Technology is growing at a fast rate in Rwanda, and 2017 was truly another year of new technological innovations. We have seen technological transformations disrupt and redefine businesses, education, healthcare, real estate, among other sectors.
More than ever, we have started using vocabularies like artificial intelligence, big data, Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain, and virtual reality.Sunday Times’ Julius Bizimungu examines some of the trends to watch out for this year.
Tap & Go
Public transport has for several years been viewed as meant for those who are not doing well economically. But today it has gone under massive transition, and with the introduction of new technology, public transportation is now preferable by most people.
One of the biggest technologies that is changing the face of public transport is AC Group’s Tap & Go, a smart transport system that enables passengers to board public buses without using hard cash but rather smart cards. This is part of the country’s wider transition into a cashless economy. Holders of ‘Tap & Go cards can top up through agents stationed at all bus terminals with as little as Rwf200.
Previously, commuters were only able to use the Tap & Go cards in 95 per cent of the routes in Kigali. Today, the group said it has covered an extra 2 per cent covering 97 per cent of the routes.
The next move is to rollout the programme upcountry, but before that, the company exported its technology to Cameroon last year.
Also last year, DMM Group, a Japanese electronic commerce and internet company with a diversified group of businesses that includes online shopping and video on demand service, invested in Tap & Go technology.
This was part of the company’s bigger commitment to invest 10 billion Japanese yen (roughly $100 million) on the continent over the next 5 years.
It is only wise to expect with the new investment, Tap & Go will probably extend its reach beyond the capital and go to other areas, as well as disrupt other markets in the region.
Documentation is often lacking in different parts of Africa, leading to land disputes because it isn't clear who owns the land. Even when there are records, sometimes they have been tampered with.
A record that cannot be deleted, using something called blockchain, could be used to prevent these disputes. Blockchain is a method of recording data, a digital ledger of transactions, agreements, contracts and anything that needs to be independently recorded and verified.
What makes a big difference is that this ledger isn't stored in one place, it's distributed across several hundreds or even thousands of computers around the world. Everyone in the network can have access to an up-to-date version of the ledger. So it can be an open, transparent auditable and verifiable record of any transaction.
Cyber security Company WISeKey is using blockchain technology for the land registry in Rwanda. Last year, it announced a partnership with Microsoft to support the government in adopting blockchain technology.
There are many expectations this year that the company will fully digitise the Rwanda Land Registry, with plans to officially open a blockchain Centre of Excellence in Rwanda.
Zipline’s drone technology
There is a global race for commercial drone deliveries of small packages, which have been restricted in the US and Europe because of aviation rules. In comparison, some parts of Africa, such as Rwanda, are welcoming drones.
The combination of rural roads and vast amounts of land which is not on a flight path make parts of Africa perfect for developing delivery drones.
The American robotics company Zipline runs drones which can deliver small packages like blood, vaccines and anti-venom. Last year, after a year of operation in the country’s Southern and Western provinces, the use of drones to supply blood and other medical supplies is expected to be expanded to the Eastern Province this year.
There are also plans to open a distribution centre in the East which would also serve the Northern Province.
Zipline revealed that it made about 2000 deliveries of blood units to 12 hospitals in the two provinces where it operates after one year of operation.
This year, Zipline's Tanzania operation is expected to begin in Dodoma. It will have four distribution centres across Tanzania, offering a range of medical supplies. Forbes says this will be the largest drone delivery system in the world.
The burden of walking long distances to seek some government services has consistently been removed. There are large numbers of people who do not have to necessarily travel to apply for a marriage certificate, land transfer, drivers’ related services, birth certificate, criminal record clearance certificate, and other services.
All you have to do is to sit down with your phone or a computer and log into Irembo (an e-Government portal), and you apply and at the same time pay for more than 70 services. It has enhanced services delivery, brought efficiency and has saved costs.
It is one of the fastest growing mobile technology start-ups in Rwanda, specialising in application and software development. It is not just a start-up but a research and innovation lab where people make their dreams come true.
DMM.HEHE regularly holds a “Hack-a-thon” as part of their efforts to encourage high school students to think creatively and use coding to solve problems.
It is the same company that jointly worked with developers in Uganda to launch SafeBoda, which connects customers with drivers that have been trained in road safety, customer service, and motorbike maintenance. DMM.HEHE also built a software, GirlHub, for Nike Foundation to empower teenage girls by allowing them to use their mobile phones to provide feedback to weekly radio shows.
It is this that has attracted the attention of many people including investors like DMM. Last year DMM also invested in the company which saw it rebrand from Hehe Labs to DMM.HEHE.
In fact, it was revealed that the money that DMM invested in both ‘HEHE’ and Tap & Go was almost equal to the money that the government sold Umubano Hotel to Madhvani Group. The acquisition was valued at $13 million (about Rwf11 billion).
In 2018, we should expect DMM.HEHE to make its way into the e-Commerce business after being acquired by the Japanese investors. It is believed that the companies that are going to challenge and transform the technology industry are relatively new to what people know.