Focus: Solar-powered phone: The link between Butamwa and civilization

Fresh from hosting the Connect Africa summit, Rwanda is highly regarded on the African continent as a potential hub of Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Butamwa Health Centre. (Photo / G. kagame)
Butamwa Health Centre. (Photo / G. kagame)

Fresh from hosting the Connect Africa summit, Rwanda is highly regarded on the African continent as a potential hub of Information Communication Technology (ICT).

One of the fruits of ICT is the solar powered phone that links Butamwa village to the City centre and other communities.

The relatively small size of the country and the commitment of the government to invest in ICT and emphasize its use in schools and institutions have been highlighted enough by President Paul Kagame and the country’s Vision 2020.

However, right on the outskirts of Kigali City and directly behind Serena Hotel where the summit was held, lies a small village with a tiny long trial of filth that serves as the only connection to the city centre.

The health centre in the Butamwa town applies a solar powered phone for communication to get an ambulance from Kigali central hospital.

The ambulance transports medicine and patients in need of urgent and sophisticated operations in more equipped hospitals around Kigali.

Anthony Nshimiyimana makes what could be a life-saving call on a crackling phone from Butamwa village deep in the hills behind Nyamirambo in what is called Kigali Ngali on the outskirts of the capital city.

He calls for ambulance assistance from the Kigali Central which is only 12km away from Butamwa Health Centre, to help a mother who is undergoing labour pains.

Butamwa village could as well be 100 years behind Kigali. Its township is a small cluster of semi permanent structures and even smaller kiosks which are the only channels that bring essential commodities nearer the residents of this forgotten area.

There is one Onatracom bus that plies the route between Butamwa and Kigali centre. On its way to the city, an observer could be excused for thinking the bus was coming from Cyangugu and had made the trip back on a red dirt road, yet Butamwa is just located behind the famous Nyamirambo.

A senior official in the Ministry of Local government says Butamwa is a classical example of functionalism in the study of development economics; for an area to develop and have good infrastructure it must have a productive advantage over another, “in the ministry of local government we build a market and health centre so that the area can develop but in Butamwa, the agricultural sector is just growing and not many people reside in this area.

In the age of blue tooth technology, picture massaging and the Iphone are the talk of the day in Kigali city, where as in Butamwa village it takes a solar powered landline phone at times to save a life.

Nshimiyimana, the in charge of the health centre says the phone is used to call for an ambulance from Kigali Central hospital.

He says because of the poor state of the road, “and it gets impassable during periods of torrential rains” patients are left in the hands of God,” says the medical practitioner.

The technology gap between Butamwa and the adjacent Nyarugenge neighbourhood stands in deep contrast. Interestingly Butamwa area lies in Nyarugenge district Rwanda’s Central Business District).

While Nyarugenge is buzzing with young urban professionals walking about with laptops dangling in stylish office bags, in Butamwa the streets are filled with naked children who will run about at the sight of a car in the area.

Children in this area - like many in any rural area scream at any vehicle driving by as if it is carrying relief supplies. Yet this place is not in a disaster zone.

A few metres away from Butamwa health centre are several demarcated and well designed garden patches where beans, maize corn, and many more food crops are germinating while almost on each patch there’s a poster announcing who owns the patch; many of the owners are cooperatives.

Robert Mutanguha a member in one of the several cooperatives in the area says, “We saw that the modern world of Kigali had left us behind yet we are so close to them. So we are beginning to organize ourselves to build infrastructure and hopefully many people will be attracted here. That way, we shall get the attention of investors as well.”

Egide Rugamba, the acting director of CDF a government fund set up within the ministry of local government to help finance the development of local governments and rural areas says that originally, Butamwa was not part of Kigali but became part of the administrative territory after decentralization programmes of 2002.

“We have recently helped set up the necessary infrastructure to help attract businesses in the area, we built a health centre, a school, a market and feeder roads which in the long run will increase businesses in the area.”

Rwanda’s Ministry of Health has received international applaud for its use of top technological inventions especially in the fight against HIV/Aids, but Butamwa lives in stack contrast with developments in Kigali.

The health centre’s closest experience with the modern ICT area is the solar powered phone; this also serves as a bridge between an ambulance to Kigali to access complicated medical operations and the people in the area.

Nshimiyimana also the director of Batumwa health centre which serves over 5000 residents in the surrounding areas says, “Apart from the poor road network leading to the Butamwa which has ensured that many public transport buses ignore the area, we have been left behind by the developments of Vision 2020.” The centre does not posses even a single computer.

"Our closest relationship with modern technology is our solar phone and indeed it has saved many lives in this area,” said Nshimiyimana.

Butamwa is part of a large African continent that has been left out of the global Information technology, it is this Africa that President Paul Kagame illustrated when he said during the Connect Africa summit, “Beyond the powers of ICT associated with the mobile phone and data services, we have stalled when it comes to building the required communications infrastructure for more ambitious applications, product development and greater diffusion of these tools.”

However, Butamwa has a well-maintained secondary school surrounded by an immaculate garden and well maintained classroom blocks.

The school is located next to the health centre and has solar energy installed by Minaloc’s Common Development Fund; this also helps teachers in marking students’ assignments.

About the solar phone and ambulance, Nshimiyimana believes this explains why the maternal mortality rates are well below the national average. The cost of access can, however, be daunting.

One of the fruits of the innovation is witnessed by Ms Maria Nyirabakunzi who is enjoying her new bouncing baby boy delivered at Central Hospital Kigali because of the access to services brought about by the solar phone.

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