Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Rwanda on the Move

Every year for the last three years, I go to Rwanda to visit my brother who lives there. Thus I have the opportunity to see the changes happening over one year. For many countries, including my country of origin Belgium, I don't see much changes from one year to the other, at the contrary I sometimes see things degrading like roads or buildings in Belgium.
This is not the case in Rwanda. While I know that this election year may have been at the origin of many improvements, it is clear that the country is on the move. The most visible changes are the infrastructure changes. Roads have been paved, and public lighting installed. For example, the dirt road that was leading from the airport to the military hospital was in such a bad shape that I was thinking that any person driving on it in an ambulance would die. That road is now paved and lighting has been installed. The main boulevard leading to the center of Kigali was a dangerous road without central divide. It is now a nice boulevard well lighted with central divide preventing fast downhill driving cars to enter in collision with cars driving in the other direction. Similar road improvement are happening inside the country. Many new hotels are under construction in Kigali. A convention center construction is also in progress expected to complete by 2012. Most of these constructions are executed by Chinese companies.
In the country side, I have seen several villages being equipped with electricity. The gas extraction facility on the Kivu lake is now producing electricity.

But even more exciting for me is the Information and Communication Technology infrastructure progress. An extensive fiber optic network is put in place and is reaching into all 30 districts of the country. It is installed by a South Korean company. Here are pictures of the fiber optic cable on the road from Giseny to Kibuye.

The country is now connected to the broadband SEACOM Internet cable. The fiber optic will allow to deliver it to the entire country. Broadband really means that you can now deliver complex services like video to the users. I bought an internet modem from Rwandatel. Compared to last year, the monthly cost was divided by two ($68/month unlimited data transfer) and will probably be divided by two again when I come back next year. I tried it inside the country. As my brother and I stopped in a bar in a small town we succeeded in using Skype to call my mother back in Belgium via video call and it was working fine! People in the bar were looking at us like we were sorcerers! This opens the door for many more applications like e-learning or e-healthcare, allowing doctors to get remote diagnosis of medical images via Internet.
I did help start a penpal program between the St Vincent Pallotti school of Kigali and the Culbreth middle school in my town of Chapel Hill to help Rwandan students learn English by exchanging letters with American students. I was very pleased to see that the school now has an ICT room that did not exist last year. Even the building was new from last year. The computers are refurbished computers offered by an Italian donor. It was very exciting to see the students learning using it, searching for the characters on the keyboards.

When I was at the school, there were military people helping build cement blocs for the building of new classes. Nice example of community service!
Completing the ICT infrastructure, the government is also finishing a National Data Center that will be able to deliver cloud services. The combination of high mobile penetration, broadband Internet and cloud computing open new opportunities. It is now up to Rwandan entrepreneurs and the private sector to leverage that opportunity to improve the local industries' productivity and to deliver solutions that will make a difference in Rwandan people's lives.

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