BY GODFREY NTAGUNGIRA
By designating ICT promotion as a key plank of Vision 2020 within the EDPRS framework Rwanda is determined to promote Science, Technology and Innovation for its planned economic growth.
For Rwanda integrating ICT technologies as an engine of development and as a springboard for global competition and economic growth is considered one of the key areas for transforming the economy.
The leadership’s commitment to turn Rwanda into a regional information and communications technology hub is on track. Planners have acknowledged the fact that Rwanda will have difficulty achieving either its poverty reduction or wealth creation objectives unless it embarks on a concerted effort to build Science, Technology and Innovation capacity.
By 2012,over 50% of primary school children will have access to a laptop via the novel one laptop per child program while 100% of primary schools will be equipped with a science lab which will promote fundamental information on science, and 70% of secondary schools will have science laboratories to provide high quality, practical Science and Technology education.
The gist behind Rwanda’s Vision is to transform its economy from a primarily agrarian based to a primarily information and knowledge based economy.
This has caused the rapid spread of information and communications technologies (ICT) which is changing the way economic and social development occurs in Rwanda. New ICT-related tools have turned institutions and markets into better productive units, enhanced skills and learning, improved governance at all levels making it easier for the poor to access services and leading to a change in the way the economy is running.
The Rwandan government wants to use advanced ICT technologies to transform its traditionally agricultural society into what has been dubbed ‘the Singapore of Africa’.
Pilot projects to hook schools and clinics up to the internet are already underway, and there is a growing number of telecenters to enable rural people to access the Internet.
The role of ICT in poverty reduction is through its catalytic and leveraging effect on improving access to basic services, creating access to global markets and earning opportunities for wealth and job creation.
Substantial progress has been recorded during the past years. Although Rwanda’s ICT sub-sector is embryonic and still accounting for relatively small share of the economy’s output,there is evidence of rapid growth.
In the face of growing evidence of the role of ICT in sustainable development, the Government has put up efforts to promote the integration of ICT into national planning processes and economic development strategies.
A case in point is the national fibre-optic backbone that is expected to boost this sub sector. Upon its completion, extensive deployment covering 30 districts across the country will be initiated, which in turn is forecast to be finalized by 2009.
The national backbone will be a 1,600- 2,000km stretch project. The cost of the deployment has been estimated at between US$20 million and US$40 million. The government has promised that the network will be open to the private sector.
In higher education the number of students enrolled in sciences is planned to increase from 21% to 30%. The proportion of females enrolled is intended to increase to 40% by 2012.
The number of Masters programmes in Science will increase from 80 student places per year to 2000 by 2012; post-doctoral training for Ph.D. holders to 100 per year and a regional scholarship programme will be established for training 500 students in Rwanda from the countries involved in CECAFA region. Research units in higher learning institutions will be reinforced with six Centres of Excellence in Science and Technology established in the six public institutions.
According to the EDPRS strategy the overall number of scientists, engineers and researchers will have increased to 25 per 10,000 people.
Expanding access to Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and ensuring existing centres are adequately equipped are of strategic importance if Rwanda is to become the ICT hub of the region. Vocational training will be restructured to provide the appropriate instruments to achieve this.
From the current graduate output level of 8,250 from vocational training institutions, the total number of graduates will reach 135,000 by 2012. In order to do this, instructors will be retrained and new ones trained with an intent of increasing their number to 300.
Five regional vocational training centres will be established to coordinate training activities in their respective geographical jurisdictions.
The admission rate to tertiary education is also well below that required to create the knowledge base needed to accelerate the growth of a skill-intensive Services Sector. Of greatest concern, is the rise in the total fertility rate which implies that population growth is higher than planned.
The ICT-2020 national policy sets out the orientation of the Government’s ICT Policy and Strategies within the context of the government’s br
oad socio-economic development objectives within the Vision 2020. The ICT-2020 policy is guided by the principle that if Rwanda is to take full advantage of the opportunities of the information age and develop a vibrant multi-sector information and knowledge economy, it should not just be a consumer of ICT goods and services but also a producer and developer of the technology.
The government believes that development of a local ICT production industry and service sector is as equally important as the deployment, exploitation and utilization of the technology to support the activities of various sectors of the economy and society.
The use of fixed telephone landlines is not widespread in the country. Many people use one of the two main mobile telephone networks: MTN or Rwandatel. MTN has, since 1994, been the larger operator of the two.
Rwandatel launched its GSM Network in December 2008. Costs for making calls and sending text messages are significantly cheaper than MTN.
Both networks operate mainly on a ‘pay as you go’ basis and SIM cards and airtime for MTN can be bought throughout Rwanda. MTN has good coverage of the country and Rwandatel intends to expand its new GSM network to cover the entire country by 2009.
In the ICT sub-sector, 300 telecentres for the whole country are scheduled to be established and it is planned that telecommunications access costs will fall from Rwf. 120 to Rwf.60 per minute. As a result, it is intended that access to communications services will rise from 4% to 12% by 2012.
There are two main Internet Service Providers in Rwanda: Rwandatel and MTN. The Rwandatel EVDO card is widely used but has been oversubscribed and therefore operates at a very low speed. Coverage is good throughout the country. The cost of purchasing equipment and operating costs are high in terms of quality of service.
MTN operates a similar but cheaper system, although this is also slow. Both operators offer an extremely expensive, but higher speed fixed WIMAX variant wireless ‘broadband’ service in Kigali. This achieves very low speeds compared to western standards, but is capable of VOIP.
Rwandatel offers ADSL in some areas of the country; but this is far from widespread. Internet cafes exist, but generally provide cheap connections.
Increasing access and penetration rates
As a part of e-Government project, the Government of Rwanda has started to install Internet Kiosks throughout the country. The project is aimed to encourage the use of ICT in public service delivery.
The kiosks will be equipped with touch-screen computers and printers that are connected to the Internet to help service seekers check public information they need online, check their e-mails or surf Internet normally, and eventually print information they need to keep for further use.
The Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA) will help government institutions in loading the kiosks with information so that service seekers will be able to access public information, check e-mail and surf the Web.
The government has already spent millions of francs to purchase equipments but it has plans to make this readily available by providing additional outlets in villages, cities and municipalities.
The objective of the ICT Sub-sector is to promote investment in, and the growth of the Information and Communications Technology industry. Efforts will be made to widen access to ICT among the population and to promote ICT for e-Governance, education and capacity-building and for use by the private sector.
To this end, the number of telecentres will be increased substantially and the cost of connecting to a telecommunications network will halved by 2011. It is expected that the number of additional jobs created each year in the ICT Sector will rise from 7,000 in 2008 to 20,000 in 2012.
This ambitious programme will be overseen by the existing regulatory authority whose institutional capacity will need strengthening over the period of the EDPRS.
A holistic approach
Rwanda must build science, technology and innovation capacity to promote poverty reduction and wealth creation. Rwanda’s commitment to this has been emphasized by a strong commitment of the government of Rwanda that it must ‘apply science and technology holistically: in all levels of education and training, in commercializing ideas, in developing business and quickening the pace of wealth creation and employment- generation, in enabling government to provide better services, and indeed in providing basic tools to society at large for self and collective betterment’.
The National Science, Technology and Innovation Policy, approved by Cabinet in July 2005, recognizes an effective approach to science, technology and innovation capacity building which include policies to promote knowledge acquisition, knowledge creation, knowledge transfer and a culture of innovation.
Acquisition and deepening of knowledge is an essential strategy to achieve the human development objectives set out in Rwanda’s Vision 2020 and the National Policy on Science, Technology and Innovation. In higher academic, technical and professional institutions, the principal actions will be to train teachers, lecturers and high level professional technicians such as engineers, architects and medical professionals.
In promotion of knowledge creation, research capability needs to be developed in all priority sectors of the economy. The strategy includes the reinforcement of research units in Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs) coupled with the investment in training and development of international partnerships in high quality research to meet the developmental needs of Rwanda.
Specific interventions include the establishment of a Science and Technology capacity-building fund to support research capacity-building initiatives and the establishment of Science and Technology Centres of Excellence in HLIs.
Transfer of Knowledge
Rwanda is committed to promote knowledge transfer, science and technology capability needs to be reinforced in all priority sectors of the economy to foster dissemination of the knowledge that exists outside Rwanda, the adoption of knowledge developed within Rwanda and to ensure that workers have the requisite skills to use new technologies.
To this end, ICT sector works within the Education Sector are set to best utilize knowledge resources and with other sectors to determine their education, training and capacity-building needs with regard to Science, Technology and Innovation (STI).
The government has embarked on an STI capacity-building programme designed to develop practical solutions to practical problems. Potential ‘quick wins’ include: value addition to commodity exports such as pyrethrum, tea and textiles; food processing for local (and possibly regional) consumption including the processing of milk and passion fruit juices; the improvement of staple crops using for example, new maize hybrids and tissue-cultured bananas; all-weather feeder roads capable of being maintained by local communities using identified local sources of aggregates and micro-hydro power developed at 200-300 sites serving local communities through local grid networks.
These issues are interconnected, for example, increased power generation will assist commodity processing and feeder roads will facilitate marketing.
For Rwanda to promote a culture of innovation in Science and Technology at all levels, capacity to process innovations will be promoted at national level.District Innovation Centres will be established and a National Research Fund set up to provide financial stimuli for STI activities. Skills and knowledge with regard to the use and application of intellectual property will also be developed.
An enabling legal, regulatory and institutional environment needs to be created to encourage STI in Rwanda. The Government’s Science, Technology and Innovation for Results (STIR) programme will define the institutional structures and relationships required to implement the national STI policy to ensure that they are demand driven and responsive to development needs.
Internet is becoming available and affordable for everyone. Even the most distant places and areas with infrastructure constraints are now being connected.
As Rwanda sets out to emulate the ‘Asian Tigers’ such as Singapore, the secret behind the ICT development is nothing but investing in people, education and training.