On November 14, President Paul Kagame received the “Committed to Connecting the World Award at this year’s International Telecommunication Union Council (High-Level Segment). This was in recognition of his support for ICT development in Rwanda. This is worthy and timely recognition, considering the strides the country is making towards becoming the Region’s telecommunication hub.
It did not take long after my arrival to Kigali to realize how competitive the airtime vending business was. At almost every street and after every turn, one cannot help but notice the cluster of young men, clad in bright yellow aprons, vigorously waving their ‘merchandise’. At first, their sheer enthusiasm impressed me, then; their marketing approach (or the lack of it) tickled me.
In my competitive Kenyan mind, the question that would always arise is, ‘Why are they clustered together, don’t they realize its in their best interest to spread out?’. I am still baffled at this approach. Nevertheless, the more I ponder about it, the more an animal documentary on the National Geographic channel rings true in my mind. In the wild, it is always safer in a pack!
I also sometimes wonder what other merchandise they can sell. I cannot imagine how they make ends meet by selling a few cards per day. Again, my cut throat socialization, forces me to wonder why they cannot hire a small banda or stall, where among other things, airtime can be sold in order to spread risks and profits.
Now, eleven months later, they have become part of my everyday life, and many a time, their prompting has reminded me to top up! I do not understand their work dynamics or challenges, but one thing I do know is that I am glad to have them around.
Another very interesting observation I made with regard to the telephony industry was the concept of ‘mobile telephones’. In any other part of the world, one would have immediately imagined that I was referring to a cell phone, but I am not.
The so-called ‘Tuvugane’, has been the lifesaver for budget callers, whose main aim of calling is to transmit a word or at most, a one-liner for example; “ndaje!”, “uri hehe”, or “tegura icyayi cy’abashitsi”.
The most appreciable difference I have had the pleasure of enjoying, in relation to telephony and related services, is at the point of purchase.
I cannot claim to have traveled the world, but in the other the East African countries, the transaction between vendor and vendee end once the exchange of card for stipulated amount is settled.
However, in Rwanda, there is an additional twist to this transaction, the vendor goes ahead and scratches off the coating to reveal the recharge number. Can customer service get any better? I doubt it!
There is no dispute in my mind that I have never seen more people use their phones, than I have in Kigali. ‘Everyone’ has a phone and will use it to surf the net, send short text messages (sms), and most commonly listen to the radio.
Cell phones are no longer a status symbol, but a sheer necessity. Sometimes, I wonder how we ever lived without them, yet, we did and managed very well at that. It is surprising how adaptable the human race is…and equally surprising how dependant it can be. Who knows what the next ‘big thing’ will be, but one thing for sure is that, telephony has changed our lives tremendously.