Over the years, the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector in Rwanda has evolved, with more institutions adopting better technologies to serve Rwandans better.
In this issue, the Minister of Youth and ICT, Jean Philbert Nsengimana shares insights on the growth of the sector and its plans for the future.
QN: Since you became minister, how has the ICT sector evolved over the years?
Nsengimana: We have made progress on a number of things. Usually we consider progress based on three issues:
The first one is access; finding out how many people are connected. We have moved from around 30% of mobile phone subscribers in 2011to 80% today and from 7% to 35% in internet subscribers.
In the digital financial inclusion space, we have moved from close to 500,000 people to more than 7.5 million today.
These increases have resulted in job creation and economic growth.
We have moved from convincing people to use technology to having them demand for it. Today the question is how can we get faster internet.
Secondly, we look at the progress in terms of skills in the sector, at growth in human and institutional capacity to use technology. We now have universities such as Carnegie Mellon training the best engineers; Universities now have IT programs, the One Laptop Per Child still continues at the primary school level and now we are talking about smart classrooms.
Therefore, at the pyramid of skills, right from the top to the bottom, there has been a shift. This is probably an area where we need to do much more for Rwanda to become the digital hub of the region both in terms of quality and quantity in the various domains of ICT.
We need to produce more qualified professionals, to increase the number of top notch engineers in various domains such as cyber security and computer science but we also need the citizens to be digitally literate.
The third element we look at is services. How do we use ICT to deliver better services? This means having different institutions with online applications that people can use thus eliminating queues and enabling people to access different public and private sector services. We want to have better government to citizen and government to private sector services.
QN: What have been some of the benefits of adopting the usage of ICT and entry of ICT firms in the country?
Nsengimana: Firstly, it leads to more customers which translates to lower prices for the customers. If you look at the telecom services, there has been a lower price trend to the base of the customers, thus increasing the value of services to them.
It also means increased investments and more jobs created by those companies, hence benefiting everyone. We just need to make sure that it remains profitable for those companies to continue to operate.
QN: How do you envision the telecom industry transforming to? Shall we be having more internet based voice calls and texting, from the current voice and SMS applications? Is number portability in the pipeline? What else?
Nsengimana: I see everything going digital. Voice will go digital, messaging has already become digital thanks to applications such as WhatsApp.
I don’t think SMS is going away any time soon but in terms of numbers everything is going to go digital. It’s just a matter of time.
QN: Briefly expound on the importance of internet today in Rwanda.
Nsengimana: Internet cuts across every domain you may think of. Today, you cannot run any kind of business without using the internet.
Probably the businesses that internet hasn’t disrupted are in agriculture but there are many applications that are coming up to help farmers increase productivity, get more value for money and marketing their produce. Internet has become a utility similar to running water and electricity.
QN: What are some of the key reforms that you have carried out as an institution that have led to more investments in the sector?
Nsengimana: We have carried out a number of reforms that have not only led to investment but also harnessed the value of technology more broadly.
The broadband policy paved the way for 4G LTE investments and Rwanda is ahead of the rest of the continent in terms of 4G LTE coverage and usage.
We also launched the cyber security policy which paved the way again for a number of investments especially on the public-sector side.
In the private sector, I can talk about the policy on e-waste, which even if it hasn’t been approved, the discussion has triggered a number of developments including the construction of a factory to dismantle and dispose e-waste.
We are now driving a number of other policies but I think the policy that is driving new innovation is the Smart Rwanda Master Plan, which has led to a number of projects that attract investors interested in partnering with us in implementing those projects.
QN: Going forward, where do you see Rwanda’s ICT sector in the next few years?
Nsengimana: On the access side, there has to be broadband for all by 2020. On skills development, we need to increase both quality and quantity by having digital literacy for all by 2020. On services, we are looking at 24/7 government self-service with zero papers or trips to be able to obtain a government service by 2020.
We are also looking at creating more digital jobs, which as part of our Smart Rwanda Master Plan, is to create as many as 100,000 digital jobs by 2020 and to accelerate the pace of digital transformation of key sectors.
A cashless economy remains a very important objective as well as digital healthcare, ICT for education, ICT for Agriculture, ICT for Youth and Women empowerment and ICT in governance.
The other big dimension to it is export. We want to drive IT related businesses made in Rwanda to export to other countries.
By TSM Reporter