Made in Rwanda Expo: Notes from ICT Innovation Pavilion

There are several good stories at the ongoing Made in Rwanda (MiR) exhibition in Gikondo, where hundreds of indigenous entrepreneurs in various sectors are showcasing their efforts; one story regards the huge potential in the young innovators driving the country’s ICT industry.

There are several good stories at the ongoing Made in Rwanda (MiR) exhibition in Gikondo, where hundreds of indigenous entrepreneurs in various sectors are showcasing their efforts; one story regards the huge potential in the young innovators driving the country’s ICT industry.

A tweet, Thursday evening, by Raissa Maclean, one of the exhibitors influenced my decision to visit the expo on Friday afternoon; I went straight to the ICT rotunda in which all major sector actors are assembled, sending a powerful statement of their collective value to the MiR agenda.

The MiR agenda seeks to address several national challenges including job creation for the youth, import substitution through development of new export opportunities and ultimately improving the country’s balance of payment.

In the early stages of MiR, there was a near risk of misbranding the initiative as only targeting the country’s manufacturing sector; that would certainly have excluded other sectors such as ICT; it is therefore impressive to note that the ongoing exhibition has attracted actors from all sectors.

There is close to a dozen stalls within the ICT pavilion at the MiR exhibition. In there, one immediately notes that this is a hub for youngsters to express themselves. Young men and women all below 25 years of age, ably representing their respective companies with passion.

Regarding jobs creation for youth, ICT is therefore the real deal. The youth love ICT because it is mainly a brain game that requires no major physical input. It is the kind of cool stuff they love.

And that is exactly what Fablab, where Raissa works, offers to the Rwandan youth; a platform that offers free opportunities to fabricate one’s ideas into actual products.

“To be admitted, one’s idea should have the potential to add value, either by solving an existing problem or satisfying a service demand on the market,” a young stall attendant told me.

Hundreds of wannabe innovators have entered Fablab over the past years, getting out with refined skills using resources and tools made available by government funding as well as donor support from the likes of the Japanese international corporation agency.

Next to the Fablab stall was Mobicash, described by its promoters as a ‘secure cashless payment mobile payment platform for everybody. Remy, the young man manning the stall told me that since they started operations in 2014, Mobicash has become a household name for e-payments.

Currently working with over 3000 agents, the Patrick Ngabonziza creation, with eight other young innovators, is now a leading facilitator for clients seeking to pay taxes, and utility bills such as electricity, water, Pay-tv in Rwanda and other African countries.

“Our service is now used not only in Rwanda but 25 other African countries,” Remy told me. In Rwanda alone, MobiCash facilitates over 10,000 tax payment transactions, adding value to Rwanda Revenue Authority’s efficiency although the tax body is not charged for it.

Instead, MobiCash charges separate fees depending on the volume being paid by the customer; that commission fee is split equally between them and their agents. But it is also taxed.

I saw two actors in the e-Commerce space including Kasha and Murukali. Both websites help connect MiR entrepreneurs with potential markets online. While Kasha focuses on beauty and medical supplies for women, Murukali helps buyers order for anything online, for home delivery.

There is ImagineT, a web domain and hosting company and possibly the oldest actor in the sector having opened shop in 2003/4; its client portfolio currently includes respected brands such as MTN-Rwanda and The New Times.

“We are known for our reliability, a value we have strengthened from years of experience,” Vanessa Rukundo ImagineT’s chief of operations, told me.

But it is the story of AC Group with its flagship product, ‘Tap&Go’ that takes the day; this is one story that truly defines the potential that innovations in ICT could have on the economy.

In Tap&Go, you have a problem inspired solution that has made paying for a public bus fare a cool affair; what began as a homegrown solution for Kigali’s transport problem, is fast becoming a made in Rwanda solution that is being adopted by African cities such as Yaoundé in Cameroon.

Like all innovation, the Tap&Go card raised hullabaloo after it disrupted traditional jobs in the transport sector, affecting bus touts and conductors. But today, most of that constituency has been won over, most, now among the thousands employed by AC Group as card agents.

As the government drives the cashless economy agenda, a decision to rollout the Tap & Go card countrywide, would help rid the transport sector of cash which is worth hundreds of millions in daily travel fares.

If Kigali can be regarded as a pilot for Tap & Go, it is fair to say that it has met and perhaps exceeded general expectation and one could safely suggest the technology is fit for rollout; it would be a positive step towards building a smart and cashless Rwanda.

The young man at the AC group stall told me that since December 2015, exactly two years ago, this month, they have powered over 70 million journeys within Kigali alone and today, the company has over a million active Tap&Go cards facilitating a million taps daily

Views, expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the New Times Publications.