Employees under the Ministry of Infrastructure (MININFRA) and affiliated parastatals on Monday donated 1,159 smartphones towards the Connect Rwanda Challenge that was launched last year. A cheque worth Rwf86.9 million was Monday handed by Minister Claver Gatete to his ICT and Innovation counterpart Paula Ingabire. Connect Rwanda, a joint initiative between the ICT ministry and MTN Rwanda, was launched last December to boost the penetration of smartphones in the country while leveraging the digital economy. Public institutions, private companies, and individuals have all since then pledged cash or smartphones. These are later distributed primarily among unconnected households in the country. Speaking at the event, Ingabire hailed the voluntary contribution and expressed enthusiasm to roll out further infrastructure services as enablers to the country’s digital transformation. “Services such as electricity are necessarily widespread to the public. As we distribute these phones among households, we should also be thinking of how those services are more decentralized to the beneficiaries,” Ingabire said. She added: “This way, when the family wants to pay electricity or water bills, the phone will be useful, not just for making and picking calls.” On behalf of MININFRA staff and affiliated agencies, Minister Gatete noted the smartphones would be matched with existing solar systems the ministry provided to unpowered homes early this year. Gatete emphasized the donation as a part of the ministry’s mission to propagate essential infrastructure. He said that electricity has so far reached all but seven sectors countrywide. The government committed to 100 percent power coverage by 2024. During an exclusive interview with The Newtimes, MTN Rwanda CEO Mitwa Kaemba Ngambi said that Connect Rwanda has been a “huge success” with over 40,000 gadgets pledged. She revealed that the campaign slowed down during the Covid-19 lockdown but would pick up again “as soon as is possible.” Until the lockdown mid-March, around 4,000 smartphones had been distributed in the four districts with the lowest penetration. These include Rutsiro, Karongi, Nyabihu, and Ngororero, all in Western Province. ICT ministry reports 2.8 million households in the country. Connect Rwanda campaign aims at providing at least one smartphone for each, first through a target to collect 1 million handsets by 2021. Out of 10 million (79.8 percent) Rwandans who have smartphones, only 1.6 had smartphones as of January. Smartphone penetration is critical to building e-government and a digital economy - two models the country is gradually embracing. Essential prerequisites such as internet and electricity coverage have been established and more than 100 government services can be accessed using a mobile phone through Irembo getaway. At the Connect Rwanda campaign launch, President Paul Kagame, who also supported the cause with 1,500 devices likened smartphones to an “everyday tool” which should not be a “luxury item”.