Rwanda launches drive to connect all households with a smartphone

A smartphone user at the launch of Mara Phones factory at the Kigali Special Economic Zone in October. File

On Friday evening, a short social media video was posted on the MTN Rwanda Twitter account featuring MTN Rwanda’s Chief Executive Mitwa Ng’ambi pledging 1000 Smart Phones on behalf of her firm and 100 phones in her personal capacity.

The phones will be given to the population without smartphones across the country.  

Nga’mbi challenged three other people; President Paul Kagame, ICT Minister Paula Ingabire and BPR Atlas Mara’s Chief Executive Officer Maurice Toroitich to join in and put smartphones in the hands of Rwandans. The initiative is dubbed Connect Rwanda.

The initiative has fast picked pace over the weekend.

President Paul Kagame accepted the challenge and 1500 smartphones from the local phone manufacturer Mara Phones.

Several public and private sector players have also taken up the challenge pledging to avail phones, both in their personal capacities and on behalf of their organizations.

Among the pledges and commitment include by Bank of Kigali, BPR Bank, Ministry of ICT, Ministry of Youth, I&M Bank Rwanda, KTRN Rwanda, Pascal technologies among others.

The challenge has not been a sole province for large firms, small and emerging enterprises as well as individuals are also taking part in committing 1 phone, two phones or more.

Individuals and firms have been making pledges which will be collected by MTN Rwanda as part of the campaigns.

MTN has also committed to fit all phones with a sim card loaded with 1GB of data per month for the first three months.

While the campaign can be termed as a marketing genius as it promotes the visibility of brands involved, it could serve a great deal towards smartphone penetration and digital adoption in Rwanda.

While there are no available statistics on the current smartphone penetration in the country, smartphone penetration is likely to be within the 20 per cent range.

Speaking at the Rwanda Patriotic Front Congress, on Saturday, Minister of ICT Paula Ingabire said that the initiative could be an ideal way to ensure that all Rwandan households have a smartphone in 2020.

There are an estimated over 2.8M households in the country.

Access to smartphones across the country serves more purposes than just connectivity.

Increased smartphone penetration will among other things boost public service delivery as well as map out new markets that were previously inaccessible such as healthcare services, insurance, financial services among others.

With a majority of government services currently being offered on Irembo, Public service delivery portal, increased smartphone access will improve the uptake of the services and the efficiency of service delivery.

For private companies, increased smartphone penetration means access to a larger market, room for innovation and reduced operating costs.

For instance, In Rwanda, access to smartphones could see a growth in the formally banked population which is currently around 26 per cent, insurance penetration, increased savings among others.

A report released by GSMA this year projected exponential growth in phone penetration anticipating more than 160 million new unique mobile subscribers will be added across Sub Saharan Africa by 2025.

Kenechi Okeleke, a lead analyst at GSMA Intelligence recently told The New Times that the growth in mobile phone penetration creates an ideal opportunity for countries such as Rwanda to increase service delivery especially of basis services such as education and healthcare.

This, he said creates an ideal opportunity to address social-economic challenges such as curbing unemployment and growing returns of emerging small and medium enterprises.

For instance, firms such as Kasha Rwanda an E-commerce platform will have a wider market consequently growing their operations.

With Sustainable Development Goals being a major point of attention for countries, experts say that smartphone penetration can be a pathway towards goals such as access to education, healthcare, reduction of poverty, hunger, provision of decent work among others.

Mobile phones, the experts say can also increasingly have a huge impact on bridging the unemployment gaps and market access challenges.

Local tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs say that growth smartphone penetration and access presents an opening for emerging entrepreneurs with opportunities ranging from content creation, marketing products and services to availing basic services.

However, in the way of such ambitions, experts say is low tech literacy levels especially among beneficiaries.

However, as firms and individuals move to pledge and contribute phones, it’s time to also think about rolling out the necessary digital skills to the general public especially in the rural areas to make the most of the growing phone subscription rates.

There are several models to increase digital literacy including tapping into existing businesses and networks to identify skills they may be lacking that could increase their productivity.

To make the most of the opportunities presented, the cost of data will have to go down and the quality ought to improve.

cmwai@newtimesrwanda.com

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