Rwanda is set to serve up to five million new internet users by 2020 under a new initiative, “Rwanda Internet for All,” which was initiated through the Ministry of Youth and ICT and the World Economic Forum (WEF) earlier this year.
Speaking during the ‘Rwanda Internet for All Forum,’ Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, the youth and ICT minister, said the initiative is part of the bigger project to create millions of internet users in the Northern Corridor and beyond.
“Internet for All seeks to create tens of millions of new internet users across initially tripartite programmes, including Northern Corridor countries, Argentina and India, but Rwanda set a higher ambition to double the growth of internet penetration by 2020, thus creating five million new users in the country,” he said on Thursday.
Internet for All Forum is a platform where leaders from government, donors, the private sector, and civil society can collaborate to scale and replicate internet inclusion activities.
Over the past few months, there have been a series of Northern Corridor engagements some of which resulted in the development of action plans and identification of quick win priorities to each country under the new initiative.
Rwanda particularly decided to pursue three projects, including the Smart Village, Digital Literacy and Digital Jobs, according to the minister.
“We selected these three projects among the ten that were prioritised in these countries, which we are going to drive and lead on. Through these projects, we want to create 5,000 digital literates, empower youth and women, especially in rural areas and then add more digital jobs,” Nsengimana said.
“This is what we want to champion in addition to Smart Cities that our President committed to on behalf of Smart Africa Initiative.”
According to the World Economic Forum, up to four billion people are currently not connected to the internet, the majority of them in Africa. This presents a challenge that the region has, and this is why the ‘Internet for All’ initiative is critical, according to Elsie Kanza, the African head of WEF.
“There is a concern that, as the world becomes more digitised, some people who are not connected to the internet are being left out of new digital economy, which now dominates all aspects of life. Only 20 per cent of Africans are connected to internet and this needed urgent attention,” she said.
Kanza said the initiative seeks to connect 25 million people in the Northern Corridor countries, including Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and South Sudan.
Addressing the challenges
Through the initiative, Rwanda seeks to create ‘digital jobs’. However, markets are being destructed globally in what is being termed as digital jobs. Members deliberated on what countries should do to deal with such a challenge.
“There’s a loss of jobs as we are transitioning toward digitisation of many of the services, but we also see many new jobs are being created. Digital transformations need a sense of attention when it comes to how countries pursue them. The model we are using is based on connectivity, affordability, skills and content,” Kanza said.
Members also underscored that the initiative should address some of the challenges faced by governments transitioning toward the cashless economy. They cited the case of India that they said has banned paper notes but now faces challenges.
However, central bank governor John Rwangombwa argued that countries provide education and decent affordability, highlighting the example of Rwanda.
“We are providing education to consumers and merchants, but all this goes hand-in-hand with infrastructure to ensure efficiency and affordability. We are working hard to provide decent infrastructure. We are collaboratively working with all stakeholders to sensitise people,” he said.
Role of telecoms
Philip Fofie Amoateng, chief executive of Tigo Rwanda, said a lot can be achieved with a cashless economy provided the public gained ample financial and digital literacy.
“Telecoms are taking lead and we are happy other training institutions are joining us. The potential role of partnerships can undoubtedly ensure the rapid achievement of a cashless economy,” he said.
Already Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Rwanda, which is the ambassador of the initiative, has already reached the implementation stage.
“We are creating 5,000 digital ambassadors delivering digital literacy skills to community members and creating social enterprises, self-employment and jobs in digital economy. Five million citizens will be trained through e-Business services and e-Government initiatives,” said Violette Uwamutara, the country director of DOT-Rwanda.