Rwanda sets precedent for tech in Africa

Mar 30, 2015, 2:14 PM EDT
User transfers money using mobile device in Kigali, Rwanda. Bloomberg via Getty Images
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rwanda has arguably emerged as the model for countries looking to build out information and communication technologies to improve sectors of business, government work, and standard-of-living. The country has long been the most progressive in mobile adoption among the central/eastern African nations which have struggled to adopt newer technologies in the wake of varying civil strife. The country has not been shy about working with all manner of startups and large corporations to encourage tech innovation, and has recently been pushing for the integration of financial services into mobile life.

Airtel Rwanda -- a large mobile carrier -- announced last week that it will introduce micro-loans on Airtel Money on April 1 in a partnership with Atlantis Microfinance Limited. This is one of a myriad of ways Rwanda is looking at heavily integrating financial services with its mobile users. Rwanda supports a tech incubator dubbed 'Think' which is currently in the process of selecting startups -- most of which come from African countries -- to receive funding to develop their technologies. This year, many of the companies are in the mobile finance/e-payment/e-finance sphere. But 'Think' is just one of several tech incubators in Rwanda, and these forward-thinking initiatives have not gone unnoticed. BizTechAfrica quotes the Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization, Professor Tim Unwin, when he spoke during the Commonwealth e-Governance Forum Africa event in Kigali last week:

"The progress of about 28% internet penetration, more than 70% mobile phone penetration and the recently adopted cybersecurity policy are some of the indicators of the government's efforts toward achieving the benefits of e-Governance systems."

Rwanda is extending its arms into multiple sectors of technological development, setting a precedent for the benefits of information and communications technologies for its neighbors. The country is moving ahead with mobile and e-health initiatives; local reports noted last week that Rwanda has been selected by health experts from the East African Community to be the central hub of development for e-health, biomedical engineering, vaccines and immunization. Also, at the Mobile World Congress in early March, Ericsson -- Swedish networking giant -- revealed a partnership with the Rwandan government aimed at developing "smart cities" in the country. The project will largely focus on connectivity and using technology to improve economic development and poverty reduction.

Naturally, this massive growth into the tech world is seen generally as part of the revival the country has been experiencing after it economically, politically, and infrastructurally recovered from the crippling 1994 genocide. While recovery is a multi-decade-long process, the country has undoubtedly positioned itself as a prime example of success for its neighbors and any region looking to launch full-steam-ahead into the next generation of IT and communications tech.