Rwanda’s digital destiny: An update

OVER the past year, Rwanda -- with a population of 10 million -- has continued to gain momentum in implementing its multimillion-dollar plan to transform the country into a knowledge-based society and economy by 2020.

OVER the past year, Rwanda -- with a population of 10 million -- has continued to gain momentum in implementing its multimillion-dollar plan to transform the country into a knowledge-based society and economy by 2020.

As described in an Internet Evolution Web Wide World video documentary by Stephen Saunders last October, Rwanda has risen from the ashes of genocide and set its sights on becoming a “world class” information and communication technology (ICT) hub.

“Rwanda is [now] the most peaceful country in the region,” says Wilson Muyenzi, project coordinator with the Rwanda Information Technology Authority. “Hard to believe considering the recent past, but very true.”

The government is rolling out the last of 30 public access Internet sites (known as “telecentres”) planned for the Maryland-sized country.

In addition to providing basic Internet access, these telecentres offer services such as training clubs for computer literacy and English lessons, according to an article in The Independent, a Ugandan newspaper.

The paper also reports that in mid-July, two specially equipped buses went into service, bringing Internet access to rural areas.

These mobile telecentres provide basic ICT training, along with access to printing, scanning, and photocopying gear.

According to a July presentation from Rwanda’s Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, most of the country’s ICT activities, based on its National Information and Communication Infrastructure (NICI) plan, are now focused on “e-sectors,” such as e-health, e-education, e-government, and e-agriculture.

“We are currently building [an internal] national fiber optic backbone that will reach all the 30 districts of Rwanda, all the border posts, and will along the way connect up schools, hospitals, government offices, police posts, and a host of other institutions,” says Muyenzi.

“We are also building a national data center, a tier-three data center that will host all government data and applications but will also be available to the private sector.”

Indian and U.S. organizations are also playing major roles in bringing about Rwanda’s e-vision.

Last October, Drishtee, a provider of rural telecentres in India, and Nyamata Teleservice Centre, a rural Rwandan telecentre, signed a memorandum of understanding to develop and deliver a wide range of services.

This is an important step, as Internet access alone will not allow telecentres to be financially viable.

Also providing support is the U.S.-based One Laptop per Child project, which last June launched a “Global Center for Excellence in Laptops and Learning” in Rwanda’s capital, Kigali.

Besides raising education quality with connected laptops, the project is meant to “support ongoing laptop implementation plans in Rwanda, and create an African regional laptop network,” according to the sponsors.

Rwanda’s determination and follow-through on its Internet strategy continue to make the country a regional standout.

According to regional publication allAfrica.com, Rwanda is among the only countries in the East African Community with a clear ICT policy.

It also is among the handful of countries that have started on the One LapTop per Child policy, which is part of the UN Millennium Campaign.

Rwanda’s burgeoning e-infrastructure is even helping to improve relations with its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Just a week ago, the presidents of the two countries met at the border -- the very first time the two have met in the absence of an arbitrator,” says Muyenzi.

“They went beyond security and political issues and agreed to jointly promote trade and other socioeconomic projects.”

Muyenzi points out an economic incentive behind these improved relations: Private companies are now vying to use Rwanda’s fiber optic backbone network to reach the Congolese market.

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