The Ministry of Defence and Rwanda Defence Force are among the latest institutions to throw their weight behind a campaign to provide unconnected Rwandans with smartphones, pledging a combined 2,000 locally made smartphones on Friday.
Launched just last month, the Connect Rwanda Challenge seeks to connect millions of unconnected Rwandans, with figures showing that of the 10 million Rwandans with mobile phones only about 1.6 million have smartphones.
This is part of a broader agenda designed to ensure that citizens leverage technology to improve their lives.
Already, close to 35,000 phones have been pledged in the noble cause coordinated by the Ministry of ICT and Innovation in conjunction with a telecom firm.
With the Government having laid out a nationwide fibre-optic cable infrastructure and digitised many public services, smartphones will achieve a digital society – a critical ingredient for any country’s socio-economic development in the Information Age.
With almost all the key government services now delivered online, including birth and marriage certificates, tax declarations, weather forecasts, commodity prices, and education and healthcare services, smartphones are a key tool in enhancing quality public services even in the remotest of villages.
The timeliness of the innovation cannot be overemphasised especially considering that we are on the cusp of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which will change our way of life as we’ve known it.
As such, smartphones are indeed not a luxury but a necessary gadget critical in navigating life’s necessities both today and tomorrow.
It is, therefore, misleading to claim that such initiatives as Connect Rwanda Challenge are needless at the moment because some citizens are still grappling with basic needs.
In any case, this does not mean that efforts to continue improving standards of living in other aspects such as housing, clean water and other basics will stop.
It is particularly commendable that the government is in the process to ensure that the internet becomes more affordable and plans to roll out mass training to empower concerned citizens with skills to navigate their smart devices.
However, as much as the six-month initiative is well-intentioned and welcome, measures should be put in place to avoid possible abuse as rightly pointed out by several parliamentarians last week.
We hope that appropriate measures have indeed been devised to ensure the initiative is not undermined by the same problems that dogged another noble government initiative – Girinka (one-cow-per-poor-family) – in its early years. Cows went to the wrong beneficiaries, others were sold off because the new owners had no capacity to look after them, while many others died as a result of neglect.
Work on that and we are on the cusp of achieving a truly digital society.