RWANDA: ICT goes beyond towns

After the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, the country was shattered with all sectors completely destroyed.  Few years after the genocide, the government of Rwanda came up with an important and what seemed to be an ambitious policy of the ICT development.
Some of the telecomunication equipment dotting the countryside (File photo)
Some of the telecomunication equipment dotting the countryside (File photo)

After the 1994 genocide against Tutsi, the country was shattered with all sectors completely destroyed.  Few years after the genocide, the government of Rwanda came up with an important and what seemed to be an ambitious policy of the ICT development.

In fact, the development partners questioned the capacity of Rwanda’s program on ICT. They were asking if Rwandans really needed ICT or good water to drink, medicine and food aid.

The concerns of the development partners did not worry the government of Rwanda as the country believed that ICT would be a tool to transform a subsistence economy into an information-rich, knowledge-based one, and accelerate economic growth. As early as 1998 the Government was finalizing its ICT blueprint dubbed “An Integrated Framework for Socio-Economic and ICT Policy and Plan Development and Implementation for Rwanda”.

After a series of consultative encounters with stakeholders and the general public this document was fine-tuned and adopted in 2000.

From this strategic focus on ICT, the government adopted a comprehensive plan and policy on ICT. This plan, the National Information and Communication Infrastructure plan and policy (NICI) is to be implemented in five-year phases, 2001-2005, 2005-2010, 2010-2015, and 2015-2020, and each phase has a different focus.

ICT was also made one of the cross cutting issues in the Vision 2020 and later mainstreamed into the country’s EDPRS as a tool to achieve poverty reduction.

The achievements have been remarkable and recognized by both the people of Rwanda and world at large. A recent global report compiled by Ookla (a world leader in calculating broadband connection speed and web-based network diagnostic applications) on internet connectivity put Rwanda among the top three African countries with the fastest internet broadband connectivity and downloading speeds.

According to the report, Rwanda’s internet speed supersedes that of an average African nation download speed of 1.6 Mbps, and in terms of uploads speeds Rwanda has a speed of 2.03 MB/second, putting it alongside China, France and Finland, some of the world’s leading ICT countries.

One question asked by many is whether ICT facilities are not only concentrated in the capital and major towns. This is not the case as the RDB – IT has gone an extra mile to establish telecentres in rural areas under its famous Rural and Community access project.

RDB – IT through e-Rwanda project has established a telecenter in each of the country’s 30 districts. So far 12 telecenters which started as pilot phase are operational while 18 have been completed and will start as soon as they are equipped.

While visiting one of the telecenters in the countryside, you will unquestionably get impressed by a wide range of services including training provided at the facility. Each telecentre, which is certainly not a big place, has fifteen desktop computers, a photocopier, scanner, two printers (one coloured printer and a black and white one), two permanent staff, the manager and a technician.

The rolling out of the telecentres aims to bridge the ICT gap existing between the rural poor and the urban dwellers. The focus of the telecenters’ project is to enable rural communities access basic ICT services for the purposes of boosting their levels of competitiveness.

The centers will also enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of local government processes using ICT and improve the delivery of government services to the rural population. 

The centers also aim at empowering people in rural areas in ICT, provide computer training to these people, and create services based on ICT and facilitating access and connectivity. Given the fact that 94 percent of the Rwandan population resides in the rural part of the country, this initiative forms a significant and contributory factor in accelerating ICT penetration in the country.

Actually, the government of Rwanda believes that a well worked out ICT network will enhance participation and knowledge sharing among the country’s population. It will empower them and make commerce, knowledge and information accessible to all Rwandan regions.

In places where the telecenters are not yet operational and where there is no electricity, RDB – IT has been using ICT bus (mobile computer lab) to complement these telecentres and offering these services in a more versatile manner.       

But has the 12 operational telecenters and ICT buses achieved their goals? As mentioned earlier, the training component forms a great riding force in the popularizing of telecenters and ICT buses. Statistics available in RDB – IT indicate that since their inception in late 2008, the Telecenters had by January 2010 (about one year) trained 4.600 people and the number is expected to increase as the number of the centers also increase.

The big number of the trainees is due to low costs charged whereby training in word, excel, internet connectivity and maintenance goes to a relatively cheap price of 10.000 frw. The number trained by the 12 telecenters and the ICT bus in a period of one year is quite impressing and gives hope that at the time the remaining 18 centers become operational, the number will be three times more.

Telecentres offer a certificate in International Certified Driving License, an internationally acknowledged IT certificate, making their graduates capable of competing both in the country, region and beyond.

Telecentres offer a variety of other services such as photocopy services, copy typing, scanning of documents and even digital photography. These services are charged at half the prices compared to private operators to enable the poor access the services at affordable prices.

I was quite impressed when I was in Gatsibo District – Eastern Province and needed to surf the internet. As I entered Kabarore telecenter, I found my former school mate quite busy using the internet researching for his dissertation. As we talked of how impressed we were, we were interrupted by a man seemingly in his late forties who reckoned us to come to his computer.

The man explained how he was using the internet at the telecenter for research on appropriate agricultural methods that help improve yields.

The farmer said that he was optimistic that shortly, farmers will be using the internet to look for the market for their products. In fact the government has put in place e-Soko project that will be enabling farmers to access commodity prices in different prices of Rwanda so that they can take their produce to a market where they will make the best profit.

Rural people are excited at the prospect of the IT services coming to them instead of the other way round. The sky is the limit.

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