Rwanda Leading Africa in ICT Revolution

Published on IPS, by Erin Cunningham, July 4, 2007.

PARIS, Jul 4 (IPS) – Less than fifteen years after the genocide that destroyed much of Rwanda’s human capital, infrastructure, and socio-economic fabric, the country is set to become sub-Saharan Africa’s hub for information and communications technology (ICT).

Thanks to ambitious government initiatives in developing Rwanda’s telecommunications infrastructure, the country’s ICT sector — including mobile phone and fibre optic networks as well as PC and Internet access — has become a primary target of both international public and private investment in recent years.

Named East Africa’s number one ICT nation by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rwanda has benefited from ICT-based investments by lucrative international players such as Microsoft, Nokia, and Terracom.

The country’s current ICT sector budget is on par with nations of the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a grouping of 30 rich nations, at 1.6 percent, far above the African average.

Faced with a shattered economy in 1994, Rwanda launched its “Vision 2020″ strategy in 2000 in order to vigorously rebuild and reinvent the Rwandan economy, aiming to achieve middle-income economic status by the year 2020.

“One of the hard pieces of work lies in maintaining both the investment and especially the policy focus to get maximum benefit. President Paul Kagame’s government has done that very well, encouraging both smart ICT policies and in general supporting a more business-friendly environment,” Andrew Mack, former World Bank employee and regular contributor to East Africa Business Week, told IPS …

… Rwanda formally joined the East African Community (EAC) economic bloc on Jun. 17 and is expected to play a major role in the development of the ICT sectors of its neighbours and fellow EAC members.

The country has already begun offering scholarships to ICT students from East and Central Africa to increase the number of scientists and raise the level of technological knowledge in the region.

“If they keep on the track they’re on and even accelerate, I see no reason why they won’t be able to reach a lot of Rwandans and even make money helping people around the region who want to develop an ICT industry,” said Mack.

A recent partnership with Microsoft and the Institute of Advanced Technology of Kenya saw the RITC train 25 trainers as user support professionals in light of Rwanda’s potential role as regional ICT facilitator.

“The training was designed to foster our staff, as we are targeting the market for the East Africa community,” Gasana said.

Rwanda was also chosen as the geographical headquarters of the new East African Submarine Cable project, a mammoth fibre optic venture designed to bring telecommunications to rural villages from Sudan to South Africa along East Africa’s coast.

“I hope they will lead by example, but I can also see Kigali developing into a real regional hub-the Singapore of East Africa,” Mack says. (full text).

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