Since Friday, Kigali has been abuzz with excitement. On that day, Smart Kigali was launched, under which all kinds of ICT-related innovations are being introduced to make life easier for the capital's residents.
The most eye-catching initiative so far is that free Wi-Fi has been installed in various public places, as well as on busses and in cabs (see article on page 3), which means that anyone with a Wi-F enabled device will no longer need a modem to get internet access outside their office or home.
The project is part of the government's vision to turn Rwanda into a knowledge-based society and a regional ICT hub. "We want to transform our country from an agrarian economy to technology-based economy," said Minister of Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana at the launch of Smart Kigali.
The initiative is of course to be applauded. Not only will it, as the Minister pointed out, contribute in delivering better services and information to a huge number of citizens, it will also make the city more attractive to visitors, especially investors.
What makes Smart Kigali all the more special is that it is an excellent example of a successful public-private partnership, since it was made possible through collaboration with private sector telecoms companies BSC, MTN Rwanda, Tigo Rwanda, Airtel, Liquid Telecom and ISPA.
There is one catch though: to benefit from the service, you have to own a Wi-Fi enabled device, meaning a smartphone, a table or a laptop with the appropriate hardware. While there is a growing number of owners of such devices, it is today still a minority in society, composed of the well-to-do, who even before already had the means to install Wi-Fi at home or buy a USB modem. The biggest beneficiaries at the moment seem to be the perpetually cash-strapped university students, for whom internet access is vital.
That in itself is great, of course, but the authorities should not forget one group of people who risk missing the boat: those with little or no access to the internet. These are people who, due to limited incomes, might only occasionally afford to go to an internet café and who, for the same reason, most often do not have a Wi-Fi device. For them, the initiative will make little difference, and yet they would be the ones to benefit most from it.
Therefore, the energetic Minister Nsengimana and his team might in a next phase maybe look into what can be done to make Wi-Fi devices, especially smartphones, more affordable. Because while it is great that the free Wi-Fi makes internet access easier for people with the right devices, the ultimate goal should be to get more people on board of the ICT train.