The New Times (Kigali)

23 January 2013

Rwanda: ICT Devt Is the Way Foward

Rwanda has of late seen increased efforts to give the information and communication technology (ICT) sector firm footing in its bid to establish a knowledge-based economy.

Already a five-year literacy awareness campaign is underway that will raise the capacity of at least 200,000 to have some working knowledge in ICT.

Significantly also are the infrastructure already in place and the plans now under way to set up the much anticipated Kigali ICT Park.

Rwanda Development Board notes the "several avenues for growth [in Rwanda's] ICT sector - from e-commerce and e-services, mobile technologies, applications development and automation to becoming a regional center for the training of top quality ICT professionals and research."

One cannot fail to notice Rwanda's pointed ambition. But with the ICT sector gaining ascendance in Africa and the world for the opportunities it can open up, the more technological hubs the merrier to tap on its potential and emerging talent.

After all, an app developed in Kigali or the Silicon Valley is for humanity own and gain from, never mind the patents. This is how it has always been with innovation since time immemorial in the history of mankind.

The Kigali ICT Park will be amongst the first on the continent, and is comparable to South Africa's The Innovation Hub (TIH) established in 2001 and the much touted Konza Technology City, dubbed Silicon Savannah, now coming up just outside Kenya's capital, Nairobi.

The scale of each of the project's investment and implementation may differ, but the three technological hubs have one thing in common: they aim to expedite the development of a knowledge-based economy in the particular countries and promote innovation through strategic partnerships with both local and international partners.

Kigali already has the tech savvy Carnegie Melon University on board, which has opened a campus in Rwanda and will be housed at the ICT Park.

Kenya has local and international partners and academia lined up. South Africa is already reaping from innovative partners, universities and research institutions, both local and international, fueling its already advanced economy.

Core to the three African hubs is the development of technology-rich environment over the long-term, while promoting a culture of innovation and stimulating competitiveness.

Crucial also is building capacity at the grassroots level for rural community members to reap the benefit of all the ICT can offer.

Rwanda, for instance, has telecentres which offer ICT services at all levels, including to the rural populations.

The Kenyan version of the tele-centre are Digital Villages called Pasha (Kiswahili for transmit) that also spread ICT know-how to the rural and marginalized areas.

The coincidence is worth noting that ICT forms an important plank in the countries' development plans encapsulated in Vision 2020 for Rwanda, and Vision 2030 for Kenya.

A 2012 report by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) makes favorable mention of the two countries ranking them among the top-most six developing countries globally with demonstrated dynamism bridging the digital divide.

The countries include Ghana, Brazil, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, in addition to Rwanda and Kenya.

All these countries have invested in the necessary infrastructure as they work towards meeting their own domestic demand, even as they stimulate the demand and effective use of ICT as Rwanda demonstrates with its capacity building quest of at least 200,000 in five years.

Whether in the more developed countries in Europe or America, the technologies keep people connected, stimulate economic development, and provide jobs.

They also play a more encompassing role, whether it's providing medical consultations through internet or via mobile as is now happening in Kenya through SMS, or supporting education projects to classrooms through wireless technologies.

It is also giving farmers access to the data they need to respond to market surpluses and shortages, something already widely happening in East Africa.

Twitter: @gituram

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