CMU to branch out in Rwanda

By Bill Zlatos
Thursday, September 18, 2008

Carnegie Mellon University plans to start a program in Rwanda to help transform the war-torn African nation from a farming to an information-based economy.

"This is an opportunity for us to reach a group of students and a country we otherwise wouldn't be able to," CMU Provost Mark Kamlet said in an interview Wednesday.

"Another reason," he said, "is we believe that it is possible and we hope sub-Saharan Africa becomes an important and growing region over the next quarter century. It is a part of the world that may be much more important 25 years from now than we think today, and this is a chance for Carnegie Mellon to get in on the ground floor."

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Rwanda is a central African nation with a population of 10.2 million. In 1994, a war between rival Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups resulted in the genocide of about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

"Since then, the country has become stable," said Kamlet, who visited Rwanda during the summer. "It has an impressive set of elected officials who seem not only capable but are engineers with training in various professions who want to modernize their country."

Doreen Kagarama, first secretary to the Rwandan Embassy in Washington, confirmed the talks with CMU but did not elaborate.

Venetia Sebudandi, Rwanda's ambassador to the United Nations, discussed the proposal in May during a meeting of the UN Commission on Science and Technology for Development in Geneva.

In her speech, she said Rwanda's vision is to shift its agricultural economy to a knowledge-based, technology-led economy by 2020.

She said Rwanda is teaming with CMU and the African Development Bank "to build a Carnegie Mellon campus in Rwanda, which will serve as a regional center of excellence in information and communication technology."

Kamlet declined to call the building a campus. He said the program would be in the capital of Kigali and could serve about 100 students seeking master's degrees in information-networking and related fields.

Over the past decade, Carnegie Mellon has established an international presence. The university has an extensive campus in Qatar in the Middle East and offers similar degrees to the one proposed in Rwanda in Portugal, Greece, Japan and Australia. The CMU branch in Australia recently came under attack for the cost of its program.

Under the proposed arrangement with Rwanda, CMU would provide teachers, library facilities and technical assistance and link with other institutions and businesses abroad.

In return, Rwanda would give the land for the facility and pay for its infrastructure and the costs of sending students to CMU for graduate training. The African bank also would support the building.

"We're not looking at this as a big way to make money," Kamlet said. "In this case, our objective is to break even, including some of the time and everything one has to put into it."

Kamlet said the university would like to have a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda by next month and a contract in early 2009.

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