Rwanda’s claim to be the Africa’s leader in information and communication technologies (ICTs) got me thinking that the aspirations are realisable considering the fact that the ICT sector has registered considerable growth within a short period of time.
When we compare the ICT industry in Rwanda at the pre- Genocide period and today, there is a big difference. I doubt whether the ICT sector had any mention during the pre-1994 government’s plans and policies.
The only technology worth talking home about then was the fixed telephone network and the sole public radio station, all of which were only accessible to a tiny privileged minority.
As the country continues to recover from its dark past, the ICT industry has continued to win numerous accolades internationally.
Rwanda’s ambitions to be the regional ICT hub are gradually sprouting with ICT innovators and entrepreneurs devising more and more ‘Silicon Valley’ type of ideas.
Recently, I toured the k-Lab innovation hub at Telecom House in Kigali. Prior to that visit, I mistakenly thought that young ICT graduates and scholars only went there to pass time and talk about the latest global technological applications. However, I was stunned by the innovative applications on display which could give their Silicon Valley counterparts a run for their money.
Any mention of Silicon Valley brings to mind the world’s largest technology corporations including Microsoft, Google, Facebook, HP, among others, as well as thousands of small innovative start-ups.
Without weighing up the time and knowledge needed to innovate, for instance, the “Twitter” application, k-Lab may in the next few years become the Silicon Valley of Africa due to the passion and brilliance of the young Rwandan ICT geeks.
Basically, k-Lab offers a blueprint; it is an environment that eases ICT innovation, where encounters and interactions among startups generate fresh technological ideas and innovations.
The success of US tech billionaires is an inspiration to many young Rwandan tech startups, an idea that has spurred an enterprising spirit among ICT graduate students.
When I wrote an article about Rwanda’s incredible performance in the ICT sector some while ago, I received a lot of criticism in my inbox email address with many terming that as a joke.
For the past 10 years, major changes have taken place in the ICT landscape in the country including the laying of a robust fibre optic network, mobile technology penetration, National Data Centre and e-governance services among others.
In the 2012 report released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Rwanda, Bahrain, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia are the developing nations with strong dynamic ICT markets because they are catching up quickly to bridge the so-called ‘digital divide’.
But for the ICT sector to blossom in Africa, there must be a favourable environment such as a strong ICT regulatory framework, good ICT infrastructure, conducive business environment, incentives for private sector growth to mention but a few, Rwanda has completed all the above requirements.
Besides, the government plans to set up an ICT city “technopole” that will host a collection of technological investments including training, industries, research and development.
In addition, and most importantly is the political will to spur a technological revolution. President Paul Kagame once said that: “Information technology is very critical. It informs our people, it gives them enormous amounts of information and ways and therefore means to do things but they can also communicate and exchange views and opportunities.”
Kagame who is also the co-chair of the Broadband Commission for Digital Development is a key pillar in the transformation of Rwanda into a digital nation.
I recently read newspaper reports about Kenya’s aspiration to be a regional ICT hub especially the “Silicon Savannah.”
Rwanda’s technopole versus Kenya’s Silicon Savannah. The question remains, which will be Africa’s first Silicon Valley? For the case of Rwanda, the ICT ambitions have just started. The tech future lies ahead.