Rwanda will next week a host a meeting to shape a global strategy for diffusion of broadband technology. Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times spoke to David Kanamugire, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology at The Office of The President , on the upcoming meeting of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development.
Could you briefly give us the background on the Broadband Commission for Digital Development?
The Broadband commission was established in May 2010 to address the challenges of the accelerating broadband to the billions of the world’s population that could potentially be left behind if there are no deliberate efforts by the world’s leaders.
The commission is co-chaired by H.E President Kagame and Mr.Carlos Slim. The co-chairs of the commission are the International Telecommunications Union Secretary General, Dr.Hamadoun Toure and Ms.Irina BOkova, the Director General of UNESCO.
It brings together heads of many technology firms, Government leaders and academia.
Perhaps one needs to step back and look at how technologies evolve generally and see how lack of a global strategy leads to some nations lagging behind in adoption and effective exploitation of these technologies.
Over time there, has been great technologies that have changed the world. These disruptive technologies fundamentally change the way people live and determine the way the world operated.
The phase of industrialization was technology driven—nations that did not industrialize are today categorized as developing world, and that is after amending the ‘least developed countries’ phrase , which though realistic was considered offensive—But the reality is that.
If you cannot envision and grasp these technologies and fully integrate them into national development agenda, you will always be a least developed country, and face the consequences that the situation brings like lack of quality education, poor healthcare, poor transportation systems and other elements that define good standard and quality of living.
Why do these beneficial technologies take long to propagate to the world’s masses?
Take electricity for example, more than a century after its invention, more than a quarter of the world’s population is yet to benefit.
Look at transport systems and other major developmental infrastructure systems like communication systems and waterways. There are several barriers ranging from the nature of the technologies them selves to economic to coordination.
But the most disabling of all barriers if failure of leadership to foresee the need and design policies to
For instance, there came technology that changed the way people travelled.
The invention of steam engines or ship building changed the way man travelled and with that, man conquered and reached previously unreachable parts of the world with great implications.
So it means that disruptive technology changes the way people live and work. However, it is equally important to note the fact that much as such disruptive technology is good for society, it does not necessarily benefit the entire world in an equal manner.
The rate of diffusion of such technologies is sometime slow due to many development barriers. Having said that, I must now turn to the topic at hand by saying that after the disruptive technologies of the industrial revolution, this century, it can be said that broad band technology is without a doubt the current form of disruptive technology that changes the way we work and do business.
It is a multi-trillion dollar industry. It has shaped the destiny of nations.
Sure, but how does it relate to say what happens in Africa?
Disruptive technologies shape for instance how people study, how people do business. It also determines how a person works, how a person works determines what one earns, what one earns determines ones standard of living.
For instance, poverty as well as other challenges can not be adequately tackled using technologies of the previous century. We need very strong tools such as broad band technology to tackle such challenges of development.
However, the problem with this sort of technology is that it can not happen naturally. For instance people cannot wish to have Internet all over sudden.
So it took some industry as well as global leaders including President Paul Kagame and other eminent persons who came together as influential persons (who also happen to be passionate about this sort of technology), in order to ensure that the benefits of broad band is available to all people by accelerating its deployment and to use it to tackle other challenges especially the Millennium Development Goals. This is the group known as The Broadband Commission.
Why is Rwanda hosting this meeting?
The meeting is being hosted by H.E the President in his capacity as the co-chair of the commission. Together with other commissioners, they will examine the current working of the commission and set the strategic agenda for the next five years.
Also present will be the African Youth, Ministers of ICT as well as leaders of Telecom companies in Africa—This group constitutes the necessary stakeholders to realize the promise of delivering on the broadband promise.
The meeting will also draw common strategies for the upcoming Broadband Leadership summit that will bring together heads of states and governments as well as industry leaders to put broadband development at the center stage of global development.
Having said that, I imagine that when the commission converges in Kigali, you will want to show case how Rwanda’s position on broadband or what Rwanda has done. In your own words and as somebody in charge, how can you term Rwanda’s journey in adopting this kind of technology?
Let me first of all say that technological development is a process not a milestone. Rwanda has in place all the necessary ingredients for effective development of technology.
Our leaders set a clear strategy, we have built infrastructure and institutions are working well- Our youth are very engaged, so no issues with sustainability of the course and the industry dynamics have matured where you see private companies greatly innovating and developing great revenue generating services.
This is very critical for sustaining a dynamic industry that has to develop competitive capabilities,
By that, I mean how can you describe the journey travelled so far by Rwanda?
We have made a very big step. Some of the barriers to diffusion of broad band is infrastructure. We have ticked that one off.
We have no issues with infrastructure. Second is the policies and leadership and investments made and financing that has made such a thing to happen. That is also known as enabling environment.
We have the most committed leadership to make broadband happen. The leadership here is such that broadband technology adoption is part and parcel of the national development agenda.
That is the key point here. That technology development is part of the overall development agenda. You cannot separate the two and hope that you will develop. It is impossible.
Meaning that, we have made great breakthroughs. The first being highly committed leadership that understands very clearly the integral nature of broad band and ICT technology with overall development.
Once you have that, you know that you will have the budgets committed, you will have the right policies, you will have institutions working, you will have the regulatory regime working, you will have private investments coming in.
If you look at the amounts of money that was invested nearly half a billion dollars from private and public sources, it is due to strong leadership.
In Rwanda, one can point to very good policies and initiatives that touch on broadband and bringing it to the masses. I am talking about things such as the universal access fund that seeks to create a balance in usage between rural and urban areas. These are very laudable moves. However, reports indicate that Internet usage is still concentrated in urban areas, meaning that the journey of achieving universal access is still long. What is being done in that regard?
You need to understand that broadband is about fast access to information, usually via Internet. There are several factors that determine how fast that access can be. My answer is that it is not a problem unique to Rwanda. It is a universal problem.
That is why we are saying that we are going to tackle it universally. So we have to go through stages. We start from several points such as community access. So we are not going to say that every Rwandan must have it.
We know that such a thing is not going to happen tomorrow. But, we are saying that regardless of what you do, your child must have Internet when he or she goes to school. Or when you go to hospital there should be Internet.
Broadband technology is not about individual access, it is more about community access. Broadband delivers services.
The back end systems within broadband, that eases service delivery is of prime importance to us. We know that with that kind of technology we can drive faster our economy. Without that, you really have a different story.
How far have the objective of the Broadband Commission been made at both continental and global levels.
One of its core objectives is to build and mobilise global leadership to its course. That has been done. We have made a big step. The work of the commission is now globally accepted as part of the key initiatives of attaining Millennium Development Goals.
When you are talking about development issues being discussed you will have people talking about broadband. For instance, 23rd October this year we will have heads of state discussing broadband at a high level summit in Geneva. Meaning that there has been heightened awareness at the global level that you cannot talk about development without talking about broadband.
Part of the objective of the commission was to make broadband a central pillar of development discussions. That has been achieved. People are aware of the need to integrate technology policies with development plans.
That has been achieved. But having said that, there remain concerns and barriers. For instance how do you finance this technology development? How do we make it more affordable?
How do we fine tune models to make it more accessible? That, for instance requires new forms of partnerships between various actors.
Have you concretised some of these things you are talking about?
Absolutely. If you look at the objectives one of them is to eliminate infrastructure barriers. The other is to set policy framework that places such broadband into national development plans including clear strategies for financing such plans.
For instance such plans should include industry partnerships .Then we have elements of such plans that tackle issues of education. For instance, are countries building the right skills? Do countries have the right investment mix in order to enable the uptake of broadband to happen? These are continuous issues of dialogue.
Remember that the Broadband Commission has a mandate of up to 2015.By 2015 within this coming meeting; commissioners are going to decide on a 5 year strategic plan. President Kagame will chair a meeting next week to define a strategy for the Broadband Commission for the next 5 years.
How about broadband issues at the continental level, in more specific terms? Africa is still held hostage by several of those issues you are talking about.
The issue of broadband is at different levels in Africa. There has been a perennial problem of Africa being isolated from the rest of the world due to being previously cut off from the international carrier networks. Now that is history as Africa is connected to the rest of the world by the undersea cables. So now there are issues of hinterland connectivity. You can now see what is happening around. Kigali is now connected to Mombasa and Dar es Salaam. These things have never happened before. At the continental level these are milestones. Infrastructure issue has been or is being resolved. The issue of awareness is also out. What is remaining is the issue of access. That issue is partly economic, partly an issue of policy. That is what African countries are working on.
How are you going to share Rwanda’s experience?
This is a meeting of partners joined to address global challenges. It’s not like a fact finding mission of exploring the progress of one’s areas. We are hosting partners in a joint effort to address strategic technological challenges .Our President has invited his fellow commissioners to discuss key issues that will help better define the working and the agenda of the commission going forward.
What is your conclusion?
Rwanda is pleased to host this event. It is our opportunity to share our experience as well as learn from other’s experience in their broadband journey. H.E President Kagame has been working with other commissioners to shape this global strategy on broadband diffusion. The shaping of global strategy of diffusion of broadband technology to benefit all people regardless of their situations and status is something Rwanda is excited about. More importantly we are excited because the youth are involved.