Getting Rwanda ready for the fourth industrial revolution

The Fourth Industrial revolution is set to change the way we think and work.
A passenger uses a Tap-and-Go card. File.
A passenger uses a Tap-and-Go card. File.

The Fourth Industrial revolution is set to change the way we think and work.

While this could be a welcome development, the prospect has triggered fears among private sector members whose innovation capacity is still low.

The Fourth Industrial revolution can be described as an era replacing the initial Industrial Revolution of the 18th century, where a range of new technologies are fusing the physical, digital and biological worlds, and impacting all disciplines, economies, and industries.

Klaus Martin Schwab, a German engineer and economist, best known as the founder of the World Economic Forum, has associated this with the advancement in technologies in fields such as artificial intelligence, robotics, the Internet of Things, autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, quantum computing and nanotechnology.

The wave of the fourth industrial revolution is expected to see heavy implementation of several emerging technologies with a high potential of disruptive effects.

It is this potential which presents a major fear for sector players who say there is need for government protection from monopolisation of emerging technologies.

Willy Claude Karasira, Chief Executive Officer of Centrika, a local tech company that deals in transport system said that local innovators have started thinking about the future but need support.

“We are ready and working hard to advance our game but we must agree western world tech companies are more advanced.

“In that situation, there has to be protection of the local market. We are not asking the government to stop big companies from entering Rwandan market but there has to be a way through which the small companies can work with big corporations to create a win-win for all,” Karasira said.

Some bit of push in terms of creating partnerships with bigger companies and financial boost to support the growth of local innovations will go a long way in giving an edge to smaller companies to grow.

Patrick Nsenga Buchana, CEO of AC group also pointed out that Rwandan innovations may not be at the level of the developed world, but with some extra push from government they can move a notch higher and do more.

“We are not yet there but we are arriving at it. Today, many services already collect enough data. We just have to move a notch higher and integrate analytics and artificial intelligence. We shall get there.” Buchana says with optimism.

He added that the government needs to support local innovations and the regulatory sandbox is one of those support mechanisms.

“It creates room for innovators to dare to do,” he observed.

Buchana last week attended a one-day workshop on the fourth Industrial revolution which convened regulators and sector players to deliberate on Rwanda’s readiness to adopt the new tech era.

The event in Kigali was hosted by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA).

RURA urged the private sector to be ready, embrace and “maximise” the benefits associated with the growth of emerging technologies.

According to Patrick Nyirishema, the Director General of Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency, the Fourth Industrial revolution is here and it can’t be stopped.

“We have to be ready to embrace it in the best way possible for us to grow,” Nyirishema said.

Local innovators argue that without government protection a few big companies would want to take advantage of situation to “swallow up” small and emerging innovations.

However, Nyirishema said the regulator is aware of some adverse effects of the fourth Industrial revolution such as robotic replacing human resource, including other technological uncertainties but he is confident that through continuous deliberations, there will be more understanding of the benefits and how they can be maximized.

Nyirishema said: “We need to create an environment where new innovations can be encouraged that will, in-turn, benefit Rwandans as this is underlined in our development footprint.

He added: “We will also need all parties involved; the private sector, the regulator and the government to make sense of the fourth Industrial revolution and to say ‘within our context, how do we work together to ensure that Rwanda doesn’t stay behind.”

Nyirishema explained that this revolution presents enormous benefits that Rwandans cannot afford to miss out and the regulator is prepared and determined to pave the way for smooth adoption.

“We have to be ready for it, opportunities are emerging and we have to make money out of it. But as a regulator, we have to ensure that there are no regulatory hindrances to those bringing innovative solutions as well minimizing the potential negative impacts to the people,” he added.

4IR and Rwanda

Fourth Industrial revolutions is being driven by a number of factors, such as; continued search for efficiency; reducing cost of labor; increasing productivity; Data driven decision making for managers; customer feedback and Community Based Innovation (FabLabs).

The era will see 47 per cent to 81 per cent of jobs under threat in 20 years, according to research done by Oxford, while the World Economic Forum Predicts loss of 5million jobs in the next 5 years.

World Bank President Jim Kim warned that two-thirds of jobs in developing nations could be wiped out by automation, a situation that could boost conflict and refugee flows.

RURA has already allowed the transition into the 4th Industrial revolution in all the regulated sectors, including, Transport, Energy, Cyber security and Sanitation.

In order to facilitate this transition, Fiacre Mushimire, the Emerging Comm. Tech. Analyst at RURA, said the regulator is working on a regulatory sandbox; a framework that allows innovators to conduct live experiments in a controlled environment under the regulator’s supervision.

The status of Fourth Industrial revolution in Rwanda, according to Mushimire is that, as of September 2016 there were 257 patents filed in Rwanda, 17 of them being local (<1% of total patents).

“An assessment of the 17 local patents showed that none of them bear witness to a strong technological foundation or any signs of a galvanized 4IR,” he said.

Services like AirB&B, an online marketplace and hospitality service for people to lease or rent short-term lodging, currently list more than 3,000 houses within Kigali alone, Volkswagen is about to start an integrated mobility solution, combining car and ride sharing and Toyota Tsusho’s Traffic sense, detect traffic jams using CDR and SS7 signaling information, Mushimire said.