On 18th June, 2007 Rwanda and Burundi formally joined the East African Community (EAC) as full members. They signed treaties of accession to the EAC bringing the membership of the regional body to 5 countries with a population of 100 million.
This event is important to all ICT practitioners and investors in Kenya. This is because Rwanda was developing its ICT industry before its regional neighbours had an inkling of the potential and competitive edge ICT gives nations. Rwanda has a knowledge-based economy that is only matched in the region by Mauritius.
The dot-com tuned President of the country - Paul Kagame - initiated the whole process when his ideas were actualised through the Vision 2020 which was launched in 2000. It focused on IT as a crucial cornerstone for future development. This is similar to our Vision 2030 which I believe should have been formulated much earlier. Contrast this with Mauritius whose Ministry of Information and Communication was busy with ICT policy formulation, implementation and physical development in 1997 (you can blame this delay on our asinine politics).
Anyway Kagame’s confidence and steely determination was remarkable when you consider he was pushing this new approach against a backdrop of national recovery from the genocide trauma.
His vision had logic stamped on it. With no port access, expensive airfreight rates and instability around it, Rwanda needed a new kind of economy. It chose the knowledge economy.
Much has been achieved. In January 2007 Kagame informed fellow heads of state, at the 8th African Union summit, that the country had set its science and technology spending at 1.6 percent of GDP. This is comparable to the OECD countries. Other developments include the building of telecentres, computerisation of primary and secondary schools, a $10 million e-Government project and continued investment in the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST).
ICT has transformed Rwanda. The Economist recently reported that Rwanda is well on its way to achieving several of the Millennium Development Goals due to the impact ICT has had on this emerging economy. With substantial business process redesign, government support and focused leadership, Rwanda has demonstrated to East Africa that much can be accomplished when ICT is used as an engine for development. However this feat is not unique to Rwanda. It was achieved earlier by Mauritius where its ability to harness ICT has enabled it achieve one of the highest GDP per capita rates in Africa.
Kenya has obviously heard the rumble of the digital tsunami. We have embarked on various ICT projects and more crucially we have recognised that the future will demand a knowledge economy. It is in our interest to work closely with Rwanda now that they are part of the EAC. There are many opportunities for mutual co-operation in ICT and it would be negligible if we did not exploit this opportunity now. Student exchange programs should be initiated, the respective Chambers of Commerce should meet with the aim of promoting ICT trade and ICT practitioners from both countries should work together to develop locally based software.
The opportunities are endless and I will soon be inviting Dr. Shem Ochuodho to furnish us with a comprehensive outline on how we can work more closely with our Rwandese brothers - with the aim of further developing our local burgeoning ICT industry.