Rwanda forges ahead with IT goals

Internet bus
Soon there will be six internet buses
making visits to remote villages

Back in 2005, Click visited Rwanda, to see
how the tiny African country was trying
to emerge from the ravages of war and
lead the region into the information age.

Four years on, Dan Simmons returns
to Kigali to see if the dream is coming true.

Something new has arrived in a tiny
Rwandan village, in Kamonyi district.
A grand government plan to give everyone
access to computers and the web
is reaching areas where some have
not even seen a PC before.

It is causing quite a stir.

The excitement is all about a bus
carrying 20 laptop computers, which is
currently travelling the country offering
internet services to students
and local business people.

As the internet bus is connected up and
brought to life children outside wait
patiently to start their digital lives.

The laptops inside the bus share
a connection that is not even half
the average broadband speed
in developed countries but it is a start,
and it is free - for now, anyway.

This bus has been on the road for
just a few weeks. Soon there will be
six of these making regular visits
to remote villages across the country.

The idea is to introduce as many
ordinary Rwandans to computers
and the net as possible.

Mixed progress

It is a steep learning curve. It is clear
the children are not familiar with the basics,
like choosing a name for
their email account, passwords,
or Captcha tests.

Even though tutors were on hand,
I wondered just how vulnerable
they would be to internet scams
or web nasties like malware.

The project has funding from
the World Bank till 2011 after which
users may be asked to pay f
or access in areas that
do not even have electricity.

Typist in Kigali

A rise in computer ownership means
there are less typists on Kigali's streets

In 2005, I came here to find a country
in a hurry. Laying high-speed fibre
optic cables, it promised web access
for schools, cable TV to homes,
and cheaper, faster internet.

Coming back it seems some of
those goals have been missed.

Just a third of schools promised
web access were connected.
Technical difficulties and spiralling
costs were blamed.
Some cities are still not
on the network.

The project has been taken on
by another company aiming
to finish the job by next year.

There are mixed signs of progress
in the capital too.
Four years ago 30 or so men would
sit in the streets and type letters
for people.
This time around I had to search
to find a lone typist, one of just
a handful left.
He blames a rise in
computer ownership.

Rwanda does not tax IT
goods - great news for the few
who can afford them.
But because of the growing number
of PCs here some think
connection speeds are
actually slower now.

"Sometimes because of the high
demand in the market, and the supply
being very low they are not
providing a proper service,'' says
Devendra Kumar Sindhi,
a foreign exchange owner.

Leaping ahead

But Rwanda's dream of becoming
a high-tech country is about
to take-off again.
By next month the land-locked
country will cease to rely on
expensive and slow satellite
connections to the rest of the world.

The fibre-optic data pipeline linking
Kenya to Europe and India
will soon arrive in Kigali,
cutting wholesale internet costs
by up to 90%.

The city's own fibre optic network
will then offer some
of the fastest connections in Africa.

Patrick Nyirishema

We know what it's like to be a country
that is in ashes and now we're able
to spring back with a reason
and determination to... make this work

Schools are advancing too.
From next year compulsory
state education will teach
to age 14 rather than 11.

Rwanda has joined the global
one laptop per child program.
Around 100,000 children have
access to low-cost computers,
and the government wants
to extend that to more than
one million children
over the next few years.

Advances at the top of
the class too - last time I visited,
the Kigali Institute of Science and
Technology was running
short IT courses - in a desperate bid
to fill the country's skills gap.

This time around the institute's rector
had some good news.
New computer labs were
opened this year.
The four-month courses have been
replaced with four-year degrees.

Pass rates are up 20%. And so are
potential earnings.
Students can expect
to earn $500 - $2,000 (£313 - £1,250)
a month when they leave,
which is a massive pay day
in this part of the world.

Details neglected

And that is the main reason
for Rwanda's move from
an agricultural nation
to a knowledge-based one.

Having emerged from the worst period
of its history, the genocide of 1994,
Rwanda has placed its faith in IT
with some big promises - mobile phone
use should double from just 20%
to up to 40% by next year.

The government is giving away
35,000 handsets to help that happen.

It wants a PC in every home
within 10 years. And one of the most
advanced plans to date can
be found at Kigali's national stadium.

If any further evidence was needed that
Rwanda is in a hurry to become
Africa's ICT hub, then this is surely it,
the South Koreans are here installing
4G Network called WiBro
(Wireless Broadband) which will bring
unparalleled connectivity across
the city of Kigali.

Korea Telecom's base stations
will be switched on in a few weeks time.
Linked into the city's new
fibre optic network, WiBro promises
to deliver broadband mobile data
speeds far in excess
of most western 3G services.

It is becoming a typically
Rwandan approach - aim big and
sort the details out as you go,
such as the fact that there are
virtually no compatible
WiBro handsets here.

The government says it may
subsidise cheap WiBro imports
as it is doing now for mobile phones.

Need for energy

"As a country we are in a hurry.
We can't wait to fix water agriculture
and roads and then get to ICT,
so we've got to do everything
in parallel because we've lost
so much time in the last decades,"
says Patrick Nyirishema,
director of Rwanda's Information
Technology Authority.

"We've been to the bottom.
We know what it's like to be a country
that is in ashes and now we're able
to spring back with a reason and
determination to say, 'we're going
to make this work,
we're going to succeed,'" he adds.

To make the leap Rwanda also
needs energy. High above Kigali
is one of Africa's largest solar fields.

Methane gas discoveries, wind turbines,
and new hydroelectricity stations
could also power the dream.
But progress in these areas
has been slow.
Fewer than one in ten here
are on the electricity grid.

In its race to catch up, Rwanda still
faces tough obstacles.
But it has chosen not to think twice
about trying to jump them,
and not to fear should it fail.

Link here

             J-L K.
Procurement Consultant
Gsm:    (250) (0) 78-847-0205 (Mtn Rwanda)
Gsm:    (250) (0) 75-079-9819 (Rwandatel)
Home:  (250) (0) 25-510-4140
    P.O. Box 3867
  Kigali - RWANDA
    East AFRICA
Blog: http://cepgl.blogspot.com
Skype ID: kayisa66

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