It is twenty one years, this month, since the raging mayhem of genocide against the Tutsi was put to a stop. A new chapter was opened to rebuild and reconstruct Rwanda into vitality and vibrancy. The elegiac acts of mourning for ever were put to a stop and all Rwandans went to work; and working indeed we have.
We pledged, by ourselves, avowed and envisioned what we wanted to achieve, where we want to reach, how to reach there and who will lead us get there—the Vision 2020 and EDPRS were thus born of that spirit. In that agreement, call it a development blue-print; a number of development paths were curved. One of them was positioning Rwanda as an ICT hub. It is important therefore to note that the country has steadily treaded the road towards that goal.
Rwanda began developing its information and communication technology (ICT) in 2000 after adopting the National Information Communications Infrastructure (NICI) policy and created a long-term plan to achieve full digitisation in four five-year stages. Fifteen years on, Rwanda’s success story is grabbing global attention.
The NICI plan was further integrated into Vision 2020, which is the government’s comprehensive programme to transform Rwanda into a middle-income country by 2020. In fact, one of the main goals of Vision 2020 is to “to transition her agrarian economy to an information-rich, knowledge-based one by 2020.”
Currently, there are 10 Internet service providers, including MTN, TIGO, Altech Stream, Liquid, among others. In 2002 there were just two internet providers with 25,000 users.
Today, there are approximately 1.3 million Internet users. The government also enacted laws to govern electronic messages, signatures, transactions, data protection, cyber security and ICT usage. It established the Rwanda Utilities and Regulatory Agency in 2002, which adopted the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) ICT industry standards.
In addition, a national fibre optic backbone network that connects Rwanda to international sea cables was deployed, increasing Internet accessibility and affordability as well as connecting Rwandans to global networks.
The results of these efforts are telling. During this stage, for example, Rwanda registered one of the highest Internet user growth rates in Africa, 8,900%, compared to the continent’s growth rate of 2,450%, and the world’s average rate of 444%.
In 2010, almost every one in four public sector entities (ministries, agencies, provinces and districts) and about a third in the private sector had a web presence, according to the Rwanda Development Board. In addition, communication, navigation surveillance and air traffic management system has been deployed and is supporting air travel for the region at large.
Also, the ICT subscriber base has significantly increased. The number of fixed-line customers more than doubled between 2000 and 2010, mobile phone customers increased from 42,000 in 2000 to more than 3.5 million, and Internet users increased.
The third stage, from 2011 to 2015, is focused on improving service delivery. In the final stage, (2016-2020) the government hopes to focus on skills, private sector and community development, as well as improving and enhancing e-government and cyber security.
Despite Rwanda’s ICT success story, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the minister of youth and ICT, says that several key issues are not yet resolved, including: “The role of the private sector, regulation to keep broadband affordable, and distributing the know-how via training.”
But the minister is upbeat. “In just fifteen years, what was once considered as an object of luxury and privilege for rich people has become a basic necessity for Rwandan urban and rural daily lives.”
The national fibre-optic backbone network, which connects to an undersea network, already has links to all 30 districts and nine border posts.
The government also negotiated with three fibre-optic submarine cable companies – SEACOM, TEAMS and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) – to FINANCE the extension of fibre optic cables to every part of the country and to increase fibre bandwidth capacity to benefit schools, health centres and other institutions. The physical laying of the cables was completed.
Digitization is not just about access and connectivity; it is also about government digitising its services to create an environment that is less prone to corruption. According to the World Bank, e-government enhances transparency. Rwandan national ID cards and driver’s licenses, for example, are now digitised. Individuals can even apply for a visa online. The Anti-Corruption Unit of the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA) monitors taxes and import duty, and ensures public officials are not unduly involved in tender and procurement processes.