In October 2013, the Rwandan government announced it had started to cover the lush green, rolling hills of the capital with wireless hotspots.
Kigali became the first city in East Africa to launch free wireless Internet in specific areas of the capital last week under the “Smart Kigali” initiative, joining the ranks of “digital cities” such as Toronto, Houston, Buenos Aires, Bangkok and Taipei.
This was 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.
“I am so excited about the wireless Internet. I can now browse the internet, read news and send e-mails. I just come here to surf the Internet, since I am still looking for a job,” said Goreti Uwamariya, a student at Kigali Independent University.
Rwandan government signed a $140 million deal with South Korea’s largest Telecom – Korea Telecom (KT) Corp in June, 2013 to provide 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) Broadband networks across the country especially in areas where internet connectivity is low.
The introduction of the free Wi-Fi in the city is to help in the acceleration of growth of the internet sector hence attracting more investors into the country.
“Connectivity is one of the most important draws for business in this age of digital economy,” Information Technology Minister Jean Philbert Nsengimana said, asserting that free Wi-Fi is merely a step in the direction of a much bigger infrastructure goal — that of fourth generation, or 4G, access.
“Broadband access has to be considered as an essential, just like water and electricity,” he added.
Access to the connectivity is provided through a partnership between the Rwandese government agencies the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) and the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), as well as the Rwanda Hotel and Restaurant Association, the City of Kigali and internet service providers (ISPs).
“Smart Kigali will significantly contribute towards delivering better services. We want internet broadband to be accessible for everyone to be able to access information anytime,” Nsengimana said.
The Minister also reassured the public that the project is sustainable because it comes with a business model and added that the government has plans to ensure more Rwandans have access to smart devices to tap into the opportunity.
According to RDB reports, in the past five years, Rwanda has registered one of the highest Internet user growth rates in Africa with 8,900 per cent compared with the continent’s growth rate of 2,450 per cent and the world average rate of 444 per cent.
The Internet Bus Projects started with cashless payments that use a smart card that commuters load money onto and then use on public transport. Now the commuters can get free 4G LTE internet access to allow them to stay connected and productive while they travel.
The initiative is a joint partnership between AC Group, a Rwanda technology company specialising in smart transport solutions, government and city bus operators. RTCU, Royal Express, and Kigali Bus Service are the sole public transport providers hired by the city authority in 2013 under its Kigali transport system master plan launched in 2014.
The ICT Minister during the launch said the Internet bus(es) will provide people with opportunities to stay connected with their friends and do business when they are traveling. The project will soon be expanded to 14 districts where 4G service coverage has reached.
“Today’s facility is achieved under Smart Kigali initiative as part of the smart cities strategy; we are also planning a Smart Village initiative to ensure that every Rwanda can access internet utility,” he added.
UN e-Government survey 2014, ranked Rwanda 125th globally, 13th in Africa and second in East African region after Kenya. This is largely because the government has also taken most of its services online under the Smart Rwanda Master Plan which seeks to improve e-government and inefficiencies in government operations.
For about a decade now, the Rwandan government has been trying to instil an entrepreneurial spirit in the country’s young people. By 2009, Rwanda had become one of the only countries in the world with mandatory entrepreneurship classes in secondary school, where they’re given similar weight as math, writing, and other core subjects. The introduction of free Wi-Fi in the city and in buses is definitely a move towards positivity and instilling the entrepreneurial spirit amongst its youth.