30 December 2012

Rwanda: Bridging the Digital Divide in Rural Communities

In a bid to enable the rural communities actively participate in the ICT transition in Rwanda, women in rural areas have been offered digital opportunities to improve their businesses.

Rwanda Telecentre Network (RTN) is currently implementing a digital literacy programme targeting women both in rural and urban areas.

This would boost the country's aspirations of transforming from an agricultural-based economy to a knowledge-based one.

Speaking to Sunday Times, Paul Barera, Executive Director of RTN said that the programme is one of his institutions' initiatives aimed at empowering women at village level to acquire ICT skills.

"Recognising the importance of digital literacy in bridging the gender gap, RTN has started working with other partners like the Rwanda Development Board Telecentre.org foundation, to empower rural women," he said.

He stated that digital literacy training is done though village level telecentres and is part of the global initiative known as "Telecentre women campaign" led by Telecentre.org.

"The aim of the initiative is to empower disadvantaged community women with knowledge of ICTs for personal growth and expanded opportunities for better lives".

Victorine, Mukahirwa, one of the beneficiaries from Birira Sector, Musanze District, in the Northern Province, said her newly acquired knowledge would help her operate own computer related business in her village.

"I hope to make more money in ICT business than what I am making now as a school teacher in Birira Primary School," she said.

Barera observed that despite rapid development of ICT in Rwanda, local content, illiteracy and poor purchasing power are the main challenges that hamper rural people from fully benefiting from ICTs opportunities.

"For rural women basic digital literacy means more than the mere operation of a computer and communicating via email or social networking sites," he noted.

"For women in agricultural activities, it may mean producing more and selling at better prices; thanks to market information now available online".

Another beneficiary Winfred Mukamusonera, a shop owner in Gakenke sector, Gakenke District said the skills acquired from the training enable her to calculate her business profits.

"I am motivated to buy my own computer after learning how to use computers," she added.

Currently, there are about 30 tele-centres in all the districts countrywide operated by private individuals to strengthen the social, economic, educational, and cultural lives of the communities through technology.

Rwanda's ambition to promote ICT usage has been remarkable.

Rwanda has been ranked among the developing countries in the world that are most dynamic performers when it comes to ICT development.

The latest report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) for 2012 named Rwanda, Bahrain, Brazil, Ghana, Kenya, and Saudi Arabia as the developing nations with strong dynamic ICT markets because they are catching up quickly in efforts to bridge the so-called 'digital divide'.

According to the Ministry of Youth and ICT, in 2012/2013 fiscal year, the government targets to increase Internet penetration from 8.3 per cent to 15 per cent, mobile phones from 45 per cent to 55 per cent and television from 6.3 per cent to 30 per cent.

The ministry also plans to put at least five more government to citizen and government to business services online.

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