to eat, school fees, books and give their parents tools to cultivate farms,” Nina-Claudia Ndabaneze the company’s Marketing Manager said about a recent staff visit to Kamonyi orphans.
Much as a lot has been done, even the business owners have gotten a share of the joy.
One, Patel Namuratah a Kigali businessman said, “I import a lot of materials like refrigerators, flat irons and other electronics but I don’t have to move with them as they come. I track their movement using my phone and emails as I get updates of their location.”
Even better for business, Namuratah places commodity orders using his mobile phone.
Telecommunication technology has taken precedence when it comes to public awareness—thanks to Bulk SMS technology. The most popular in Rwanda are the texts that inform the public of various activities happening across the country all year round. The most popular being those from the Police, ministries, institutions, the private sector, media, et cetera. Using Bulk SMS is a cheap means of quickly passing important messages to the population.
“What technology has done in this country is countless but we are so grateful as we receive a lot of aid by using SMS media. For example, where one sends a message like, ‘FASHA’ to 3722 and 500 is donated. It’s much easier as people including those who are not so rich, can send money from home to help stranded relatives and friends,” said Frere Mubale Gregoire, Director of Fasha Gatagara project.
This only reaffirms a report from the Ministry of ICT and Youth that states, “Rwanda has been named East Africa’s number one ICT nation by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)…”
Without advancements in telecommunication technology, the connection and empowerment that people are enjoying today wouldn’t exist—all of which are prerequisites to development.