Rwanda can rise above challenges of being landlocked

Landlocked or resource-scarce, are words you will most commonly find either immediately preceding or after the word ‘Rwanda’, or at best, in the same breath when talking about Rwanda’s economy and future prospects.
Carlos Mwizerwa
Carlos Mwizerwa

Landlocked or resource-scarce, are words you will most commonly find either immediately preceding or after the word ‘Rwanda’, or at best, in the same breath when talking about Rwanda’s economy and future prospects.

My personal experience has been that these words are either used out of ignorance (which I doubt) or designed to bring an emerging economy down (most likely).

Are we really landlocked? Geographically, maybe, depending on how you see it, I say maybe because when I look up, I see no land locking me in. Technologically, the connection through the submarine cables has meant that we are linked to the world now more than ever before and with high speed connectivity, well, the sky is the limit.

Are we resource scarce? How we define resource will determine how we describe its scarcity, and this is where I am headed. I will not go into the tall tales that we are a country of 11million and we are all smart, no, but one doesn’t need 11 million smart people, all one needs is a few good men and a few brilliant minds all rowing in the same direction.

Of course beyond the usual suspects, I always wondered where the next generation of brilliant minds would emerge from and then a few days back I had the privilege of being invited to the first ever ‘Hack Out Loud’ High School Hackathon and boy was I amazed at what I saw.

Beyond watching high school kids introduce themselves with SWAG, a bit of which I tried but the 70’s SWAG didn’t quite make the cut, the fact that it was organized by HeHe Limited, which is a brilliant success story on its own, is one of note.

A company which was started by a group of university students, now Chief Executives and technologists in their own right was a breath of fresh air and a vindication of a lot of what has been said and done in the ICT sector. That is however a story for another day and best told by the ‘horses’ themselves.

Now back to the Hack Out Loud, this is an annual event that is an initiative of HeHe Limited with the intention of investing in young and motivated high school students to build a bigger community of local programmers to demystify computer programing, NOTE I said programming, (for some of us, you inclusive, at that age we were still trying to demystify the locks on the school gate and the roasted chickens in the neighbourhood.

Hack Out Loud is meant to present computer programming for solving everyday problems in a fun and engaging way, allowing Rwanda’s next generation of programmers to break free from the belief that computer programming is complex and boring.

On that Saturday, 5 students from 5 selected secondary schools converged at HeHe Limited headquarters where they got to spend an entire day trained on some programming platforms, designing and implementing an actual project.

After an intense session of dance, ping pong and foosball (definitely nit for fools) the students were taken through a session of Scratch which is a programming tool.

One thing that immediately struck me was how fast the students were learning this strange thing called programming, and what was more striking was how fast the students from Gashora Girls Academy were and in many instances a step ahead of the instructor, their zeal and curiosity awe inspiring.

There is certainly a huge potential in Rwanda, I see the next big solution and opportunity for Rwanda being developed by Rwandans.

One thing we need to do is support initiatives which will target young Rwandans such as these, a Rwandan ICT gifted child programme which creates an environment in which brilliant IT minds can find themselves.

One of the initiatives, the ICT innovation centre replete with state of the art technology and served by some of the best minds in the business, promises to be some such place.

There is a campus programme in the offing (oops, did I spoil the surprise), I will however go a step further (or lower), with what I have seen, one of the plans I am working on, in partnership with a very progressive and forward looking school, is to have this sort of environment created in a high school, after all this is the place where ambitions and dreams are formed, shaped and nurtured.

Innovation is a means of growth and prosperity for companies and nations seeking to overcome sluggish economies and achieve competitive advantage.

Innovation is also a state of being, a lifestyle and a habit, an innovative mind and we should be programmed to think that if you see an opportunity or a problem, we need to do something about it.”

If there is one habit Rwandans should adopt, let it be this, that we never lose the desire to discover new things, aspire for change and to transform those around us.  I have already found some of the best and the brightest, tech savvy young people who will lead the transformation charge.

There is a popular saying ‘ibyiza biri imbere’ I dare say I have met Rwanda’s future, and it is very bright.

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