Kigali - It’s a scene any visitor would be surprised to see deep in central Africa: a tech-savvy consumer sitting in a restaurant and surfing a broadband connection with a smartphone, tablet and laptop.
But in a region long associated with war and genocide, Rwanda is busy trying to reinvent itself as a regional hi-tech hub by rolling out free citywide and eventually nationwide wireless connectivity.
Kigali City Tower has been slated as the city’s new tech hub and the one of the first steps of the Smart Kigali project. Last month the government announced it had started to cover the lush green, rolling hills of the capital with wireless hotspots.
This is the first step of a plan to provide wi-fi coverage to all schools and public buildings, markets, bus stations and hotels in the city and, in the long term, to the entire country.
Rwanda’s minister in charge of information technology, Jean Philibert Nsengimana, said he wanted to see the plan “accelerate growth of the internet sector” and attract more investors.
“Connectivity is one of the most important draws for business in this age of digital economy,” he said, asserting that free wi-fi was merely a step in the direction of a much bigger infrastructure goal – that of fourth-generation, or 4G, access.
In June, the government signed South Korea’s KT Corporation to build a 4G network to be delivered to 95 percent of the country, up from the estimated 10 percent who currently have 3G access. “Broadband access,” said Nsengimana, “has to be considered as an essential, like water and electricity.”
For Rwanda’s government, the stakes are high. President Paul Kagame is attempting to push through a dramatic transformation from trauma to economic success story. The state wants to push economic growth to 11.5 percent each of the next five years and reach middle-income status by 2020.
And for Smart Kigali to succeed, the private sector needs to stay on board. “Smart Kigali really is a test, it is giving people a taste of better things to come,” said Alex Ntale, director of the information and communications technology chamber.
“But it is not perpetual, someone has to pay at the end of the day.” – Sapa-AFP