ICT buses delivering the Internet to rural Rwanda
A pioneering mobile ICT project launched in Rwanda barely two years ago is changing lives in the central African nation, now striving to become a leading ICT hub. Rwanda has made an almost miraculous recovery from the genocide of 1994 that claimed at least 800,000 lives and left millions displaced. The World Bank is funding a fleet of special ICT buses.
By Reuben Kyama (Nairobi) and Eric Kabeera (Kigali)
The ICT Bus Project run by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is using a fleet of buses assembled in Kenya to bring Internet technology to the people of the countryside in Rwanda.
The buses act as mobile telecentres for the rural citizens to access ICT services, such as Internet and other modern communication platforms.They also provide additional services ranging from printing, scanning and photocopying documents to offering basic ICT training. They are fitted with a mobile computer lab for travelling commuters. The buses are fitted with electric power generators.
Since the first buses arrived in Rwanda in 2009, 1,500 people, including many small farmers, local entrepreneurs, police officers, students and women traders have used their revolutionary facilities.
Transforming lifestyles, boosting businesses
Commuters say the initiative has added value to their lives.
“I never knew how to use the Internet until the introduction of the ICT buses in our region,” said Vincent Munyantwari, 46, a businessman in Musanze district, northern Rwanda. He said the introduction of mobile ICT services has transformed his life: “I can now communicate to my clients anywhere in the country and abroad via the Internet, from an ITC bus. The project has benefitted my business immensely.”
The improvement in Rwanda’s ICT infrastructure is improving market penetration for many businessmen and boosting private sector development.
The project has also enabled farmers to access commodity prices in different parts of the country through use of the Internet and other ICT platforms. Greater access to market information boosts the bargaining clout among farmers.
Towards a knowledge-based economy
Funded by the World Bank and spearheaded by the Government of Rwanda through the Rwanda Development Board, the initiative promises to turn this country of eleven million people into a knowledge-based economy.
“Since I started boarding these buses, I have been able to stay abreast of prices of products in different parts of the country,” said 65-year-old Joyce Kayitesi, a vegetable seller. She said, “I’m now able to sell my products wherever I see I could make more profits.”
Younger people are enthusiastic. “I now know how to use the Internet and have managed to make friends within and abroad through Facebook and Twitter,” says John Karemera, 23, who resides in a remote village in northern Rwanda. “Nowadays, there is no difference between me and any other city dweller.”
Although the initiative is widely admired, the absence of electricity in many areas still limits the performance of the mobile telecentres.