If you find yourself wandering the streets of Kigali anytime soon, and are desperately searching for the nearest internet Café to check the latest post on this blog , stop — WiFi is now free and city-wide. The Rwandan Government, Rwandan Hotel & Restaurant Association, and local telecommunication companies collaborated to develop this–what I think we can all agree is an awesome–service to increase ICT use and create an “enabling environment.” Providing free, universal internet access is one way to breakdown the digital dive and barriers to entry.
The new initiative is called “Smart Kigali” and is one of the hundreds of ICT development efforts under Rwanda’s ambitious National Information and Communication Infrastructure plan (the country’s ICT policy), and free Wi-Fi is just the first step. The other efforts are not necessarily as exciting, but are arguably more important; The City of Kigali is working with Google to publish a detailed online map of the city — i.e. Google Maps (currently, only general boarders and main streets are available).
The government is also implementing automated taxi meters in the cabs throughout the city to enforce a standardized fare. “Far-based conflict” is a major concern apparently; I buy it; there’s definitely a special “Muzungu” price.
All of these efforts are part of the Rwandan governments appeasement to private investment and Westerners in general. How many African cities have detailed google maps, free Wi-Fi and taxi-meters that help prevent foreigners from getting totally taken advantage of? As Mayor Ndayisaba put it, “We need Kigali to be an exemplary city. We do not need to copy other cities, we want cities to copy Kigali.”