ICTs: Rwanda's sale to the world

Travelling around the world with a Smart phone gives you a measure of confidence and security. Rwanda attracts a little over 1 million tourists a year. Courtesy of the different initiatives that have been put in place to bolster ICT, one such tourist can plan her whole trip off a smart phone.

Travelling around the world with a Smart phone gives you a measure of confidence and security. Rwanda attracts a little over 1 million tourists a year. Courtesy of the different initiatives that have been put in place to bolster ICT, one such tourist can plan her whole trip off a smart phone.

She or he is able to change flight plans and pay for it all with ease from the comfort of their hotel room. Going back a short five years ago, this would have been impossible. Free wifi has made it both affordable and accessible.

In September 2013, PCTech, an African prime resource centre for ICT news, reported; “(Rwanda) has started to cover the lush green, rolling hills of the capital with wireless hotspots, which is the first step of a plan to provide wifi coverage to all schools and public buildings, markets, bus stations and hotels in the city and, in the long-term, to the entire country.”

While this is an ongoing process, the importance of this commitment cannot be understated.

A little over a year later, this month to be exact, government launched the high-speed internet network dubbed the Fourth Generation Long-Term Evolution (4G LTE) internet.

Further still, the October 2014 Smart Rwanda Days conference convened in Kigali under the theme; “Digitising Rwanda”. It was clear from the attendance of President Paul Kagame, that ICTs remain a key priority for this government.

Rwanda is one of a handful of African countries to adopt a free wifi strategy. Other countries include South Africa, Nigeria and the town of Nakuru in Kenya.  Globally, the 10 best wifi-free cities include Paris, France, New York City, Taipei in Taiwan, and Tel Aviv in Israel.

The level of service on offer may vary. Some cities limit it to two hours a day. Other cities base it on access during certain periods of the day. Taipei limits it to 30 days of free wifi for travelers. Time Magazine reported that Google, got on the wifi band wagon in October 2014 giving residents of San Francisco access to free wifi in certain public spots.

The models of implementation may vary and the funding too; from full government funding to public private partnerships. What is clear is that this is an idea that is on the uptake because of the significant benefits having access to communications has for the country.

In keeping with the focus to have fast and secure internet available to 95% of the population by 2017, the Rwandan government seeks to combine affordability and access.

“The deployment of high-speed broadband network in Rwanda will accelerate the country’s economic growth, create jobs, as well as help facilitate social and economic progress,” the Minister for Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana is quoted as saying.

Indeed he has a point. IGDP is defined as the Internet’s contribution to overall GDP and is calculated at only 1.1% currently in Africa.

The international consulting firm McKinsey projects that given the spectacular trajectory of mobile phone growth in Africa, “iGDP could account for as much as 10 per cent, or $300 billion, of total GDP” by 2025.

The conclusion is that the demographic dividend, that elusive concept that has countries with large percentage of its population as youth, can be exploited for economic and social development.

In Rwanda, there are exciting cases of young entrepreneurs successfully riding the technology wave. In 2013, a young Clarisse Iribagiza, CEO of Rwanda’s HeHe Limited won the tech startup prize at the Transform Africa Summit. HeHe provides mobile technology solutions.

Clarisse is but one example of young people committed to using technology to drive change and fill the gap in skills and content for Africa by Africans.

It is these visible examples of young African women and men achieving their dreams and making a change that will inspire other youth across the continent to strive to achieve their personal goals.

 It takes, amongst other things, training facilities, access to finance and affordable broadband to make it all possible. It is for governments, from all around Africa, to put in place not only the hard infrastructure but also the soft infrastructure to facilitate the making of dreams. 

Currently based in Rwanda, the writer comments about people, organizations and countries whose stories create a chrysalis for ideas.

mmuteshi@ymail.com

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