Rwanda is developing at an economic growth rate around 7% in 2016 under the presidency of Paul Kagame, and tech is at the heart of it. A key plank of government policy is establishing the country as a tech hub and this makes complete sense.
Rwanda has a relatively small population in Africa — around 12 million –and a lack of exportable produce. Kagame’s government is determined that it becomes an ICT services economy.Part of this process has been putting in place the infrastructure of a tech hub.
The government has invested over US$100 million in a 4,500-kilometer (2,796-mile) fiber network, and is rolling out 4G internet across the country. It has introduced a One Laptop per Child school program. Other schemes are more innovative still. Travelers in Kigali can pay for buses with pre-paid smart cards, while the Rwandan government has collaborated U.S. startup Zipline to use drones to deliver blood and medicines to rural areas. In many areas, Rwanda is a shining example for the rest of Africa.
The benefits have been evident. The World Economic Forum has ranked the country first in Africa for government success in ICT promotion, while it is also the highest ranked for internet affordability. The ICT sector has been rapidly growing, and is the primary target for foreign direct investment into the country.
This is especially noteworthy. Major multinationals such as Liquid Telecom have made investments in the country, and the government is working hard to ensure Rwanda is a positive place to do business. It is one of the highest ranked in Africa by the World Bank for ease of doing business. Meanwhile, foreign nationals can obtain an entrepreneur visa if they plan to start a tech business in Rwanda.
Aphrodice Mutangana is manager of kLab, which provides an open space for IT entrepreneurs to collaborate and innovate. Founded in 2012, it provides free space, free internet and free mentorship to its members, of which it currently has more than 1,400. He says the government has played a key role in making Rwanda into an attractive place to launch tech businesses by putting strong institutions – lacking in so many African countries – in place.
“Many companies are launching in Rwanda because of many reasons. To open a company in Rwanda takes little time, is free of charge, and you do it online. We are a very secure country, and one that doesn’t tolerate corruption,” he said.
Rwanda still has some way to go, but all the signs are it has stolen a march on other countries in the region as it looks to become a tech hub. All of which marks a series of very important developments over the last 20 years.