The Rwanda Connect Challenge - a campaign which seeks to mobilise people to contribute to providing smartphones to Rwandans who cannot afford them - has so far received more than 31,000 smartphone pledge, the Minister of ICT and Innovation has said.
Paula Ingabire made the disclosure in Kigali on Tuesday, December 31, 2019, during a session in which she was explaining about the Challenge to the Chamber of Deputies.
MPs who spoke during the session concurred that it was an important initiative that was worth endorsing. But they cautioned that there was need to ensure transparency and accountability in selecting beneficiaries and following up to ascertain that the phones are effectively used to benefit them.
The Challenge initiated by MTN Rwanda - a telecommunication company - is run in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation. At least 24,012 phones were committed as of December 23, 2019.
It was launched by MTN Rwanda on December 20, 2019 - less than two weeks ago.
Ingabire said that the Challenge will run until June 2020, implying that those making pledges should do it and provide the smartphones or money to buy them before that period. The pledges are done voluntarily by individuals or institutions.
Rwanda National Police is among the latest entities to take up the Challenge and has pledged 1200 smartphones.
Ingabire said that though about 10 million Rwandans are connected to mobile phones, only 1.6 million of them have smartphones.
MP Jean Damascène Murara said it was a commendable initiative that should be supported, but said strategies should be devised to prevent the phones from being sold or given to people who do not deserve them.
"We have the experience we got from Girinka - One Cow per Poor Family programme - where some cows were given to the wrong beneficiaries because of favouritism. Some beneficiaries also sold the cows because they did not know how to keep them," he said.
Minister Ingabire responded that: "We want to focus on training, sensitisation and awareness so that Rwandans who will be given these phones understand the value of such phones ... beyond making calls and sending text messages, rather other services."
MP Veneranda Nyirahirwa wanted to know how the needy people who will get the smartphones will be able to use them yet they do not have regular source of income.
"I wonder how the neediest people who will receive smartphones will get means to buy airtime and megabytes [internet] for them to get the services they need," she said adding that a method to help them utilise the phones, in the long run, should be considered.
Ingabire responded that MTN Rwanda committed to connecting all the cell phones with free SIM cards loaded airtime and [internet] data for the first three months.
Ensuring the right beneficiaries
The Minister explained that the focus is on the people in the first and second ubudehe categories which comprise the neediest Rwandans, but those from the third category who cannot afford them will also benefit from the initiative.
She said that concerned entities including the Ministry of ICT and Innovation, the Ministry of Local Government, and the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), are partnering to develop a system that will help them to identify the right beneficiaries.
Applications, services to be included in the smartphones
The Minister said that some 12 programmes that will be first installed in the smartphones are in three languages - Kinyarwanda, English, and French, which means that the citizen can choose which one was convenient for them.
They include Irembo e-government service portal, bank services, health services, education, paying for fertilisers using Smart Nkunganire system, weather-related information, among others.
"Smartphones have computing capabilities which can facilitate our service delivery and people's access to services," she said.
"We will continue to train them [the beneficiaries] so that they know how to use them to access various services," she said.
The Minister said that the prices for the smartphone models that Mara Phones Group is producing in Rwanda are Rwf139,000 for Mara X and Rwf180,000 for Mara Z.
But, for the smartphones from this factory that will be committed to supporting the needy, the cost was brought down from Rwf139,000 to Rwf100,000, she told MPs.