Rwanda: An African Tech Hub?

Aware of the “leap-frog” potential of ICTs, the East-African nation of Rwanda, impaired by a lack of natural recourses, overcrowding, wide-spread poverty and a particularly violent past, is determined to become the region’s technological-hub. A grand ambition for a small agrarian society, but given the country’s meteoric development in the past decade under the stringent, but efficient, rule of President Paul Kagame, it’s a realistic one.

Rwanda is marginalized geographically, economically and politically; other than tea and coffee, it has no inherent natural recourses, its landlocked with not the best of neighbors — e.g. the D.R.C., with which Rwanda has had ongoing conflict since 1994. Thus, it makes sense that the Government of Rwanda is trying to take advantage of a commodity that is cheaply exportable anywhere in the world at the dial of a phone number or click of button: ICT services. To this end, the Rwandan government has invested massive amounts of money towards the development of a first-class, globally-appealing ICT infrastructure, in the hopes that they can foster a competitive ICT-private sector — the Government of Rwanda is rather explicit about this . For example, the following graphic from Rwanda’s initial ICT strategy document depicts the government’s desired transition from an agrarian based economy to a service based economy of which ICT is the main component:

Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 8.11.07 PM

This is still a work in progress. Despite unparalleled investment and attention towards ICT sector development, Rwanda somewhat lags behind its neighbors when it comes to service exports, as seen in the data table below from the World Bank.

Screen Shot 2013-09-30 at 6.05.38 PMThese relatively low numbers are mostly due to an inexperienced, uneducated population when it comes to ICTs, something the government is determinedly addressing through hundreds of education initiatives, including ICT specific universities and an ICT park in the capital city of Kigali.

The ultimate fruition of Government of Rwanda’s goals may have yet to be realized, but it is a work-in-progress, and the country has come a long way since the 1994 war. Rwanda continues to invest millions of aid and  1.6 percent of its GDP towards ICT sector development annually. One thing is for certain: the Rwandan government certainly believes ICTs are its ticket to middle income status.

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