Aline Uwitonze, an entrepreneur from Gatsibo District, says she no longer has to travel long distances, to access Banks or carry out financial transactions.
“All I do is use my mobile phone, to send and receive money, read the news and most importantly, make calls to my customers from anywhere at affordable rates,” she says.
Uwitonze’s story has been possible thanks to relentless efforts of the Government and President Kagame’s visionary leadership to place ICT at the center of Rwanda’s economic transformation.
Indeed, “the internet is a needed public utility as much as water and electricity,” President Kagame pointed out at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, last year.
Rwanda’s leadership is well aware that ICT is the vehicle that will deliver the prosperous future all Rwandans are working towards.
Dr Hamadoun Toure, the Executive secretary of the Smart Africa Alliance, refers to Kagame as the Digital president who is transforming Rwanda into a service-based economy. Everything is going digital and this has improved the quality of service Rwandans seek and receive.
The government considers ICT central to driving Rwanda towards a knowledge-based economy. In fact, Rwanda’s budget allocation to ICT - as a percentage of its GDP - is at par with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Rwanda growth in ICT continues to be one of the fastest in the continent. This has created several opportunities for businesses and the horizon looks even more promising. E-commerce, e-services, mobile services and applications development are some of the ICT focus areas that have sprung up of late. These are creating wealth and jobs for the young people especially.
During a two-day visit in Kigali, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao, pointed out that Rwanda’s choice to prioritize ICT is one of the major reasons the country has registered remarkable progress.
The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), in colaboration with other stakeholders is making sure the benefits that come with technology reach every Rwandan, wherever they may be.
RURA’s main mandate is regulation of utilities. And, for the ICT sector, RURA is in charge of licensing, monitoring and advising policy makers on technology related issues. It is also the go-to institution when relating with foreign stakeholders.
Protais Kanyankore, is in charge of the ICT Regulation Department at RURA. He says the idea is to create an environment that promotes public confidence, attract more investors and ensure stability, transparency and fair competition.
Rwanda has 3 large telecom operators - MTN Rwanda, Tigo and Airtel. There are six Internet Service Providers (ISPs), one Wholesale Network Service provider, two Network facility providers and fourteen Retail Internet Service Providers.
Anthony Kulamba, the Head of Media Regulation and Consumer Affairs Department at RURA says that professional regulation has facilitated growth in the sector.
“As a result of a conducive legal and regulatory framework in place, the ICT sector continues to experience a significant growth,” Kulamba says. He added that RURA also closely monitors the quality of services offered by the providers to make sure consumers get top-notch services and the providers adhere to the set standards.
Impact in numbers
According to RURA, there has been sharp increase in mobile phone subscription from 3.1 million in 2010 to the current 8.4million. This reflects an increase of 5.3million.
Meanwhile, on the internet side, there has been an increase in penetration rate from 1.6 per cent seven years ago to 36 per cent presently.
This increase in internet penetration and mobile phone usage is highly attributed to the increased accessibility and affordability of services due to the entry of more players.
Growth in the number of service providers according to RURA, has also resulted in reduced calling charges due to healthy competition.
Charles Semapondo, who is in charge of innovation and cyber-security, says that RURA, in 2002, adopted the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) industry standards to make sure that the bar is set high. This helped create a conducive environment for investors as well as quality affordable service on the part of consumers.
Rwanda concentrated on enhancing the ICT infrastructure by establishing a national data centre that centralizes information storage, management and protection, as well as using cloud computing facilities.
In addition, a national fiber-optic backbone network that connects Rwanda to international sea cables was deployed, increasing internet accessibility and affordability as well as connecting Rwandans to global networks.
While the overall objective has been to leverage ICT and address national priorities for economic growth and poverty reduction, experts like James Musinguzi, the Director of Technical Development and Services Unit at RURA believes through the development and coordination of national policies and programs related to youth empowerment as well as Information & Communication Technology policies and programs have made it possible to accelerate socio-economic development through increased productivity on the private sector’s side.
According to Protais Kanyankore, the Head of ICT Regulation Department at RURA, the country began to relentlessly develop its ICT sector in 2000. It adopted the National Information Communications Infrastructure (NICI) policy and created a long-term plan to achieve full digitization in four five-year stages.
“The NICI plan was further integrated into Vision 2020, which is the government’s comprehensive programme to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020.
In fact, one of the main goals of Vision 2020 is to shift from agrarian economy to an information-rich, knowledge-based one by 2020.”
Digitization and Vision 2020
NICI’s first stage (2000-2005) prepared the groundwork for ICT sector, including establishing institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks, as well as opening up the telecom market. This paved way for investors to inject more resources into the industry.
Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister for Youth and ICT, says, the journey of turning Rwanda into a digital hub was inspired by visionary leadership of President Kagame.
Minister Nsengimana adds that the strong collaboration between the public and the private sector in addition to a solid legal and regulatory framework has ensured customers get the right service at the right price.
“It is evident that in just 7 years, what was once considered as an object of luxury and privilege for rich people has become a basic necessity for Rwandan urban and rural daily lives,” Nsengimana says. He adds that in the next 7 years, issues that still need to be addressed include
keeping broadband affordable and distributing the know-how via training.
Extending broadband networks
The national fiber-optic backbone network, which connects to an undersea network, already connects all the 30 districts of the country. The government also negotiated with three fiber-optic submarine cable companies SEACOM, TEAMS and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) to finance the extension of fiber-optic cables to increase bandwidth capacity to benefit schools, health centers and other institutions. The physical laying of the fibre optic cables was completed in 2012.
In 2015, South Korea’s largest telecom company, Korea Telecom signed a deal to deploy high-speed (4G) broadband network across the country within three years.
Under the agreement, Korea Telecom (now called KT Corp) will invest $140 million in infrastructure and expertise, while Rwanda will provide fiber-optic network assets, spectrum and a wholesale license, according to the agreement.
Introduction of 4G LTE internet
In November 2014, Rwanda Launched a Fourth Generation Long-Term Evolution (4G LTE) Internet services.
The rollout of 4G LTE is expected to accelerate the attainment of national development goals by speeding up ICT-based services as well as creating jobs and providing new opportunities to deliver better services across the country.
The launch of 4G LTE is one of the tools that will support government efforts to achieve its development targets.
Rwanda has over the last 7 years been implementing ICT initiatives in the health sector. One example is the open Medical Record System (Open MRS), an initiative by Partners in Health and the Regenstrief Institute, a US-based research organization.
Open MRS facilitates nationwide tracking of patients’ data, providing support for nutrition and child health, database synchronization tools to support other medical services including pharmaceuticals. OpenMRS also supports community health workers who use mobile phones to collect data from patients in rural areas, linking them to specialized treatment remotely.
By improving interventions, monitoring and reporting, these e-health solutions have increased citizens’ access to healthcare. Rwanda is now one of the few countries in Africa that efficiently use ICT in the health sector. Such interventions have helped increase the life expectancy of Rwandans. In the last 20 years, the average life expectancy has risen to more than 67 years from only 39.
Rwanda is among the least corrupt countries in Africa, according to the January 2017 report by Transparency International, Rwanda was ranked 3rd after Botswana and Cape Verde.
President Kagame has introduced policies and systems that ensure zero-tolerance to corruption in the country
One of the strategies adopted was embracing online service delivery - especially public related - to reduce on human interaction.
In a recent interview with The New Times, Toda Takao, the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) vice president in charge of human security and global health, said ICT is indispensable when it comes to promoting transparency and regional integration.
“Digitization is not just about access and connectivity, it is also about government digitizing its services to create an environment that is less prone to corruption,” Takao said.
Easy access to government services
Payments for government services has become much easier thanks to the introduction of Irembo platform - a single “one-stop-shop” for government services applications and payment.
With Irembo, Rwandans are able to apply and receive, birth Certificate, register for driving tests, obtain criminal record certificates and get visas online among many other services.
Clement Uwajeneza, Chief Executive Officer, Rwanda Online Limited, that operates the platform, says Irembo is a great milestone towards turning Rwanda into a digital hub.
“Our most important goal at Irembo is to make access to Government services user-friendly for citizens and businesses in Rwanda,” Uwajeneza said. The target is to have up to 100 services available and with digital payment options as well.
Paying taxes online
Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), the Tax body has created an efficient online tax calculator to assist small and medium businesses to register their companies and compute taxes electronically. Gone are the days when businesses had to physically, access tax serves from RRA offices.
Digitizing the Financial sector
There is no doubt players in the financial sector have taken the most advantage of the developments in technology. Institutions such as Banks, Insurance companies and Telcoms have automated their systems to increase access and improve efficiency in service delivery. They have also taken advantage of technology to build digital solutions that have made it easier for many more Rwandans to access financial services.
Anand Sanjeev, the CEO of BPR Rwanda says that more financial institutions are exploring and integrating technology into their operations.
“Financial institutions are thinking about doing more than just reacting to regulatory reform, and are investing in digital capabilities as a sustainable solution to meet both compliance and strategic initiatives,” he said.
Sanjeev who is also the former chairperson of the Rwanda Bankers Association noted that the advancements in technology are playing an important role in promoting financial inclusion in the country.
The evolution of more innovative payment solutions including Visa cards, credit and Debit cards and Mastercard, are a complete manifestation of a country that is on a right track towards digitizing its economy.
According to the Central Bank – BNR, between 2011 and June 2016, the number of PoS machines increased from 5 to 25.5 per 100,000 habitants. The central bank estimates overall cashless transactions (for merchants acquiring) increased from 0.32% in 2011 to 16.5% in 2015.
Over the last five years, mobile money has significantly grown, contributing immensely towards financial inclusion.
According to the 2016 Finscope survey, formal inclusion was at 68% with mobile money contributing to 23 %.
There are 55,000 mobile money agents spread out across the country way above any other provider of financial services, banks inclusive.
The number of Mobile Money subscribers according to central bank increased from 231,000 in 2010 to over 8 million in 2016. The number of transactions also increased from 829 million in 2010 to 167 billion with a value of 1.1 trillion in 2015.
Promoting a cashless economy
ICT has played a very fundamental role in the promotion of a cashless economy and boosting Rwanda’s quest for 100 Percent financial inclusion by 2020.
According to the 2016 McKinsey Report, Digital Financial Services have the potential to provide access to financial services for 1.6 billion people in emerging economies. The report points out that ICT allows governments to save $110bn per year by reducing leakage in spending and tax revenues.
According to BNR, the country remains a cash dominant economy mainly due to the existing cash-based culture.
However, there is optimism that this is changing.
John Rwangombwa the Central Bank governor says that ICT is central to shifting towards a cashless economy.
“The Government of Rwanda understands the crucial role ICT plays in all sectors of the economy, including Finance. This is why efforts have been made to promote a cashless economy by digitizing financial transactions,” the Governor says.
Rwangombwa points out that the Government today conducts its business electronically, including paying bills and taxes.
“Policies that encourage digitization of payments have been put in place and the private sector, especially financial institutions, are getting support to embrace the use of ICT to champion financial inclusion.”
Rwanda Education System is moving towards a student-centric education supported by the integration of technology. The use of technology enables better teaching and better learning with students using digital, multimedia-rich interactive lessons, enabling self-pace and collaborative learning.
In the last 7 years, Rwanda has enhanced online learning to deliver cost-effective, easily accessible and ever-current education to all ages and social backgrounds, regardless of time and geography.
Since the system started; 5,357 students graduated in different courses. An increase of 69% in 4 years.
In November 2014, Rwanda signed an agreement with Positivo BGH to set up a plant to locally produce laptops, computers, tablets, and other electronic gadgets.
This plant located in Kigali is producing ICT equipment to the local market and this is helping with distribution of ICT devices to schools.
As part of building Smart Rwanda, AC Group launched the Tap&Go project with Kigali Bus Services, anRoyal Express and RFTC.
With the blessing of the government, the project is transforming public transport system towards cashless transactions.
“The primary reason for starting with automated fare collection where clients use digital cards is because operators were losing a huge percentage of their bus incomes to fraud hence hindering their ability to provide proper service to commuters,” says Patrick Nsenga Bucyana, the CEO AC Group boss.
Boosting agriculture e-isoko
Meanwhile, the introduction of e-market (e-Soko) in 2010 gave Farmers in Rwanda a boost, making it easy for them to access information on agricultural produce farm-gate and market prices.
e-Soko is an electronic platform giving farmers, consumers and traders up-to-date market price information by SMS. It is now widely used.
Lillian Uwintwali, the managing director of M-AHWII, says through ICT, farmers are able to obtain market information and bridge the information gap to address some of the supply constraints. This has increased their profit that was being eaten up by unscrupulous middlemen.
There is, therefore, no doubt that Rwanda’s goal of creating world-class ICT infrastructure is pay off.
Rwanda’s ICT development has had a huge impact on socioeconomic development and gives strong hope that, shared by many Africans, that leapfrog into the digital age is very possible.
Going forward, RURA is committed to ensuring that government policies in regulated utilities are implemented, consumers are protected and investors gain from their investment.
RURA attributes all the achievements highlighted to the good governance and visionary leadership of His Excelency President Paul Kagame.