Rwanda Development Board’s Information Technology has a directorate whose focus is enabling rural communities access basic ICT services for the purposes of boosting their levels of competitiveness.
As part of this empowerment drive, RDB-IT has been installing rural telecentres throughout the country.
It recently added 18 more telecentres under its community and rural access outreach programmes. The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah spoke to Alphonse Zigira, the Director Rural and Community Access at RDB-IT on the new developments.
Q. What are the costs implications to RDB-IT for putting up these 18 more centers?
A. RDB-IT finances all the activities involved from construction to equipping of the structures. We, at initial stage take care of the operational costs of these multipurpose community telecenters. But we are working on modalities to ensure that these telecenters sustain themselves in the near future.
Q. Kindly share with readers the status report of what your directorate has been undertaking since its inception.
A. The Government through, RDB-IT, has embraced the setting up of Multipurpose Community Telecentres (MCTs) as part of its programme to bridge the prevalent digital divide within rural Rwanda and the rest of the world.
This rural community access programme, hugely accorded attention by the government, bodes well with the policy to implement national e-government and e-governance programmes pegged on improving public and private sector service delivery.
There are so far 12 telecentres deployed and operational at the countryside in the first phase.
More 18 telecenters are being constructed and nearing completion in terms of construction, equipment, connectivity and operational plan.
Multi-purpose community telecentres will link rural communities to urban areas as well as internationally.
This will allow for services such as video conferencing, enabling doctors, teachers, and other professionals to communicate, consult and learn from their colleagues in other parts of the country and from experts abroad.
E-learning will be taking place on a broader scale, allowing professors to provide training to several hundred students at a time through online facilities.
Q. More specifically give an outline of how your directorate has been transforming rural livelihoods.
A. It’s very interesting to see young and old people enjoying the power of ICTs, especially the underserved areas.
Given the fact that 94 percent of our population resides in the rural part of the country, this initiative forms a significant and contributory factor in accelerating ICT penetration in the country.
We have been able – through the rural community access programme – to provide various training in IT essentials, internet connectivity and computer maintenance
Q. How are the rural folks catching up with this new mode of communication?
A. This new mode of communicating universally encountered a sluggish response in the initial days, but there has been a tremendous improvement registered across board.
Our rural based people are steadily realizing the power of ICT applications in communication and are now using it for other developmental areas.
There are various success stories in rural areas where people are employing IT tools in planning and running their businesses as well as researching on market forces and other areas of their interest.
Q. Has RDB undertaken an impact assessment of this sort of intervention? If so briefly elaborate on its key pointers.
A. It would be inappropriate to have embarked on an impact assessment exercise of these telecenters at this moment in time as we are just in the middle of the second implementation phase.
But plans are underway to conduct such an exercise covering the entire ICT docket. However, monthly reports from the operating telecenters indicate good progress in terms usage of ICTs in rural areas.
Q. Obviously such interventions come with challenges such as language barriers for end-users. How have you managed to surmount such barriers?
A. It’s absolutely right that there is a backlog of challenges encountered along the way such as language barriers as you did mention.
There is also lack of understanding and awareness of ICTs due to its novelty.
But we have embarked on rigorous awareness programmes to promote ICTs and educate the communities on the usage of such technologies.
We are usually conducting training programs as a way of managing the process of transformation and orientation.
There is a challenge of English being the ICT language in most part of the world, but we in collaboration with a number of stakeholders are working on a comprehensive plan to develop local content.
We firmly acknowledge that applications in Kinyarwanda would substantially impact on ICT penetration.
Q. Comparatively, how would you rate what Rwanda is doing with other members of the EAC in as far as enabling rural masses to access ICT.
A. I can only say that Rwanda is comparatively doing well as far as bridging the digital divide is concerned in the region. The dawn of information technology in Rwanda has arrived, and with it an explosion of innovation and communication possibilities never before imagined in East Africa will soon be a reality.
With a national backbone consisting of 2,300 kilometers of fibre-optic cables laid throughout the country, connecting Rwanda’s thirty districts as well as the Kigali Metropolitan Area, Rwanda will in 2009 be connected to high-speed internet that will allow for the further development of a country already known world-wide for its truly astounding growth and progress under the government led by President Paul Kagame.
Q. Reports reaching the media have indicated that some telecentres are being underutilized by the local authorities wherever you have installed and handed them over to such authorities. What are your comments on that?
A. Underutilization would mean people are not aware of the benefits of the telecentre at the initial moment, and again we have to understand the level of understanding of the current usage of ICT tools within the rural communities, we have to give it time to mature and for them to understand.
In this we are working with district units for better utilization in terms of designing appropriate content for each district and I hope this will help in driving the traffic to the telecentres.
We are also on the lookout for other stakeholders to join us so that telecentres can become true ICT hubs within the districts.
This in itself is bound to take us some more time to figure out well enough and to get it going on the ground.
My emphasis here is that there is a lot of planning involved in this sort of response mechanism to this particular challenge we have encountered in the field but trust me that RDB-IT is working on getting the right stakeholder to assist in this endevour.
Q. Training for end-users must be an important component of this intervention. Give us an update of this area.
A. Like I mentioned earlier, the training component forms a great riding force in the popularizing of ICTs in our communities. We have this year trained 500 rural based people.
This is a continuous programme to have people at the countryside introduced to the world of ICT.