Smart Series 2: Smart Rwanda as a catalyst for economic development

In my last article, I shared my reflections on the Smart Rwanda Days conference in general and the importance of using ICT as a vehicle for Smart development. In this article I will look at the economic impact of a Smart Rwanda.

In my last article, I shared my reflections on the Smart Rwanda Days conference in general and the importance of using ICT as a vehicle for Smart development. In this article I will look at the economic impact of a Smart Rwanda.

The literature on ICT and its contribution to national development has been well researched and well proven. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) sources indicate that 10% growth in Broadband contributes at least 1.2% to GDP.  This is not surprising when you consider that ICT is the most pervasive of all technologies, cutting across all sectors of the economy affecting all human endeavours, individuals, firms, governments and even multinational institutions.

Thus ICT potentially has individual, national and global impacts even when it functions at the local level; ICTs serve as enablers of all activities both social and economic, as well as outputs of those activities. To understand the power of ICT on your life, do a simple test by putting away your personal phone for a day (just 24hours), and see how you will live without your most loyal gadget.

At the most fundamental level, economies grow when more goods and services are produced, sold and consumed. Growth is also determined by the speed at which such value-adding activities take place and the number of people who derive benefits from the value creation chain.  Therefore a basic ICT item like a mobile phone should be deemed as an electronic device connecting all economic and social agents– locally, nationally, regionally and globally.

The traditional notion that ICT eliminates jobs, and therefore is anti-human has long been buried. ICT produces jobs locally, nationally and globally. ICT actually produces good quality high end sustainable jobs. The more people are connected productively, the more they produce and hence the higher the Gross National Product, all things remaining constant.

In Africa today, telecom spectrum through voice and Data is the most equitably distributed public good. It is the pillar that pulls in and brings all members of society on board. Mobile phones are owned and used by all irrespective of socio-economic status.

Therefore the dialogue on ICT must happen at all levels of society irrespective of class or status, level of education or otherwise, city dwellers or those living outside the cities. ICT is also gender neutral and even age-neutral. ICT is arguably the most unselfish of all natural resources and their distribution. This is the reason all players in the industry must work harder to put at least one phone in the hand of every Rwandan. We must remove the barriers to phone ownership and usage be they affordability, applicability, knowledge or even cultural.

We need to work with all corporate entities to get smarter by providing ICT solutions that can make businesses; ranging from SMEs to large corporate companies to use ICT to find innovative solutions to existing and emerging customer needs.  We need to expand ICT Innovations beyond those within the industry (internet, apps, content, programming, advanced algorithm, hardware architecture and so forth).

We need to use ICT to solve every day human problems as it’s been done in the Ministry of Health to provide healthcare services to pregnant women in the remotest part of Rwanda. A similar approach has been used  in the Ministry of Education in providing connectivity to most schools and offering free Wikipedia  for researchers, students and teachers (as in the case of MTN), or even in the Ministry of Agriculture to provide basic extension services, pertinent agriculture information and commodity prices as in the case of the e-Soko initiative.

Almost every sector of the economy and every Ministry in Rwanda has practical ICT solutions to basic everyday problems.  Kigali City and all Districts in Rwanda actively use ICT e-Governance, data gathering and information sharing. There is one pioneering Project championed by Rwanda Development Board (RDB) dubbed Rwanda Online that will make it possible to access, pay and get instant public service delivery from anywhere near and remote, local or foreign, in subscribing to any Government Agency service for a fee. 

When Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) makes it possible for businesses to pay their taxes via handsets they do not only seek to creatively expand the tax net but also eliminate the pain and the burden of the business person to travel to the collection point and join long queues just to discharge their lawful and civic duties. By eliminating the pain points for the tax payer and enhancing the efficiency of collection it makes the tax payer even more productive in order to contribute more subsequently.

All this contributes to demystify taxation and the use of ICT, rope in more payers and to further champion the national development agenda. In the process, there is a spin-off benefit in expanding ICT literacy to an otherwise informal sector that would have taken long to use ICT to their business operations. Government is leading the way with Ministries, Districts and Agencies applying ICT in the most practical way. Individuals and businesses must take inspiration from these worthy examples.

In my next Smart Series, I will discuss the ICT revolution in Rwanda and look at how we have become Smart citizens.

The author is the CEO of MTN Rwanda - the largest telecommunications company in the country.