Since taking office in 2000, President Paul Kagame has taken Rwanda by the cuff and driven unprecedented growth, resulting in the country being ranked the third most competitive in Sub-Saharan Africa in this year’s World Economic Forum global competitiveness report. Amongst the President’s pet topics – increasing ICT availability across the East African country in a bid to drive the country’s growing economy.
Kagame launched Rwanda’s Vision 2020 in July of 2000, putting efforts to ensure access to technology and in particular high-speed Internet at its heart. His government has recognised ICT as a “cross-cutting” theme in the development of the country’s economy and society and, since winning the country’s first ever democratic elections in 2003, Kagame has overseen a programme of technological development which he sees as crucial to driving the country’s economic growth.
After a landslide win in the presidential elections of 2010 – Kagame taking 93 per cent of votes to enter into a second term of government – the government set forth a Strategic Investment Programme (SIP) laying down key areas for development over the next ten years. The second key area was the construction of relevant ICT infrastructures, with a view to ensuring total high-speed Internet coverage across the country – including rural areas.
Between 2009 and 2011 the government invested US$95 million in a project to lay over 2,300 kilometres of fibre optic cables across the country, linking the country’s network to the undersea network cables running along the East African coast, in furtherance of the promise to expand broadband services and improve the e-commerce capacity of the country.
ICT for Education
ICT as a driver of education is key to Kagame’s strategy. In a country with 42 per cent unemployment or underemployment amongst the youth and 44.9 per cent of the population living under the poverty line, the President has placed a particular emphasis on the importance of equipping the youth with basic ICT skills with a view to diminishing the high unemployment levels. Rwanda now has one of the highest rates of poverty reduction in the world, displaying a 2.4 per cent drop in poverty each year.
The government has launched many initiatives linking the learning of ICT skills to the government’s free basic education for all children commitment. Under Vision 2020, Kagame promises internet access for all secondary schools by the 2020 deadline, and for the majority of primary schools. The government has – in conjunction with the One Laptop Per Child programme – pledged to ensure 500,000 laptops reach primary schools across the country within the next five years.
Following a 2010 National Higher Education Council survey of recent Rwandan university graduates, it was revealed that only 9 per cent of graduates had taken ICT-related courses, contributing to low-levels of candidates with the necessary skill sets to fuel development in the ICT sector. This has prompted redoubled efforts by the government to ensure equal access to ICT learning for all children in education; and came hand-in-hand with the government deciding to raise compulsory free education to 12 years as opposed to 9.
Kagame has won countless international awards for his work in leading Rwanda in a constructive and democratic fashion, including numerous prestigious awards from the global ICT sector. Such awards include the World Technology Award (for Policy) by the World Technology Network (2009), the ICT Africa Award (for 2006 and 2007), and the Innovation for Peace Award by the World Summit on Innovation and Enterprise (2008) to name but a few.