Posted on :Wednesday , 9th August 2017
Aline Uwitonze, an entrepreneur from Gatsibo District, says she no longer has to travel long distances, to access Banks or carry out financial transactions.
“All I do is use my mobile phone, to send and receive money, read the news and most importantly, make calls to my customers from anywhere at affordable rates,” she says.
Uwitonze’s story has been possible thanks to relentless efforts of the Government and President Kagame’s visionary leadership to place ICT at the center of Rwanda’s economic transformation.
Indeed, “the internet is a needed public utility as much as water and electricity,” President Kagame pointed out at the Transform Africa Summit held in Kigali, last year.
Rwanda’s leadership is well aware that ICT is the vehicle that will deliver the prosperous future all Rwandans are working towards.
Dr Hamadoun Toure, the Executive secretary of the Smart Africa Alliance, refers to Kagame as the Digital president who is transforming Rwanda into a service-based economy. Everything is going digital and this has improved the quality of service Rwandans seek and receive.
The government considers ICT central to driving Rwanda towards a knowledge-based economy. In fact, Rwanda’s budget allocation to ICT - as a percentage of its GDP - is at par with Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
Rwanda growth in ICT continues to be one of the fastest in the continent. This has created several opportunities for businesses and the horizon looks even more promising. E-commerce, e-services, mobile services and applications development are some of the ICT focus areas that have sprung up of late. These are creating wealth and jobs for the young people especially.
During a two-day visit in Kigali, the Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), Houlin Zhao, pointed out that Rwanda’s choice to prioritize ICT is one of the major reasons the country has registered remarkable progress.
The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), in colaboration with other stakeholders is making sure the benefits that come with technology reach every Rwandan, wherever they may be.
RURA’s main mandate is regulation of utilities. And, for the ICT sector, RURA is in charge of licensing, monitoring and advising policy makers on technology related issues. It is also the go-to institution when relating with foreign stakeholders.
Protais Kanyankore, is in charge of the ICT Regulation Department at RURA. He says the idea is to create an environment that promotes public confidence, attract more investors and ensure stability, transparency and fair competition.
Rwanda has 3 large telecom operators - MTN Rwanda, Tigo and Airtel. There are six Internet Service Providers (ISPs), one Wholesale Network Service provider, two Network facility providers and fourteen Retail Internet Service Providers.
Anthony Kulamba, the Head of Media Regulation and Consumer Affairs Department at RURA says that professional regulation has facilitated growth in the sector.
“As a result of a conducive legal and regulatory framework in place, the ICT sector continues to experience a significant growth,” Kulamba says. He added that RURA also closely monitors the quality of services offered by the providers to make sure consumers get top-notch services and the providers adhere to the set standards.
Impact in numbers
According to RURA, there has been sharp increase in mobile phone subscription from 3.1 million in 2010 to the current 8.4million. This reflects an increase of 5.3million.
Meanwhile, on the internet side, there has been an increase in penetration rate from 1.6 per cent seven years ago to 36 per cent presently.
This increase in internet penetration and mobile phone usage is highly attributed to the increased accessibility and affordability of services due to the entry of more players.
Growth in the number of service providers according to RURA, has also resulted in reduced calling charges due to healthy competition.
Charles Semapondo, who is in charge of innovation and cyber-security, says that RURA, in 2002, adopted the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) industry standards to make sure that the bar is set high. This helped create a conducive environment for investors as well as quality affordable service on the part of consumers.
Rwanda concentrated on enhancing the ICT infrastructure by establishing a national data centre that centralizes information storage, management and protection, as well as using cloud computing facilities.
In addition, a national fiber-optic backbone network that connects Rwanda to international sea cables was deployed, increasing internet accessibility and affordability as well as connecting Rwandans to global networks.
While the overall objective has been to leverage ICT and address national priorities for economic growth and poverty reduction, experts like James Musinguzi, the Director of Technical Development and Services Unit at RURA believes through the development and coordination of national policies and programs related to youth empowerment as well as Information & Communication Technology policies and programs have made it possible to accelerate socio-economic development through increased productivity on the private sector’s side.
Extending broadband networks
The national fiber-optic backbone network, which connects to an undersea network, already connects all the 30 districts of the country. The government also negotiated with three fiber-optic submarine cable companies SEACOM, TEAMS and the Eastern Africa Submarine Cable System (EASSy) to finance the extension of fiber-optic cables to increase bandwidth capacity to benefit schools, health centers and other institutions. The physical laying of the fibre optic cables was completed in 2012.
In 2015, South Korea’s largest telecom company, Korea Telecom signed a deal to deploy high-speed (4G) broadband network across the country within three years.
Under the agreement, Korea Telecom (now called KT Corp) will invest $140 million in infrastructure and expertise, while Rwanda will provide fiber-optic network assets, spectrum and a wholesale license, according to the agreement.