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#1 from 2013: Paul Kagame: Digital President Leading a Technology Movement

Uwimana Basaninyenzi's picture

Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2013
This post was originally published on November 27, 2013

Paul Kagame, the President of Rwanda, has been dubbed the “digital president” by international organizations, journalists, and politicians alike. A recent article in Wired Magazine provides a compelling review of numerous technology initiatives that President Kagame has spearheaded in the last decade, making it clear why he’s been given this title. The Rwandan government has been making a concerted effort to create a culture of innovation by investing in technology, infrastructure, and the skills of the Rwandan people, as demonstrated by various projects such as the One Laptop per Child Program and the launch of Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda (CMU-R), which offers a Master of Science degree in Information Technology along with a Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering. In the last year alone, the government of Rwanda struck a 4G Internet deal with a South Korean telecoms firm that will lead to high-speed broadband for 95% of Rwandan citizens within three years. This is all part of an effort to transform Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy.

Undoubtedly, President Kagame has embraced the challenge of leading a technology movement in Rwanda. But one interesting question posed by the article in Wired Magazine made me stop and pause about the challenges of achieving this. In a discussion between this journalist and the President, she asked: “How do you go about instilling and nurturing a mindset of innovation in people and encouraging them to think globally when it hasn't necessarily been part of their culture?” That’s a tough one. President Kagame’s response: “It’s a daily conversation. You have got to find all kinds of forums and institutions to be able to support and bring everybody into the conversation so there is awareness, there is learning, there is understanding.”
Outside of new technology initiatives, there are numerous examples of how President Kagame has shown leadership in promoting a digital culture. And my favorite illustrations of this can be found on Twitter.  Those who have followed his leadership closely may know that he is an avid social media user. On his official website, you can find links to his Facebook page, Twitter account, Youtube channel, and Flickr site, among others. He is most notably known for his Twitter activity, where you can find him sparring with journalists, commenting on foreign policy issues, and even cheering on his favorite soccer team.  In a recent interview in an article entitled Paul Kagame: the Art of Being a President on Twitter, he talks about the importance of having his own personal Twitter handle, which is separate from his official Presidential account:

‘For me, even before being a president, I am a person, I am myself -- there is the part of me that I never want to lose. I want to be part of whatever debate, whatever knowledge there is to share and learn from. I enjoy it -- it adds a lot to my learning process and my understanding and interaction -- it's about life. I don't want to live in a prison; I want to live in this open world that I enjoy being part of," he says. "It's like I'm having a conversation without anyone necessarily standing in between and saying, 'no, this is the president, there are things you need to say and others you don't say' -- there is no protocol trying to manage the process of this relationship and interaction.’

Now, having worked in public relations, I can say this can be a nightmare for the President’s handlers. Nonetheless, it’s quite refreshing to see a Head of State embracing a global forum of dialogue that many people – in both the developed and the developing world – are yet to fully adopt.
As interesting as some of these examples may be, the challenges of leading such a movement can be staggering, especially in a country with a tragic history. But as a number of technology initiatives described in this blog show, this is one leader that has walked the talk.

Photo Credit: Flickr user DFID - UK Department for International Development

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Submitted by Peter Silarszky on

The "4G internet deal" mentioned in the blog will, in effect, monopolize mobile broadband Internet access (apparently for 25 years) and lead to less innovation, higher prices, and inferior services. Market liberalization and infrastructure based competition have been the primary drivers of all the successes achieved in the telecommunications sector in Rwanda (and Africa in general) over the last 10-15 years and this deal effectively negates this.

Submitted by Uwi Basaninyenzi on

Thank you for your comment. I don’t know enough about the technicalities of the deal to express an opinion. However, there is currently an interesting debate taking place on the numerous issues concerning 4 G technologies in Africa. Some interesting links to this discussion include:

Mobile Transformation: What could 4G do to Africa?

Africa can take advantage of LTE leapfrog – Gemalto

The limited promise of 4G: What does the LTE switch-on mean for Africa?

You got this wrong Peter, it is not a monopoly, the JV between GoR and KT is open for other investors including existing telcos. It's an open access model that seeks to minimize infrastructure deployment costs while accelerating its rollout. Indeed, the model shifts the competition from infrastructure to services. What is wrong with that? Because it was not designed by "consultants"

Submitted by Peter Silarszky on

Dear Jean Philbert, with all due respect, the JV will be in effect a monopoly mobile broadband access network (even if existing operators join the JV, it will not change this fact). The JV's license ensures exclusivity (for at least 25 years) for mobile broadband access networks using 4G/LTE and any similar or replacement or advancement technologies. The license also awards way too much spectrum to the JV and prevents the operators from receiving additional spectrum... Yes, the operators will be able to compete on service but the model prohibits infrastructure/facility based competition (thus, the monopoly) which is widely credited for the unprecedented growth and innovation in mobile services (particularly in Africa) since the early 2000s.

Submitted by Peter Silarszky on

You ask what is wrong with the model. Do you remember the "good old days" of the monopoly telcos (not only in Africa)? What leads you to believe that the model not able to deliver even relatively simple analogue telephony will perform better in the complex IP world? The model will similarly lead to less innovation, higher prices, and inferior services... The space here is limited, so, instead of providing a detailed explanation of the reasons, let me recommend a recently published study titled "Assessing the case for Single Wholesale Networks in mobile communications" which is available at GSMA's site for download. The study provides a detailed analysis of similar models and shows that similar models are likely to lead to worse outcomes for consumers than network competition.

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