Lessons from Africa

Lessons from Africa

The Digital Life - Editor's Write

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

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Mention Rwanda and up comes images of the brutal massacres which occurred over 100 days in 1994. That brutality has given way to one of the most remarkable recoveries in modern history. And the story revolves around technology, trumpeted by the international community.

When the Government created the Irembo citizen e-service portal in 2014, the idea was to help users submit applications and make payments for various services, thus shortening the gap between them and the Administration. Today, more than 96 services are just a button-push away for more than nine million subscribers and thousands of others who can access online services through Irembo agents across the country.

In a recent appearance at the Caribbean Economic Forum, Rwandan Technology Minister Paula Ingabire shared the story of the march towards these services, a journey which began more than 20 years ago.

“It has been really [about] trying to understand the different technologies out there that we can leverage. Some have been in use, but at a very small scale, and now there is an opportunity to scale the use of these technologies,” she said.

The Rwanda experience provides hope that it is possible to transform our Caribbean into thriving nations on digital platforms.

Ingabire's sharing at the forum fell on the fertile ground of the minister of technology of St Kitts Nevis and the head of data processing in Barbados.

Both recognised that Rwanda had gone a far way in digitising their government services, and their paths would benefit from further understanding of the challenges along the way.

As the country's President Paul Kagame noted during the 32nd Ordinary Session of the African Union in Addis Ababa, digital identity is the start of a long and valuable chain of capabilities that make citizens better able to participate productively in the regional and global economy. “The future of the global economy is digital,” he said.

The Rwanda Government's approach on this issue reinforces the value of digital IDs planned for Jamaica and Barbados. There are many lessons to be learned from the Irembo citizen e-service portal, launched in 2014.

“In the past, to get a passport, for instance, one had to move from one office to another collecting different documents and going to the bank to pay before getting the service you needed,” said Bertha Buzene, a businesswoman in Kigali who often uses Irembo services. “Today, through Irembo, you can get all those preliminary documents without leaving your seat. What used to take a week, or even more, and cost a lot has come down to three days, and costs far less.”

To date, the Jamaican Government has set up an e-Gov service that provides critical services for the populace. The mandate of the Ministry of Science, Energy and Technology is to “devise policies and programmes that encourage greater levels of innovation, increased entrepreneurship in the ICT sector, use of ICT to improve efficiency, diversify spheres of economic involvement and opportunities, investment and the creation of new employment”.

The impact of COVID-19 has created the necessity to speed up the digitisation of government services in a far shorter time than the Rwanda experience. Rwanda's critical success was the deployment of services for its rural populations in the millions, particularly in rural communities.

Technology investments, as well as enabling regulatory reforms, helped Rwanda achieve some of the highest 3G and 4G network coverage rates on the Africa continent, putting virtually all Rwandans within range of mobile broadband. It has also facilitated digitalisation of other services, including financial (mobile money, mobile banking services), agriculture, health, and administrative services.

The recent dialogue between Rwanda's minister of technology and her Caribbean counterparts confirmed the value of knowledge sharing for mutual benefit. Out of Africa is no longer just a movie.

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