Rwanda's IT revolution targets knowledge economy

Classroom The One Laptop Per Child initiative has seen thousands of laptops distributed across Rwandan schools

Olive Uwineza is 12 years old and dreams of becoming president one day. She sits in a class of about 30 pupils, at a high-tech primary school in Kigali, Rwanda.

Technology of Business

Each student has a green, white and orange laptop that uses cartoon animations to make lessons more fun.

A lover of maths and science, Olive says tackling these subjects without computers "can make my lessons difficult".

Five years ago, an initiative called One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) was introduced to the school, led by the government and NGOs. It has seen 200,000 laptops distributed in more than 400 schools across this tiny east African nation.

Facilities at Olive's school have been upgraded and modernised, with access to wi-fi, and software tailored for the curriculum.

Healing a nation

The OLPC programme is one of the pillars of Rwanda's Vision 2020, which aims to turn the country into a knowledge-based economy similar to that of Singapore in South East Asia.

Richard Muragijimana works on a bus equipped with computers, teaching people basic IT skills

In the wood-panelled halls of his official office, we meet President Paul Kagame, who has personally been a driver of this vision. He says information technology will help to turn Rwanda into a regional tech hub that will help Rwandans "find jobs, feed their children and regain their dignity".

The tragedy of the 1994 genocide is a strong motivation for President Kagame. In his view, better access to information might have helped victims and perpetrators make different political choices.

For him, the IT revolution is not only about modernising the Rwandan economy - at the core, it's about healing the nation.

Mr Kagame has presided over an era of robust growth in Rwanda. Last year, the economy grew by more than 7%.

Government reforms have encouraged foreign investment and the World Bank has ranked Rwanda the third best country in sub-Saharan Africa in its "Doing Business" index.

Improving access

Start Quote

IT enhances every aspect of rebuilding our country”

End Quote Paul Kagame Rwandan President

But all of this could be undermined by the recent diplomatic tensions with donors. Rwanda has been accused of helping train child soldiers for rebels in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo, though it has strongly rejected the allegations.

In October, the US imposed sanctions on Rwanda, which may have an impact on the government's ability to pursue future economic programmes that support Vision 2020.

Undeterred, government agencies continue with their work.

Clare Akamanzi is the chief executive of the Rwanda Development Board, tasked with turning Vision 2020 into tangible social programmes.

She says Rwanda aspires to "evolve from being an agriculture-based economy to a knowledge-based economy, mainly on high value services".

Kigali skyline The government aims to provide internet access beyond the capital Kigali

In 2013 a deal was concluded with Korea Telecom to provide 4G technology across the country. At $140m (£87m) this is one of the biggest foreign direct investment deals in Rwanda.

The state has laid 3,000km of fibre-optic cables over the last four years and hopes that 4G will help provide last-mile access to all communities outside of the capital, where internet connectivity is low.

Clare Akamanzi says they are taking additional steps to ensure this happens.

"We've built tele-centres, we've built service points, there's a communal infrastructure where we've put computers," she says.

Rwanda is aiming to become a knowledge-based economy, beginning by providing laptops for schoolchildren.

"We've also used ICT buses where we take mobile buses all over the country so people can just come and learn how to use a computer."

Resisting change?

But new technology isn't working for everyone.

At a grain market on the outskirts of Kigali, traders are buying sorghum from local farmers.

A mobile phone application called e-Soko was given to farmers in 2007. The app is designed to save farmers time and help them find the best deal, by sending automated text messages with the latest market prices.

Paul Kagame President Kagame says the IT revolution will help people find jobs and "regain their dignity"

The farmers here, though, say they still prefer the more traditional method of face-to-face bartering.

"When I call with my phone there's that possibility of an interaction," farmer Jean Baptiste Nzabamwita says. "We can bargain and say come, we can raise the price up to this one. But [with] the e-Soko... the prices are not reliable."

This is just one small example of how society can sometimes resist the changes brought about by IT.

Rwanda is still a largely traditional and rural country, therefore attempts to modernise the economy will have to go apace with the needs of the population at large.

So does President Kagame's IT agenda come at the expense of more practical realities like healthcare, housing and rural development?

His answer is simple: "The proof of the pudding is in the eating…. and we've been rewarded by progress."

More on This Story

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Business stories

RSS

BBC Business Live

  1.  
    GLAXO RESULTS 12:24:

    It's time for the media call with GSK's chief executive, Sir Andrew Witty. He's talking about "reshaping the group" for research and development as more of their products lose their patent exclusivity. Emerging markets did well, led by vaccines, he says. HIV business saw 13% growth.

     
  2.  
    GLAXO RESULTS 12:22:
    Chart showing Glaxosmithkline's share price

    Ouch! Glaxo's share price had been in negative territory this morning anyway, but then just look what happens within minutes of the release of its half year results. Its share price dropped 2.6% to 1514p almost immediately.

     
  3.  
    GLAXO RESULTS 12:06:

    GlaxoSmithKline says operating profit fell to £2.2bn for the first six months of the year from £3.02bn after it sold some businesses and legal costs rose. "The ongoing investigation in China adversely impacted Emerging Markets Pharmaceuticals and Vaccines sales growth by an estimated three percentage points."

     
  4.  
    PAYPAL LENDER Via Twitter Paul Lewis Presenter, Money Box

    tweets: PayPal announces a new service for loans to businesses. Lots of coverage. But refuses to reveal the crucial fact of what it will charge!

     
  5.  
    HOUSE PRICES 11:50:

    A growing proportion of young people have been squeezed out of the housing market in England and are renting privately instead, a report suggests. Some 21% of under-35s were mortgage holders in 2008-09, the English Housing Survey shows. However, this fell to 18% in 2012-13, with more renting privately, and so paying more of their income on housing.

     
  6.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR STRIKE Via Twitter John Moylan Industry correspondent, BBC News

    tweets: "BBC understands public sector unions set to escalate dispute over pay in October - plans for 1 day strike Mon Oct 13th"

     
  7.  
    MORTGAGE APPROVALS 11:34:
    A row of terraced houses in south London

    Mortgage approvals for house purchases rose to a three-month high in June, the British Bankers Association said. Although, they remain below the peak levels seen at the start of 2014. Mortgage approvals for house purchases climbed to 43,265 in June from 41,881 in May and from an eight-month low of 41,825 in April. Mortgage approvals in January were 48,500 - the highest level since the onset of the financial crisis.

     
  8.  
  9.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 11:20: Via Email Ben Brettell Hargreaves Lansdown Senior Economist

    "Those hoping for a November rate rise could be disappointed - the labour market remains weak, with productivity still substantially below trend and wage growth virtually non-existent. In today's minutes the committee noted that uncertainty about the degree of slack in the labour market has risen. I believe the MPC will want to see hard evidence that spare capacity in the labour market has been absorbed before considering higher interest rates."

     
  10.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 11:06:
    British Prime Minister David Cameron

    Downing Street has denied reports the UK is still selling weapons to Russia. Number 10 says the UK had not sold arms to Russia's armed forces since March. MPs are seeking urgent clarification on the UK government's position. The Prime Minister has criticised other EU countries' arms deals with Moscow, and his spokesman has said the arms export licences still in place are for "non-military legitimate reasons".

     
  11.  
    PUBLIC SECTOR STRIKE 10:52: Breaking News
    Striking public sector workers protest in Trafalgar Square on 10 July

    Local government and school support workers will walk out on strike on 30 September in their continuing dispute with the government over pay, Unison has just announced. It follows the strike on 10 July, Workers are unhappy with a 1% pay increase after a three year pay freeze.

     
  12.  
    CROSSRAIL PRAISED 10:42:
    A Crossrail worker inspects the first completed section of Crossrail tunnel,

    The usually critical government spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee, chaired by Labour MP Margaret Hodge, has praised the Crossrail project as "a textbook example of how to get things right". Its report, published today, says: "Major, complex infrastructure projects are notoriously difficult to deliver on time and in budget." But, it says, the £15.8bn project is on course to deliver value for money for taxpayers. The committee is now calling on Crossrail - which passes just north of Mrs Hodge's Barking constituency - to be used as a template for major infrastructure schemes like HS2.

     
  13.  
    BUDDING ENTREPRENEURS 10:26:
    Employment minister Esther McVey

    Employment minister Esther McVey has been telling middle-class kids they should believe setting up their own business "is every bit as good as going to university and working for a big company," according to the Daily Telegraph. Ms McVey told The Telegraph self-employment should be given the same social status and respect as the more conventional university route into employment. Someone should ask Richard Branson whether he thinks starting his own business was just as "good as going to university".

     
  14.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 10:11:

    Essentially, Bank policymakers think it is possible retired people are working for longer or there has been a sudden increase in the number of lower-skilled and longer-term unemployed people finding work. The minutes show policymakers were "unclear what the reason for such a shift could be" adding that if it persisted, wage growth could remain lower for longer than they had assumed.

     
  15.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:56:

    The second explanation for lower wage growth is far more complex and suggests the "supply of labour [has] increased". In other words, wage rises are being kept depressed because there are more people willing to do the jobs that are available and willing to accept lower wages to do those jobs, work longer hours for the same pay, or avoid retirement. Policymakers see several explanations for this including concerns about the adequacy of pensions, changes to benefits or weakness of current levels of income.

     
  16.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:49:

    On average wages - which appear to be one of the bank's biggest concerns at the moment - policymakers discussed two potential explanations for low growth. The first was the lag between any tightening in the labour market and an increase in wages was longer than the Bank first thought. So, that being the case, it is only a matter of time before increasing employment over the past year eventually feeds into higher wages. That's the easy, do nothing, wait and see, explanation.

     
  17.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:35: Breaking News

    Bank of England policymakers discussed whether there was a case to raise interest rates but once again voted unanimously to hold them at 0.5% in July. They remain concerned about low wage growth, it seems. And they also still fear choking off the economic recovery, according to the minutes which have just been released.

     
  18.  
    CENTRICA CEO 09:24:

    Iain Conn, the group managing director for refining and marketing at BP, is on a shortlist of one to replace Sam Laidlaw, the present chief executive of Centrica, reports BBC Business Editor Kamal Ahmed. Mr Conn's confirmation in the role could come as soon as next week.

     
  19.  
    BANK OF ENGLAND 09:10:
    the Bank of England

    Bank of England policymaker Paul Fisher, who has just stood down after five years on the Monetary Policy Committee, has given an interview to the Independent, in which he claims the Bank delivered the economic recovery. Mr Fisher defends the decision to slash interest rates to 0.5% and launch quantitative easing. He also pays tribute to the "tremendous" efforts of Bank of England staff "who really did pull all the stops out to try to turn the economy round". The minutes of July's MPC meeting are out at 09:30 and will be pawed over for clues as to the timing of a possible interest rate rise.

     
  20.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:54:

    Europe's main stock markets are flat today without a clear sense of direction as investors digest the continuing conflicts in Gaza and Ukraine and their potential impact. The biggest rise on the FTSE 100 is Capita - up 1.13%, or 13p, to 1,168p - following its trading update this morning.

    • The FTSE 100 is 0.15% higher at 6805.50
    • Germany's Dax is higher by 0.41% at 9773.77
    • France's Cac-40 is up 0.14% at 4375.73
     
  21.  
    COMMONWEALTH BUSINESS 08:40:
    A swimmer practices using a snorkel during a training session at the Tollcross International Swimming Centre

    The Queen attends the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow tonight. But before all that there is the Commonwealth Business Conference. The event will focus on issues and opportunities common to all Commonwealth countries, including employment and skills, infrastructure development, improving financial services for business and the development of the smart cities of the future.

     
  22.  
  23.  
    MARKET UPDATE 08:24:

    Japan's Nikkei stock average closed down 0.1% to 15,328.56 as the Tokyo markets kept their focus on tensions in Gaza and the Middle East. Meanwhile, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan rose 0.5% after earlier pushing to a three-year peak. It moved in tandem with the S&P 500, which hit a new high overnight as traders turned their attention to positive corporate earnings.

     
  24.  
    TOUR DE FRANCE Via Twitter James Baker Councillor

    The economic benefits of Yorkshire hosting the opening stages of the Tour de France a fortnight ago are being called into question by James Baker, a local councillor for Warley ward on Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire. He tweets: "Interesting getting some feedback that Tour de France weekend wasn't great for some local businesses and takings were down for some." That's slightly at odds with the £100m estimated economic benefit the county was expecting.

     
  25.  
    BHP BILLITON 07:54:
    Ore

    BHP Billiton posted record annual iron ore production in Western Australia for the fourteenth consecutive year, while Queensland coal production also hit an all-time high. Rival mining giant Rio Tinto last week said its iron ore production and shipments surged to record highs in the first-half of the year as it boosted output despite a recent fall in commodity prices.

     
  26.  
    PAYPAL LENDER 07:39: BBC Radio 4
    A general view of the home page of PayPal.

    Online payments firm Paypal is to begin offering loans to small businesses. The loans will be in the form of cash advances and will be repayable when those small businesses make sales, it has said. Rupert Keeley, chief executive of PayPal Europe has told Radio 4's Today programme the firm hasn't set interest rates for these loans yet, but claims "they are going to be very competitive indeed". He adds businesses can set how much and how quickly they repay the loans.

     
  27.  
    ISRAEL FLIGHTS 07:25:
    British Airways (BA) Airbus A380 comes in to land at Heathrow airport

    Indefatigable British Airways has said it will continue to fly into Ben Gurion international airport in Tel Aviv despite most airlines deciding to cancel flights into the Israeli capital. All US airlines and most European flights into Israel have been halted after a rocket fired from Gaza landed one mile away from the airport. US airlines were stopped by the Federal Aviation Authority from landing in Tel Aviv for 24 hours.

     
  28.  
    CAPITA EARNINGS 07:10:

    Capita says "underlying" profit before tax for the first six months of the year rose 16% to £238m. However, if you factor in things like acquisition costs and reductions in the value of its assets, it's a drop in profit to £152.3m from £157.5m. Still, dividend is up 10.3% to 9.6 p.

     
  29.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:51: BBC Radio 4
    Vladimir Putin

    More from Mr Grodzki on Russian sanctions: He says the Russian economy is very resilient to sanctions and Russia is virtually self-sufficient. It can sell its oil elsewhere in the world - it recently signed a deal with China - and he says France cancelling defence contracts may even boost the Russian economy and Russian jobs.

     
  30.  
    RUSSIAN SANCTIONS 06:41: BBC Radio 4

    Georg Grodzki has now popped up on the Today programme, again talking about sanctions against Russia. He says: "It's very difficult to impose sanctions on a country that needs healthy relations with the West less than the West needs healthy relations with it." He adds Russian can buys the goods they want to from elsewhere. They would prefer to buy goods from the West but if they can't, they will live with it, he says.

     
  31.  
    RUSSIAN BONDS 06:33: Radio 5 live

    Russia cancelled one of its weekly bond sales yesterday, its first in three months, citing "unfavourable market conditions." On 5 live we have Georg Grodzki, formerly of Legal & General, telling us why. Sometimes governments realise they don't need the money he says, but this time that isn't the case. Russia's borrowing costs, which are about 4.6% for five year bonds - already high - have only got worse in recent days, he says.

     
  32.  
    TAX 06:23: Radio 5 live

    "Everyone should pay taxes at a flat rate from the first dollar," says Arthur Laffer, a former adviser to Ronald Reagan on 5 live. People like to avoid tax, he says, and taxing everyone the same should help stop gaming the system, he says. Does that mean taxing the poor the same? Yes, he says. Do you reward tax dodgers then? "They pay the tax rather than doing the dodges," he says.

     
  33.  
    ROYAL MAIL 06:11: Radio 5 live

    James Bevan of CCLA Investment Management is back on 5 live talking this time about Royal Mail's performance. Their annual shareholder meeting is on Thursday and he wants to hear more about the French antitrust case they, TNT and FedEx are involved in. Royal Mail has received notice from French competition authorities over a possible breach of antitrust law by one of its subsidiaries, which could result in a fine for the recently privatised group.

     
  34.  
    TESCO SHARES 06:01: Radio 5 live

    Tesco shares were down yesterday, but when it was announced they were losing their chief executive, the shares rose. How come? James Bevan, chief investment officer at CCLA Investment Management is explaining what he thinks on 5 live. "When Philip Clarke was let go there was also a profit warning," he says. "For that to drive the share price up seemed absolutely mad."

     
  35.  
    06:00: Howard Mustoe Business reporter

    Hello! You can, as ever, get in touch with your views and experiences via email bizlivepage@bbc.co.uk and via twitter @BBCBusiness.

     
  36.  
    06:00: Matthew West Business Reporter

    Good morning everyone. We've had Microsoft second quarter earnings overnight - they were bad - as well as Apple - good- flights into Israel have been halted and there's a row over Russian sanctions to contend with. the morning is only just getting started.

     

Features

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.