|Topic:||Rwanda moving towards citizens’ expectations|
|Author:||Jean Philbert Nsengimana|
|Title:||Minister of Youth and ICT|
Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT in Rwanda. He worked for Voxiva Inc., a USA company as its Country Director in Rwanda and for the Development Gateway Foundation as the Regional Coordinator for Africa. He built and led teams that won the Technology in Government Award (TIGA) in 2007 for best e-Health solution in Africa (TRACnet and mUbuzima). He implemented eSoko, a mobile-based Market information system serving more than 2,500,000 farmers in real time market information, winning the TIGA award 2011 for best e-Agriculture solution in Africa.
Hon Nsengimana holds a Global MBA in IT Management from S P Jain School of Global Management Dubai-Singapore and a Masters of ICT in Software Engineering from the National University of Rwanda.
Broadband is now a necessity, not luxury. The Rwandangovernment is following an ambitious twenty-year plan to enhance its ICT services. Fibre optics project is making the Internet accessible, raising penetration dramatically but needs more ‘last mile’ reachability in rural areas. Government projects have implemented improved health record tracking, better education and farmers’ information exchange, and Mobile Money is empowering remote population to do business without bank accounts. However, some issues still need to be solved, e.g. the role of the private sector, regulation to keep broadband affordable and distributing the know-how via training.
In just fifteen years, what was once considered as an object of luxury and privilege for rich people has become a basic necessity for Rwandan urban and rural daily lives. Introduction of broadband internet on the PC and mobile phone has been an enabler breaking communications barriers and profoundly changing how services are delivered. The revolution lead to the increase of productivity, creation of new trade opportunities and competition, access to knowledge, and better prospects for the young generation who have access to unprecedented opportunities ofnew types of jobs and unlimited entrepreneurship potential.
All started when ICTs was seen as necessity, not choice
Rwanda aims to transform the country from low-income into middle-income and transition from an agrarian economy to an information-rich, knowledge-based society by 2020. This ambitious strategy was formulated in 1998 with the introduction of the ICT-led Socio-Economic Development Policy and Plan, commonly known as the National Information Communications Infrastructure (NICI) Plans. Through four five-year implementation plans starting in 2000, investment in ICT begun to grow, helping to accelerate social and economic development.
The NICI focused on establishing favourable environment by setting up institutional framework, putting in place the necessary legal and regulatory mechanisms, liberalising telecoms market as well as ensuring effective implementation and coordination. Infrastructure development phase followed to accelerate access to ICT as a backbone for current and future communications requirements.
The third phase of NICI aims to foster efficient delivery of services to the citizen and develop business and competitiveness. The promotion of affordable access is top priority, following the liberalisation of the telecommunications market.
Laying fibre optic to connect citizens to global networks
Significant efforts in the deployment of world-class ICT infrastructure have already resulted in connecting more Rwandans to global networks. Stakeholders in the sector have invested in countrywide backhaul optic fibre links to submarine international line. Since 2011, the national fibre-optic backbone network, connecting all 30 districts of the country and nine border posts, is operational. The government engaged in discussions with the SEACOM, TEAMS and EassyCable fibre-optic submarine cables in order to increase fibre bandwidth capacity, which will be distributed to schools and health centres, amongst others.
To upgrade its internet capacity, Rwanda concluded a contract with Tanzania Telecommunications Company Limited (TTCL) to boost the bulk international bandwidth for additional capacity of 1.244 Gbps. The core objective is to reduce the cost of international connectivity by extending the geographic reach of Rwanda’s broadband networks and establishing a central gateway facility (virtual landing point) that facilitates international connectivity.
In the past four years, the mobile telephony registered a significant increase in terms of subscriber base from 1,158,674 subscribers in 2008 up to over 4,000,000 in April 2012. Total Internet subscriptions reported that amounted to 235,346 in March 2010, now estimated at 700,000 users with a target to reach 5,000,000 users by 2016.
The International bandwidth capacity reached 1,244 Gbps in 2012 against 235 Mbps reported in 2008. In April 2012, active mobile phone subscribers in Rwanda rose to 42 per cent of the whole population of the country, estimated at 11,000,000 people.
Decentralized government services supported by new media channels
Various e-Government initiatives including the modern and secure National ID and driving license; e-Cabinet; e-Parliament, document tracking and workflow management system; financial management system (FMS); human resource management system (HRMS) and others have been implemented and more are in the process of being deployed across all government offices to improve government operations and in turn their service delivery to citizens.
Existing facilities are not only beneficial to Rwandan citizens but also to guests and investors. Guests of Rwanda can apply for a visa online where all procedures are done via internet and mobile phones. Rwanda is ranked among the top ten best business performers. Many more e-Business solutions are proposed, for example – company registration online that takes threehours to form a fully operational business company. These initiatives will most certainly improve government-to-citizen (G2C) services and facilitate more development in the governance sphere.
Education that leads to eradication of the ICT gap
Broadband coverage is required to foster technological advancement. Broadband is contributing to quality education that is needed to close the skills gap in Rwanda. It is needed to attract big players like Carnegie Mellon University, who have already opened in Kigali. Currently, over 100,000 pupils at more than 230 primary schools are benefiting from the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) scheme, which is transforming the delivery and the quality of education.
The Government of Rwanda implemented numerous ICT initiatives including: ICT training for teachers; The Schoolnet that aims to improve connectivity; ICT tools in basic education schools; The RwEdNet that connects Rwanda‘s institutions of higher education and links them to global education and research networks; and the Rwanda Education Commons – a one-stop-shop for education information.
mBanking becoming the ideal channel for money transfer
In the financial sector, especially in mBanking, the introduction of Mobile Money is enabling money transactions while on the move. About 750,000 Rwandans are subscribers to Mobile Money services. Most rural subscribers are benefiting from this service by sending or receiving money without having a bank account but rather a SIM card which serves as a financial account. The service also helps some companies in paying employees residing in remote areas. By the end of 2011, the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR) reported approximately 700,000 transactions registered.
ICT in health services delivery
A number of ICT initiatives have been implemented in the Health sector. The OpenMRSsystem facilitates nationwide tracking of patients’ data. The TRACnetsystem that started in 2005 allows central collection and storage of health information. Mobile e-Health (mBuzima) system for community health workers is used to collect data for OpenMRS and TRACnet systems. Telemedicine connects different hospitals to facilitate medical information sharing between urban and rural hospitals, and allowing citizens to receive specialised treatment services remotely.
Information sharing in the agriculture sector
Rwandan population, through the e-Soko project, accesses latest market information for particular commodities. This is a web and a mobile-based market information exchange, where farmers and other businesses can push and pull market information in a quick and affordable way by sending a simple text message. The platform empowers farmers with market knowledge, which gives them bargaining power to make better decisions and improve on their income.
Challenges and solutions go hand in hand
For broadband services to expand and reach out to the majority of citizens, a number of issues need priority focus. The major ones are related to financing big ICT projects, human capacity, regulation, content development, consumer protection and cyber security.
Despite of enacted telecommunications legislation, multi-sector regulatory law, and intellectual property rights legislation, broadband policy is still absent. Expected solution for its gap is the ICT laws, now being tabled at the Parliament.
The role of the private sector needs to be established with regards to specific issues such as interconnectivity, standards and pricing. In addition, there is a need to raise awareness of potential customers who are generally still not informed about the benefits and/or potential benefits offered by broadband technologies.
The reach of broadband in remote areas is associated with various factors among which electric power is the major one. Generally, broadband services are exclusively available in major cities and districts headquarters due to the concentration of potential users. There is a need to increase broadband access from the main backbone to the last mile as a way of encouraging businesses and non-profit organizations to set up their offices in remote areas.
Affordable connectivity and devices and quality of broadband services are under further consideration. The high access cost needs appropriate regulatory measures to ensure that potential customer, and wherever possible – households, can get access to broadband at a reasonable price.
Finally, increasing technical know-how of managing broadband technologies requires telecom operators to work closely with training providers, in order to develop hands-on technical training programs.
Enhancing the availability of broadband connectivity is the solution for Rwandans to address the challenge of the communication gap in the country. However, the state of progress recorded so far calls for a new policy approach, regulatory framework, and human capacity building to ensure the effective distribution of benefits from this investment.
There is a need to reinforce a shared-infrastructure regulatory policy to allow smaller players in rural areas to access the network backbone at a low price. There is still a window for investors to venture into this unexploited area of ICT market in Rwanda.
Enabling access to services should be seen both as a question of delivering them and as empowering the community to access them, in order to effectively secure broader benefits.