17 February 2013

Rwanda: Using ICT for Service Delivery? Yes, But...


Last week, when meeting local and central government officials physically for a mid-term assessment of performance contracts, Premier Pierre Damien Habumuremyi complained that the meeting had to be organized physically, while they could just as well conduct it from their offices through video-conferencing.

Considering that it was he himself who had called the meeting, one might wonder who the Honorable Prime Minister was complaining to.

Nevertheless, Habumuremyi has a point. While Rwanda has the ambition to become a regional or even continental ICT hub, the use of modern information technology is still rather low. Citizens still waste too much time going to office to apply for certain official documents when that could easily be done online. And as the Premier pointed out, our officials too could make better use of the time they now spend travelling to and from the numerous meetings they have to attend.

One agency that is showing the way (for which it has even received international recognition in the past) is the Migration Service. Applications for passports and visa can be made online, and the progress of the dossiers can also be followed via the Internet. If any of the required documents are missing, Migration will inform the applicant by e-mail. The only time you actually have to go to their offices is to pick up the requested document.

While that kind of service delivery is certainly to be applauded, it becomes a different matter when it comes to using the teleconferencing the Prime Minister craves for, or applications such as tele-medicine where for example a surgeon at King Faysal can assist in an operation in for example CHUB in Huye without having to travel there. The use of notably video requires high-speed Internet which, unfortunately, is not yet available everywhere.

While a recent NetIndex from Ookla's ranked Rwanda as the African country with the highest speed in Internet connection, the reality is that only a happy few benefit from it. That high speed is only possible if one has access to a fiber-optic network called the National Backbone which is managed by Broadband Systems Corporation (BSC). And for that access, one has to be within reach of a Wi-Bro hotspot, and they are still far and few between, despite the backbone having been in place for several years now.

And while that shouldn't stand in the way of Habumuremyi's dream of teleconferencing public officials, since most government institutions have access to the system, for the rest of us it is still guessing whether in the area where we live or work we will have access.

If Rwanda is really to become an international ICT hub, the Prime Minister will first have to fix that first.

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