The African narrative is changing. There is a revolution spreading across the continent, bringing with it a tide of economic growth, productive policy changes and innovation. Rwanda, popularly known as the “land of a thousand hills”, is one of the African countries that has seen steady growth in various sectors. From its painful history of the 1994 genocide, Rwanda is a rising Phoenix and is redefining itself, steadily establishing its position as a tech giant on the continent, and possibly the world.
Origins of Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley is a renowned tech hub in the south of San Francisco Bay. Many tech companies were established in the area, and have their headquarters there to date. The name became popular in the 1970s as the region grew in tech innovation, and the name is derived from the silicon transistor, which comprises the main material used to make computer processors. Silicon Valley is considered one of the wealthiest regions in the world.
Rwanda’s ICT history
At the turn of the millennium, the Rwandan government purposed what became known as Vision 2020. The government’s goal in implementing this policy was to move from an agricultural-based economy to a digitized and middle-income society by the year 2020. Having made this bold assertion, the government facilitated the linking of the country to global wireless networks. With increased connectivity, Rwanda’s tech revolution began.
To date, mobile phones are very popular in the country, with connectivity available in rural areas. In asserting its commitment to the provision of ICT tools and programs, the Rwandan 500 franc note is embossed with a picture of young children working on laptops. ICT gadgets are also available for purchase on credit facilities, with smaller tech companies partnering with leaders in the industry to avail such options to the consumer.
The tech hubs phenomenon
Not to be left out of the tech wave on the continent, Rwanda houses several tech hubs, the majority situated in the capital Kigali. These innovation centers are key in leading innovative tech projects which are the brainchild of young tech entrepreneurs enthusiastic about creating homegrown solutions to African problems. One such tech hub is FabLab, which is said to have obtained sizeable investments to fund tech projects in Rwanda.
ICT health solutions
One of the critical sectors on the continent that needs addressing is health care. With many African countries facing various challenges, Rwanda’s tech-savvy innovators have created solutions that remedy these problems. FOYO, a mobile pharmaceutical directory, has availed much-needed information to the Rwandan population on dosages, interactions of drugs to certain foods, and side effects related to medication.
In another show of adaption to technological advancements, Rwanda has been making use of drones to facilitate the timeous delivery of blood to places that are otherwise not easily accessible. This ‘Zipline’ service has also been used during the Covid-19 pandemic to deliver much-needed medication during the lockdown. More recently, the country also made headlines for using robots to control the spread of the coronavirus. The robots were used to police the population during lockdown, disseminate information and safety tips related to the coronavirus, and also limit the interaction of nurses with patients by checking patient vitals in hospitals. With the implementation of such solutions, it is clear why Rwanda is a forerunner in tech in Sub–Saharan Africa.
It is pleasing to note that women and girls have not been left out of this tech phenomenon. Although the percentage of women to men in the Rwandan tech industry is low, positive steps are being taken to reduce the gender gap. One such initiative is the Girls In ICT group. This group is concerned with raising awareness of tech-related careers to girls in high school, whilst also offering tech courses and competitions to inspire girls to be a part of the STEM revolution. Of note, many young Rwandan women have gone on to start tech-related businesses such as software engineering and data analytics.
Bridging the digital divide through local assembly
As of 2016, an Argentinian tech company opened its doors to an assembly line in Rwanda. This not only makes Rwanda a pioneer in computer assembly in the region but also advances the government’s objective of ensuring the availability of laptops and computers to each Rwandan child as anticipated by the Vision 2020 policy. There have also been discussions towards establishing a factory that manufactures mobile phones in the country, having fostered relations with a Chinese firm. From its policies, it appears the Rwandan government is attracting direct foreign investment to boost its tech dreams, and also creating employment and boosting the economy.
Innovative solutions to Rwandan challenges
With all this tech drive, Rwanda is realizing the benefits of investment in innovation. The country was one of the first to introduce prepaid tap cards to use on local buses. With just a tap, commuters can readily pay for their bus fare, without the struggles of finding change and thereby causing inconveniences and unnecessary delays as is the case in some African countries.
Through the creative collaborations encouraged at tech hubs, several applications have been created to solve different societal challenges in the country. One such application is Incike, a crowdfunding application that has helped raise funds for the elderly survivors of the 1994 genocide. With many of the beneficiaries having lost family members during that horrific period, the funds raised have improved their livelihoods and given them hope. Another noteworthy application was designed by Hepta Analytics to assist women and girls who have been affected by genital mutilation. The application allows victims to contact social workers through toll-free numbers and also facilitates data mapping which simplifies tracking.
Dream big or go home
Not to be left out of the space race, Rwanda established a Space Working Group in 2017, to develop sciences and technology facilities to have access to space. The country has obtained rights to orbital slots, although it is yet to launch any satellites into orbit. With such forward-thinking, it is no wonder that the country is establishing itself as a tech giant in Sub–Saharan Africa. The tech sector is growing to become one of the largest contributors to the country’s GDP, and if Rwanda maintains its momentum, greater things are yet to come from the land of a thousand hills.