Connect Rwanda: How smartphone revolution will benefit tech innovators

The government hopes all 2.8 million Rwandan housholds will own a smartphone through Connect Rwanda campaign. /Net Photo

At least two of every three Rwandans own a cell phone, but only one in a dozen knows a smartphone, according to available statistics.

The government has declared the need to tip the scale through the recently launched Connect Rwanda campaign, which aims at ensuring that at least one household has a smartphone.

On their part, content developers have started eyeing their slice of the cake with the current campaign that will inevitably see a boom in smartphones accross the country.

Rwanda Build is a local tech company that build public-interest software and mobile games, which is among those that are set to rise to this occasion. 

For Sarah Uwera, a developer-turned-quality assurance tester at the company, there is “a great opportunity” with the campaign.

She said that her firm is eying various opportunities in terms of software development, citing e-commerce and health.

“For instance, we are conducting a market research on telephone penetration because we have ongoing projects targeting some of these sub-sectors,” said Uwera.

Since its launch late December, Connect Rwanda has received nearly 50,000 smartphones pledged by locals and foreigners, institutions and individuals.

MTN Rwanda, which is spearheading the exercise in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, defines the mega campaign as a “getaway to the digital world.”

“We want to increase the number of people who access online services,” said the Minister of ICT and Innovation, Paula Ingabire.

The commitment echoes President Paul Kagame’s call that “smartphones should not be a luxury item, […] but an everyday tool enabling all Rwandans to fulfill their potential."

Essentially, Connect Rwanda was designed as a digital divide cracker and content creators have buckled up to produce content to feed all consumers.

Minister Ingabire had earlier hinted at a possible collaboration with Mara Phones, the first smartphone maker on the African continent which launched in Rwanda last year, to find ways of having Rwandan applications pre-installed on the phones, observing that most of the pledges are the Rwandan-made brands.

The smartphone manufacturer did not respond to requests for comment.

The smartphone boom would sweep all corners.

Leodomile Hakizimana is an operations manager at Teradig, a web development business based in Kigali.

As a way to position itself for the new opportunities, the IT firm has waived fees for hosting .rw domain names.

“More people will be using internet. Businesses will need ways to spread their online presence. As a result, we expect more clients registering Rwandan domains, to build new sites and blogs,” said Hakizimana.

Different public institutions in the service sector have confirmed to have new app development projects in the pipeline targeting on-table opportunities.  

Sector gurus predict health, agriculture, services, media and transport to see more advanced transformation and more customized content courtesy of the deeper penetration of smartphones.

In the transport sector, for instance, AC Group recently published an application with functions of booking a bus ticket, viewing bus schedules and tracking routes. The advancement was made as part of the revolution in the transport sector in tandem with the Smart Cities initiative.

Nonetheless, players have identified a couple of hitches that need to be addressed for the smartphone revolution to maximise output.

One of them is that the few developers available are not creating human-interest solutions, according to Prince Dacy, a developer at Rwanda Build.

The other one is that tech expert finds the lack of elaborate privacy policies an unsettling concern.

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