The New Times (Kigali)

17 February 2013

Rwanda: Microsoft4Africa Initiative Should Consider Rwanda

column

Africa is one of the most rapidly growing technology markets in the world. It is therefore no surprise that Microsoft instated its '4Afrika' initiative a few days ago. As part of the mission to put smart devices in the hands of educators, students and SMEs, Microsoft has partnered with Huawei, to provide a Windows phone just for the continent. In doing so, the two tech giants will place themselves in an active role in the economic development of Africa by bridging the digital divide.

And their dreams are big: By 2016, they will bring over one million SMEs online, up skills of 100,000 workers and empower thousands of graduates with employable and entrepreneurial skills. The sleek-looking touch screen phone with the 4Africa logo on the back cover comes with apps created by African developers customised for African users, has a dual-core 1.2GHz processor, 4GB of storage and over 400 hours of standby time because of its power-saving technology. Pretty sweet phone, huh?

The 4Africa phones and services will be introduced in seven countries this month: Angola, Egypt, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, South Africa, Morocco and Kenya. Yes, you read right, sadly no Rwanda! There are probably a dozen reasons why we didn't make the cut (for the first phase) but obviating my innate bias toward my country, I believe we deserved to be on the list. Deserved because: a number of Microsoft's projects are aligned with ours; our government would provide full support (also we are the most secure country on this continent); our central position, ambition, and small size make us the perfect test-tube baby for such an initiative.

Access to technology has been recognised as an accelerator for Rwandan competitiveness and subsequently introduced in our action plans. Without going into much detail, the induction of cloud services and efforts to disseminate smart devices to Rwandans through subsidies and loan schemes are just two examples of what Rwanda has on the blueprint. Microsoft and Huawei could leverage these efforts to aid adoption of their products especially given the decreasing data prices in the market, thanks to competition within our telecom sector.

Microsoft also plans to take technology (Windows products) and knowledge (training) to public institutions by launching projects to deliver low-cost, high-speed wireless broadband to locations that may not even have electricity. Rwanda has a national fiber backbone and an aggressive program to take computers to all levels such as One Laptop per Child in schools, ICT buses equipped with computers, incubators and BDCs (Business Development Centers).

In partnership with Microsoft, this could be huge - supplementary Windows products, as well as concerted efforts between community leaders and Rwandan content providers to accelerate economic development will result in customized services and applications for each district. In fact, this project would couple well with Microsoft's SME online hub; this hub provides businesses access to free products and services from Microsoft and its partners. In joint efforts with stakeholders at district incubators and BDCs, Microsoft would see their technology and know-how taken full advantage of (much to our advantage of course).

I could go on and on... The AppFactory located in South Africa and Egypt, would find a home at kLab (innovation center) staffed by student interns and recent grads, who build customised apps to respond to the East and Central African market. Also, the female empowerment portal designed to help young women play a leadership role in their communities and support career building, would be usurped by our schools and communities to continue minting female leaders for this country.

By now, it sounds like I am pleading and wheedling with Microsoft4Africa to find a home in Rwanda - which I am - but I guess the biggest question now should be why we didn't make the cut; doing this will make sure we inveigle all these lucrative programmes here and that we don't miss the train again!

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