It’s now 10 years since the government embarked on a campaign to lay down ICT infrastructure as a means to become a knowledge-based economy as well as an ICT hub in Africa.
President Paul Kagame’s passion to position Rwanda as an ICT led economy is not far fetched, but this will be fully accomplished if the public embraces technology as the pillar of socio-economic development.
“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 said in a previous conference.
Rwanda’s technological journey began in 1998 when the government launched vision 2020, a policy roadmap to steer every aspect of development to transform the country from an agricultural based economy to a knowledge-based one.
Consequently in 2000, the country embarked on the first of four five-year rolling plans: NICI I (NICI-2005 Plan) that focused on creating an enabling environment for the establishment and growth of the ICT sector.
The emphasis was placed on putting in place the suitable institutional, legal and regulatory frameworks and liberalisation of the telecoms market.
The second phase, NICI II (NICI-2010 Plan), focused on providing world-class ICT infrastructure that serve as the backbone for current and future communications requirements, including the $107 million 2,500-kilometre national fibre optic cable and the National Data Centre.
The cable is expected to boost access to various broadband services, including fast tracking government initiatives like e-Governance, e-Banking, e-Learning, e-Health, and other applications.
It is worth noting that the NICIII-2015 plan, which puts emphasis on full utilisation of new services developed during phases one and two, needs to be fully implemented ahead of vision 2020.
Despite the fact that the government invested heavily in ICT infrastructure, a major awareness campaign is needed to enable citizens to fully utilise the resources.
“The strategy for getting people to use the infrastructure mainly consists in availing relevant content, applications and services through ICT, in both the public and the private sector,” says Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT.
“However, we need to keep in mind that the infrastructural development is not complete yet, especially broadband which still needs the last mile or access network”.
Rwanda, like many African countries, still faces the challenge of affordable internet services.
A recent report released by International Telecommunication Union (ITU) indicates that affordability of broadband services still remains a key obstacle, particularly in Africa, where fixed broadband access costs on average three times monthly per capita income.
“From the government side, we are working on a number of e-Government applications that will allow citizens to get access to online services in agriculture, education and health, or on their mobile phones,” Nsengimana explains
He noted that in the private sector, financial services lead the way, though he expressed the need for Small and Medium Enterprises (SME’s) to be innovative and introduce Information Communication Technology in their business models, specifically in the areas of advertisement, payments, customer support, sales, distribution, among others.
“We are also encouraging the penetration of data-enabled phones or smart phones, which will allow people to get access to a broader range of information and services. In particular, we want to engage the public, especially the youth, through social media, as we seek to harness their contribution in shaping and driving the ICT for development agenda,” Nsengimana said.
According to Alex Ntale, the Director of the ICT Chamber in the Private Sector Federation (PSF), the vision is achievable; the investment made in the sector and the liberalisation of the telecommunication industry shows how the country is committed.
“New players have come in; for instance Airtel, Visa Inc, and Carnegie Mellon University among others, which is a clear example that we are on the right course,” he says.
This year, PSF, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Carnegie Mellon University, established KLab, a centre for young innovators with solutions and mentors which will engage the youth to embrace ICT as a tool for development.
“I think we will achieve it. If you refer to great achievements, the Rwandan society has in the past 18 years, realised that one can believe in great things to happen. Looking at policies and implementation plans already running such as Vision 2020 and NICI Plan, a huge transformation is going on,” said Claude Migisha Kalisa a technologist at Jhpiego-Rwanda,
Jhpiego-Rwanda is a local NGO that promotes community interventions that reach out to women at the village level with appropriate information about malaria in pregnancy.
“When you look at the infrastructure already in place, ongoing capacity building programmes and the political will behind the implementation, certainly within a few years, Rwanda will become an ICT hub.”