Government has for the past few years embarked on journey to promote information and communication technologies (ICTs) as an enabler for fast-tracking the country’s economic development and transformation.
This is part of the plan to transform the country into an information-rich and knowledge-based economy and society, as well as positioning as an ICT hub.
Last year was eventful with most activities geared at having direct impact to the entire sector and the people of Rwanda.
New ICT minister appointed
Towards close of last year, the Ministry of Information Technology and Communications and Youth was split into two in a post-election cabinet reshuffle.
Later in December, a new minister of ICT, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa was appointed, replacing Jean Philbert Nsengimana who had served for six years.
The move to have a separate ministry in charge of ICT has been viewed as an important step given the number of huge ongoing projects that need special attention. The ministry has bigger tasks given the country’s vision of accelerating socio-economic development, improving productivity of the private sector and developing the growth of ICT.
The government established the Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA) as an ICT implementing agency charged with ICT skills development, creation and innovation of new products and technical work. The agency would facilitate the ministry to achieve its mission, with the new minister expected to lead the campaign to extend ICT awareness among all Rwandans.
While there is a series of projects that the government has been pursuing in this sector, analysts have said that the sector requires people who have experience that can drive ICT to the last person in rural areas.
Latest statistics indicate that there are less than five million people in Rwanda who are connected to the internet.
Jack Ma’s visit to Rwanda
On his first trip to Africa, Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, visited Rwanda and Kenya.
Accompanied by a group of Chinese billionaires, investors and real estate tycoons, Ma attended the inaugural YouthConnekt Africa Summit that convened thousands of entrepreneurs from all over Africa.
Ma did not just speak and inspire entrepreneurs, but he pledged support to some African young tech entrepreneurs in big data, e-commerce, and Internet of Things, among other things. He announced USD10 million enterprises fund that emerging firms in Rwanda and elsewhere on the continent can benefit from.
As a result, in November 2017, three local technology startup entrepreneurs were fully supported by Jack Ma’s Alibaba Business School to go to China on a two-week business trip.
Transform Africa summit 2017
As it has been since the launch of the initiative back in 2013, the summit has been taking place in Rwanda bringing together stakeholders in the ICT sector from across the continent. But every year has its own uniqueness depending on what countries agree on.
Last year, the summit convened African government leaders and representatives, private sector players, development partners and organisations, and the focus was on Smart Cities with an aim to ensure African capitals embrace technology to effectively deliver services.
The conference had about 10 side events across multiple topics, including Smart Africa Women’s Summit, business leaders’ symposium, business to business session and Ms. Geek Africa 2017 competition, among others. There were some 3,000 participants.
It is important to highlight that two more countries joined the Smart Africa Alliance, South Africa and Cameroon, bringing the membership to 20 countries. This was followed by a number of financing agreements that were signed by different partners and countries.
For instance, Inmarsat signed a financing agreement with the government to support a number of ICT projects that are aligned with the National ICT strategy. Inmarsat Rwanda’s Project Manager, Emmanuel Dusenge, said that they are currently working with the government and universities to build capacity of technology entrepreneurs, specifically those in the field of Internet of Things (IoT).
Indeed, he said, the future of IoT in Rwanda would offer unprecedented opportunities just like any emerging technology and that it would enable innovations as well as delivery of services at a fastest pace.
Miss Geek goes continental
The annual competition, which previously would bring together girls from different universities across Rwanda to design technology projects, Miss Geek, was last year scaled up to other African countries. During last year’s competition, Kenyan Ruth Njeri Waiganjo was crowned the 2017 Miss Geek Africa.
The purpose of Ms Geek is to demonstrate that girls and young women can also excel in the technologies and to build their confidence in competing in the open market, and, with the launch of the continental competition, organisers are expanding their dream.
With Ms Geek Africa, there is hope that more African girls would be inspired to take part in solving the continent’s challenges using technology and be encouraged to choose careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
The First Lady Jeannette Kagame, during the Women’s Summit that ran at the same time with the competition, cited that modern society of digital age continues to show digital divide as women significantly have lower access to these technologies, and that countries should join forces to narrow the gender digital divide.
Smart Cities Blue Print unveiled
African leaders last year came together and made bold steps that resulted into the launch of ‘Smart Cities Blueprint,’ a guide for leaders to map implementation and how to manage and control smart cities.
During the Transform Africa Summit, government leaders, city managers, planners and designers, private investors, and youth representatives came together to highlight the importance of urbanisation and unveiled a blue print that would direct African city developers.
Several commitments were made, including millions of dollars to advance the implementation. For instance, one of the United Arab Emirates based firm, Cheikh Rakadh Group, committed to invest $50 million (about Rwf42 billion) to enable the implementation in Rwanda.
The Smart Cities Blueprint was developed in conjunction with the Rwandan Smart City Masterplan, which offers a localised example of how African countries can make their cities smart, sustainable and resilient.
Recently, Didier Nkurikiyimfura, the head of technology and innovation at the Smart Africa Secretariat in Kigali, told The New Times that already a lot of work was being done to advance the implementation of the master plan.
Inmarsat, a global mobile satellite communications service company, started a city-wide deployment of LoRaWAN (a form of LPWAN or Low Power Wide Area Network), which will serve as a connectivity platform for a variety of Internet of Things (IoT) applications.
Fibre to Home rollout
Last year, Liquid Telecom one of the leading internet providers, started the rollout of “Fibre to Home” Initiative aimed at providing high-speed internet to individual buildings, especially residences and apartments.
About 8,000 households in Kigali were targeted and, today, the fibre optic has been extended to areas like Kagugu, Gisozi, Nyarutarama, Kacyiru, Rebero, Rugando and Kiyovu, among others.
One Kigali resident, Dan Mwesigye, hailed the move as one of the biggest event of the year 2017, saying that this “could bring an internet revolution that could see an end of slow internet that has killed everything from business to TV.”
He, however, added that as much as the infrastructure is being put in place, there is need for the right pricing model that would make the internet affordable.
“It is the responsibility of the statutory regulatory body to ensure that consumers are not duped. Most urban families would pay whatever for reliable high speed internet,” he noted.
Digital Ambassador Programme kicks off
The Digital Ambassador Programme is an initiative designed to support the country in increasing the number of digitally literate citizens and to transform young job seekers, helping them to deliver digital skills programmes in their communities.
The programme targets to support 5,000 young Rwandans to serve as Digital Ambassadors and transform the lives of 5 million citizens through digital skills and adoption of e-services to drive digital inclusion and growth.
Four months ago, the government started rolling out the Digital Ambassador Programme and the Smart Village Initiative, all of which are aligned with the National Digital Talent Policy, which seeks to drive digital adoption and bridge the ICT skills gap. In Rulindo and Rwamagana, citizens are already benefiting from these programmes.
The next step is making them available in other parts of the country and tracking the impact that the services being introduced are having towards people.