Poverty-stricken Rwanda puts its faith and future into the wide wired world
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
Excerpt: Office workers talking over Skype. Fibre-optic cable snaking hundreds of miles underground and to the top of a 4,500-metre volcano. Paperless cabinet meetings with every minister using a laptop. This may sound like an advanced western country rather than a tiny, poor African state. Yet this is Rwanda, now in the midst of an extraordinary development plan to leap into the 21st century.
More “mobile in every pocket” than “chicken in every pot”, the Vision 2020 project aims to rapidly transform a depressed agricultural economy into one driven by information communications and technology (ICT). If it works, the percentage of Rwanda’s workforce involved in farming will drop from 90% to 50% in 15 years. By then the country should be the regional ICT hub – a kind of Singapore of the Great Lakes.
“Rwanda is to some extent doing with technology what Britain did with mechanisation during the industrial revolution,” said Calestous Juma, professor of international development at Harvard University, who believes the plan can serve as an inspiration for Africa.
Donor countries are more cautious. Two-thirds of Rwandans live below the poverty line, half are illiterate and four in five live in rural areas. Aids and the 1994 genocide have created tens of thousands of orphans. Technology is not the main priority, they say.
But government officials insist that not only is their plan viable, but that there is no alternative. As one of Africa’s most densely populated countries, large-scale farming is impossible. There are few valuable minerals or oil deposits. The country is landlocked.