Gicumbi is an hour’s drive from the capital, Kigali. The journey, mostly smooth save for a few potholes here and there, leads to a small but neat telecentre set right on a hill.
The view is quite arresting and extremely welcoming. It is in this serene countryside that you find the Gicumbi Community Telecentre.
As I entered the telecentre, I observed two university students from the National University of Rwanda, using the Internet as a research tool while a few meters away, someone was checking his email as another formulated his business plan using Microsoft Excel.
Telecentres offer a variety of services such as photocopy services, copy typing, scanning of documents and even digital photography. Some even request to have their pictures sent to relatives via email!
‘On a busy day the numbers can be overwhelming’, says the telecentre’s manager Gabriel Byaruhanga. “We offer the cheapest services in Gicumbi and the telecentre is not that big, so when we are busy you will find a long queue of customers waiting to use the services. On such days we have to issue numbers to the people so they follow the queue.”
The telecentre, which is certainly not a big place, has fifteen desktop computers, a photocopier, scanner, a few projectors, two printers (one colour printer and another other black and white), two permanent staff, the manager and a technician.
However, Byaruhanga says that even fifteen computers are not sufficient in comparison to the number of clients visiting the centre daily.
The telecentre offers a certificate course in International Certified Driving License, an internationally acknowledged IT certificate.
Forty-five people have been trained so far. Plans are also underway to train 30 police officers. The course comprises of seven modules, each costing five thousand francs.
There were two power blackouts during my interviews at the telecentre Clients had to wait patiently for the power to return.
“As you have experienced, we have no generator, therefore when there is a power cut, we have to wait until the power is back on that means we cannot work and we lose revenue,” moaned Byaruhanga.
The power cuts are just one of the challenges the Rwandan government faces as it strives to achieve its 2020 vision of becoming a regional ICT hub.
“Another challenge is the size of the telecentre. It is too small to accommodate all the people who want to use the services. We also need separate computers for training and others to provide the complimentary services,” says Byaruhanga.
Gicumbi Community Telecentre has been operational for the past eight months. It is one of the twelve pilot project telecentres completed so far and will be the first to be officially launched this month.
Based on the success of these twelve telecentres, plans will be laid out to ensure each of the 30 districts has one of their own.
The rolling out of the telecentres is the mandate of the Rural and Community Access (RCA) unit, which aims to bridge the ICT gap existing between the rural poor and the urban dwellers, by implementing the ICT knowledge-based projects such as the said telecentres.
Even though the numbers are still minimal, Byaruhanga says farmers in the area have started visiting and using the telecentre to do research on new farming equipment, for agricultural methods that help improve yields and also to look for market access.
Even though the telecentre charges less than private internet cafes in the areas, Byaruhanga says locals still think the charges are high.
“We charge three hundred francs an hour while other places charge up to four hundred francs and the biggest hotel in the area charges up to eight hundred francs an hour.”
Gicumbi is a district (Akarere) in North Province and is home to about 47,000 people. Its capital is Byumba, which is also the provincial capital.
The district lays due-north of Kigali, straddling the major road from Kigali to Kampala. It is a hilly district and is divided into 21 sectors (Imirenge).
With the opening of the telecentre in Gicumbi, so much has changed. The locals can now afford relatively cheaper Internet services and have access to a variety of services offered at the telecentre, which serves students, civil servants, private business people and the farming community in the district.
Gicumbi Telecentre is helping deepen the Rwanda government’s mandate of rolling out Multi-Purpose Community Telecentres in the most part of the country with a further plan to deepen the ICT penetration in rural areas.
“Deployment of Multi-Purpose Telecentres is a milestone the efforts of rolling out ICT’s to the rural areas. This is in line with the government’s National Information Communication Infrastructure plan which will be carried in phases until 2020 a magic year to yield nothing but our target,” states Rwanda Information and Technology Authority (RITA) on the significance of the telecentres.
According to RITA, the purposes of the Telecentres will include ensuring effective E-Government and E-Governance, improving the delivery of public and private sector services, promoting rural and community access to information and contributing towards socio-economic development.
The benefits of the Telecentres include, but are not limited to, empowerment of rural citizens, improvement in computer literacy and progress in the social and economic development.
Other benefits include providing a means of participating in online transactions with other areas and providing technology-based services to the community at an affordable price.