8 November 2013

Uganda: ICT Success

President Paul Kagame watches a pupil as he explains how he uses his laptop. This was at the Transform Africa exhibition.ICT revolution putting Rwanda on course to be a role model for Africa

The Transform Africa Conference, which was hosted by Rwanda from Oct.28 - 31, opened the eyes of many to the tremendous successes being registered by Rwanda in the information and communication technologies (ICT) sector.

The Transform Africa Conference, which was organized by the International Telecommunications Union and the Government of Rwanda, aimed at bringing together all stakeholders to find an answer to the question of how Africa can leverage broadband to transform communities, governments and the private sector. By the end of the conference, which was also attended by six presidents, there was consensus that Rwanda's experience was an example that all African countries should emulate.

In attendance were Presidents Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon, Blaise Compaore of Burkinafaso, Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta of Mali, Salva Kiir Mayardit of South Sudan, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, among hundreds of other important dignitaries and experts in the ICT sector. Speaking at the conference, President Paul Kagame underlined the reason why Rwanda has set the pace for the ICT revolution. He said Rwanda long ago realized the potential that ICT has to boost the national economy and to improve the living standards of Africans.

"We want to equip the African youth with these technologies and accelerate our development because we believe that success belongs to those who can innovate and those who seize the available opportunities," he said. "Let us expound on specific ways that we can leverage ICTs and work together to transform our continent during this interaction," he added.

Over the last few years, Rwanda has been recognized as a reformer in the ICT industry thanks to the various projects it has implemented in that sector. One of the key projects is the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) for which the country's programme is the 3rd largest deployment in the world after Peru and Uruguay.

In partnership with the Government of Rwanda, the One Laptop per Child program, which began in 2007, has now distributed 207,026 laptops in 407 schools across Rwanda. But that is only one of the many important ICT deployments that have made Rwanda an ICT model on the continent.

Indeed, Jean Philippe Prosper, the vice president of the World Bank's International Finance Corporation for Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, said they are committed to partnering with Africa to invest in ICT as one of the key economic drivers. He cited ICT as one of the reasons for Rwanda's latest ranking by the World Bank as one of the best places to do business. The country emerged 32nd in the world and 2nd in Africa.

According to the 2013 Networked Readiness Index, which the World Economic Forum and European Institute of Business Administration (INSEAD) released recently, Rwanda was ranked top on the index in East Africa, 6th in Africa and 88th globally among 144 countries in ICT readiness.

The report, titled "Growth and Jobs in a Hyper-connected World," faulted national policies in some developing economies for failing to translate ICT investment into tangible benefits in terms of competitiveness, development and employment.

During the conference, President Kagame held discussions with Rodrigo Arboleda, the chairman and CEO of OLPC, which aims to reach a two million laptops milestone by 2017. Mr Arboleda said, "Our goal is to contribute to Rwanda's vision of being the transformational hub of Africa and participating in digital age of economy." "One laptop per child demonstrates that the most important resource that Africa has is the brain of their children."

OLPC has also helped to open a Global Center for Excellence in Laptops and Learning at the Kigali Institute for Science, Technology and Management. OLPC-Rwanda aims to work on providing support to the government towards the building of educational conditions for teachers, children, schools in general and communities through the use of the XO laptop.

President Ali Bongo suggested that the One Laptop per Child program should be extended to all African countries and should be made one of the priorities of the African Union.

President Yoweri Museveni called for people-centred ICT deployments instead of making it a mere technological issue. He said for ICT to be useful to people, it has to be relevant to their lives.

As part of the Transform Africa Summit 2013, five young ICT entrepreneurs were awarded for developing socially transforming IT solutions. Hehe Ltd, a Rwandan startup, was picked overall winner from over 500 entries from more than 500 young African ICT enthusiasts. Hehe Ltd, which won a $7,500 cash prize and a plaque, builds mobile apps and software solutions to aid access to information.

Backed by its ambitious Vision 2020 programme, the government of Rwanda is implementing a vision with the overarching objective of disseminating ICT throughout all educational institutions in order to equip learners with 21st century skills. The government of Rwanda has also put much focus on expanding its ICT infrastructure in a bid to provide widespread access to power, connectivity and equipment as well as developing capacity by training teachers how to integrate ICT into teaching practices.

It is also setting up a conducive ICT environment to help develop and distribute digital content that is adapted to the Rwandan context; and strengthening partnerships to encourage participation of local institutions and civil society in ICT development and deployment.

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