18 March 2013

Rwanda: Public Officials Need ICT Training, Not Just Sensitization


"There is no one here who can convince me that he uses more than 20% of the potential of his mobile or iPad," was the challenge launched by ICT Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana, talking last week at Police headquarters where he kicked of a campaign to increase and improve the use of ICT in the public sector, which is part of a wider drive to raise awareness on technology among the general population.

In all likelihood, the Minister is right. While the country has a vision of becoming a regional and African information hub, and mobile telephone penetration is increasing rapidly, a lot still needs to be done to make good use of the available technology.

Even in Nsengimana's audience, consisting of mainly senior security officers, some were still taking notes with the good old pen and paper (as our picture on page 1 shows). Luckily, they were a minority, and most of the officials were equipped with tablets.

It is a different story, though, when you go down the hierarchical ladder. In most imidugudu, whenever an assembly of the people is planned, it is still common practice to send someone around the neighborhood with a megaphone to make the announcement. In this age of mobile phones and SMS, that is a medieval practice.

That is not to blame the local leaders. In the end, they are only common people, not ICT specialists or geeks who have the latest gadget and know every function of it. What is more, even if they would have a sophisticated smartphone, that doesn't help in compiling a list of phone numbers of all the inhabitants of the area and then sending a bulk SMS to inform them of the gathering.

Therefore, while the sensitization campaign for public officials is a welcome initiative, the Minister should go beyond words. As he apparently does, since the ministry is in talks with telecom operators so that people can obtain affordable devices like smartphones with access to internet and social media.

That, however, is not enough. The ministry should also ensure that public servants, most notably those at the grassroots level, receive training on how to make the most of these devices in their daily duties. While that should of course include some technical aspects such as the various options of their phones, the more important part of this training should focus on how to use apps as well as social media to function more efficiently and communicate better with the people.

If not, those shiny smartphones will only be costly gadgets, and a megaphone will still be more useful when it comes to calling a meeting.

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