The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Rwf47 Billion Microsoft Initiative Boosts ICT

As Rwanda moves to accelerate development in the next seven years, Microsoft has announced plans to partner with the country to advance economic transformation and improve its global competitiveness.

Rwanda is among the select African states beneficiaries in the Washington-based company's "Microsoft4Afrika initiative" that seeks to bring one million African small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) online, facilitate 200,000 workforce, and fresh graduates to develop entrepreneurial skills.

The plan was unveiled, yesterday, in Kigali by Microsoft officials at a function that attracted government officials, the private sector and local entrepreneurs/innovators, among others.

According to the US global IT firm, 75 per cent of fresh graduates in the chosen African nations, Microsoft will help them in job placements.

The $75 million (about Rwf47b) initiative also plans to help place millions of smart gadgets in the hands of African youth by 2016.

"The world has recognised the promise of Africa, and Microsoft wants to invest in that promise. We want to empower African youth, entrepreneurs, developers and business and civic leaders to turn great ideas into a reality that can help their community, country, continent, and beyond," said Fernando de Sousa, the general manager, Microsoft4Afrika Initiative.

The initiative comes at a time when Rwanda is promoting knowledge-based economy and empowering young people to engage in job creation.

Speaking at the launch, Minister of Youth and ICT Jean-Philbert Nsengimana said the programme is important because it is in line with government's priorities.

"Technology is becoming an engine for our development and we can't afford to be left behind. I believe a lot can be achieved through smart private and public partnerships. We welcome Microsoft's plan and are committed to developing innovative ways using the power of technology," he said.

The minister said government is looking into five key areas where to partner with the Microsoft initiative, for instance services, such as e-governance, e-health, e-agriculture, e-education and the growth of SMEs using the power of ICT.

"We want to create 'government Appstock' where people can use their mobile phones to access government services. We should have developed applications to be used in the selected sectors by June."

Private sector expectations:

Speaking to The New Times at the launch, Patrick Kabagema, the chairperson of ICT Chamber at the Private Sector Federation, said the initiative is a great opportunity that will enable Rwandans to compete globally in information technology.

"We want Microsoft to customise their applications and hardware to fit the way Africa and Rwanda, in particular, do business," Kabagema said.

He said PSF will sign a partnership with Microsoft to continue extending its innovative ideas and skills to Rwandan ICT entrepreneurs.

Claude K. Migisha, the general manager of kLab, an innovation hub for IT entrepreneurs at Telecom House, said they are looking forward to using the Microsoft initiative to exploit their innovation skills.

"The company is bringing in affordable smartphones, which will increase mobile penetration in our country, an opportunity that will enable ICT innovators to develop more applications to be used in those phones," he added.

Africa is home to 16 of the world's 30 fastest growing economies. Roughly, 44 per cent of the population of Africa is under the age of 15, and around 90 per cent of the phones sold on the continent are still feature phones.

"We want to partner with the Government of Rwanda, because the country has demonstrated the ability to deliver to its citizens. Our goal is to give Rwandan youth and SMEs skills that will enable them achieve what they want to achieve," said Ivan Lumala, the technology officer, Microsoft4Afrika.

The Head of ICT department at Rwanda Development Board, Patrick Nyirishema, said government has identified two lead programmes for possible collaboration with Microsoft within the 4Afrika initiative.

"The 'Viziyo programme' is designed to increase citizen access to smartphones and the 'Smart Village programme' is in line with digitised model villages across the nation as a means to achieve an ICT-driven economy," he said.

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