Bridging Rwanda’s digital divide

Through bringing various internet services and products to Nyamata’s people, Telecentres are used bridge the gap between urban service providers and rural service consumers in this area. Paul Barera the Executive Director of Nyamata Telecenter said that for Rwanda to grow at a reasonable rate, it needs a national-local consolatum provider.
Nyamata Tele-Service Centre connects the rural population to the global ICT hub.
Nyamata Tele-Service Centre connects the rural population to the global ICT hub.

Through bringing various internet services and products to Nyamata’s people, Telecentres are used bridge the gap between urban service providers and rural service consumers in this area.

Paul Barera the Executive Director of Nyamata Telecenter said that for Rwanda to grow at a reasonable rate, it needs a national-local consolatum provider.

“We need technological development that is friendlier with local content. Government ministries, NGOs, and others should put development information online, so that people can access information,” Barera said.

Online connection

According to Barera, in today’s digital age, “everything must be on-line.”

As a result of this realisation, local leaders in Nyamata are being sensitized on the importance of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in rural development.
Barera emphasised the need for advocacy so that local leaders could understand why and how ICT is important for rural development.

“In order to encourage people to visit the internet sources, relevant local content in health, social and gender issues should be availed online,” he said.

However, this service remains a critical challenge towards closing the urban- rural technology gap. Barera also noted the high operating costs of the Telecenters as a big stumbling block towards ICT development in rural Rwanda.

“We have to narrow the digital gap between those who can access ICT and those who cannot. This kind of support will directly reduce the prices for internet users as well as increase the skills of local business entrepreneurs,” Barera underscored.

In Rwanda’s district towns where Telecenters have been established, a significant improvement in ICT use among the population has been noted.

The establishments however, are only crowded in town centres; there is still need for massive deployment into the villages.

This achievement is possible because the government supports the efforts of private local investors interested in improving Telecenters. However, Barera said more support rather than more competition at already established private Telecenters or Cyber Cafés is important.

“We have managed to establish 30 Telecenters within three years; this is progress but RDB should concentrate on content rather than the creation of more Telecenters,” Burera said.

Benefits of information

Peace Mutoni, the officer in charge at Rwamagana Telicenter said that residents using the Telecentre as the main internet source has linked the rural society to the global ICT village.

After research was done in three internet cafes in Bugesera, Rwamagana and Ngoma districts, it was found that content on internet is complex and irrelevant for most of the local Rwandan population.

“The findings showed that, most people who visited the Telecenters only send messages to friends and relatives,” Mutoni said.

In Rwanda ICT development is a goal that will transform the economy into a knowledge-based one. The use of the internet is an investment that will shape the population into a knowledgeable, market seeking and productive people, who can stimulate national growth.

Internet has become an indicator of modernity; it has become a way for people and places to indicate their level of development. However, internet use is dominated by leisure, communication and information exchange between individuals.

“I do not stay long on internet; I logon to send messages to my friends in business and this is enough. What is on internet does not meet my local needs and besides it’s in a European language,” said Jean Marie Mazimpaka, a 56 year-old businessman in Ngoma district, Eastern Province.

But some of the literate farmers, teachers and local leaders have benefited from the services provided at the Telecenters.

Telecentres in rural communities have served the population in various ways. Farmers have accessed information that lets them improve their crop production; parents find information that enables them to prevent diseases and improve hygiene, and teachers can access vital educational materials that they fail to acquire in the already scarce textbooks.

Language challenges

The limited proficiency in the English language or other western languages among Rwandans, greatly handicaps the efficiency of the Telecenters.

As a result, the digital divide remains a prevailing challenge that defines the characteristics of the rural information environment in Rwanda. 

Even though information is readily available for many Rwandans, most people in rural areas cannot access it. The limited rural Telecentres therefore play an important role in closing this information gap. However, more Telecenters need to be built in villages.

According to Barera, the information needs of rural internet is limited to information content that is only relevant for day-to-day tasks of the people and, the level of skills possessed in manipulating ICT.

“Recognizing the nature of the information needs of the rural population, will help to meet their needs in order to address the digital divide, not only in Rwanda, but also in sub-Saharan Africa,” Barera affirmed.

In this way, Rwanda and the region in general, will continue to nurse the digital divide.

mugitoni@gmail.com

 

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