The government of Rwanda has supported the development of drone operating systems in the country. In the case of Zipline, it granted land and offered cooperation with its Ministries of Health, Defense, and Civil Aviation Authority. This aligned with the country’s commitment to fostering ICT models to improve the living standards of its people.
Throughout Africa’s shift away from economic disconnection to integration with the global economy and technologic advancement, Rwanda has been a standout. The country has adopted e-government service initiatives, aggressively courted partnerships with international investors, and significantly reformed its private sector.
Rwanda is now the highest ranked African country on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business list — 54th, ahead of countries such as Chile, Luxembourg, and Greece. The government is still chided on democracy and human rights issues (see its suppression of political dissent and Kagame’s third term), but it has made undeniable progress in shaping a technology-driven business environment.
“Rwanda is a startup country,” the Minister of Youth and ICT Jean Philbert Nsengimana told TechCrunch. “Our development strategy has been clear from the beginning; that ICT would be one of the foundations of our transformation,” he said, referring to the country’s Vision 2020 Program launched by President Kagame in 2000. The plan has stated goals of transitioning Rwanda to a “knowledge-based…middle-income country” with “science and technology” as a “cross-cutting influence” to business and government.
Perhaps the most fundamental step toward this end was the establishment of a ministry devoted specifically to IT. With the exception of South Africa and Botswana, governments committing significant resources to ICT is a relatively recent trend in Sub-Saharan Africa. Kenya led the way in 2010 with completion of The East African Marine System (TEAMS) undersea fiber optic cable project.
Minister Nsengimana welcomes increased national competition on the continent to foster innovation. He believes it is “the right thing to do for all African countries” noting Rwanda’s desire to be on top.
“We should end up with a constellation, where there are many tech hubs across the region,” he said. “But in any constellation, not all stars have the same brilliance. My job is to make sure that Kigali and Rwanda become the most brilliant, but not by any means the only star in the group.”
Rwanda is posting some shining ICT achievements. The country should soon reach 40 percent internet penetration, up from less than 10 percent three years ago, according to government statistics.
The improvement derives largely from a national investment of over $100 million in a 4,500-kilometer fiber optic network. Rwanda is rolling out its 4G LTE program nationwide and is the highest ranked African country on the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s Affordability Index.
In education, Rwanda’s embraced technology at the primary school and university level through its One Laptop Per Child program and partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, which has created a Kigali campus offering advanced degree programs in computer science and IT.
The list of Rwanda’s ICT initiatives goes on. The country is manufacturing laptops for Argentine hardware maker Positivo BGH through its Kigali Special Economic Zone. It is hosting a tech-driven African Smart Cities Initiative with partner Ericsson.
And next year it will launch the $100 million Rwanda Innovation Fund to invest in early stage tech startups. “Leading on drones is just one example. We’re also looking to lead in other cutting edge technologies such as blockchain and others,” said Minister Nsengimana.
In the case of drone delivery, Rwanda’s progressive ICT stance may have already produced an innovation model with advanced economy impact.