According to the Minister in charge of ICT in the President’s office Dr Ignace Gahangara Gatare, Rwanda has moved closer to her ambition of becoming the regional Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) hub. In an exclusive interview with Business Times’ GERTRUDE MAJYAMBERE, the Minister outlines the progress made towards Rwanda’s Vision of laying the 2,300 Km of the fiber optic cable.
Below are the excerpts:
What is the update on the development of the national fiber optic cable?
Currently there is a focus on accelerating the laying of Kigali-Gatuna link which is critical to connecting Rwanda to the submarine cable. This is strategic and this is ongoing it will allow us to potentially be connected to the submarine cable, and nine major border posts will be connected.
The key achievement in the laying of the fiber optic is the deployment of the Kigali Metropolitan Network which was officially launched last December.
The deployment of nationwide fiber optic backbone will be pursued during this year with a target of realizing a fully operational network by end 2010.
The RDB-IT is working with our contractor Korea Telecom to speed up the execution and delivery of the project.
The project had a change of scope. we added more pipes and more links to justify the future potentials in terms of investments and also allow public private partnership in terms of sharing the infrastructure.
This led to modification of the initial network configuration, leading to change in project completion time.
The project will be implemented progressively because the Network Operational Centre has the capacity to activate and deploy services to every district which is ready.
It was a challenging target but we already have 54 government buildings and 73 institutions connected. Network optimization will be done in two to three months before deploying services.
Any challenges in the course of project implementation?
The most challenging in the course of implementation is the coordination of civil works in terms of planning the appropriate infrastructure, ducts installation and other professional services and lack of adequate and experienced personnel.
Fiber technology is a high tech modern equipment which you need to have a know how in fiber optic networking, splicing the fiber and fiber blowing and laying. We will have to address those issues by appropriate measures in order to make sure that we deliver on time in this second part of deployment of the national backbone.
Negotiations are ongoing so that as soon as the extended scope and the national backbone starts - we will make sure we have addressed those issues in appropriate manner.
Other countries have contractors who can do the work locally you don’t need to hire a contractor from Asia or elsewhere which is even expensive. The challenge is still there until our universities produce a critical mass in terms of skills in all sectors as well as ICT specialists.
What next after the completion of this project?
After consolidating our national ICT infrastructure, the following step will be the deployment of ICT applications and services which should be empower both our public and private sectors.
It is worthy mentioning that deployment of applications and services can be undertaken progressively so that we do not wait to complete the whole infrastructure project.
After infrastructure development, there are testing and deployment applications, then develop skills in order to have the private sector involved.
This is because we can not look at ICT as just a service- we have also to sell and use ICT not only as a tool but a fully integrated economic component because you are producing ICT for commercial purposes.
Is there any implication of not achieving the set target of 2010?
Yes! There is a big impact Rwanda wants to become an ICT hub - which means we have to be a society in terms of business, administration using ICT as an empowering instrument.
But ICT is not the end but having the infrastructure in place is a competitive advantage.
If you wait too much by delaying we may loose the momentum and even the competitive advantage.
We have to move fast in order to develop competitive advantages which will attract potential investors in the ICT sector because if the neighboring country is ready, investors may shift centre of interest.
In addition, since ICT is cross – cutting with several development programs, in poverty reduction, efficiency of public services, management of health care - if we have the districts connected to the central government to ease communication it will impact in many aspects.
ICT is not an isolated sector we have to work hard to make sure that the associated services are provided at the right time, if we delay in infrastructure development we will also delay efficiency of other projects like e-government, e-soko and e-commerce.
Do you have a timeframe as to when we shall reap results from this project?
I can not answer when because the project is progressive - the team is working hard they have made a survey about the readiness of institutions.
They have categorized and made instructions as to what are the minimum requirements to have a fully connected institution and it will be linked to the budgetary issues.
Ministries have active knots and RDB –IT can activate and they potentially can reap immediately.
My target is to make it optimal in the sense that as soon as the institution is ready there is no need to put it in waiting situation.
We are working with RDB-IT to make sure that the e-government applications are deployed on the KMN and public institutions are interconnected, which will improve their efficiency.