Rwanda Offering Free Wi-Fi, Hopes To Stimulate Investment

Rwanda Offering Free Wi-Fi, Hopes To Stimulate Investment

Hoping to attract more investors and accelerate Internet growth, the government of Rwanda plans to offer free Wi-Fi-based Internet access nationwide, according to a DailyNation report in TechCentral.

The rollout for the initiative, dubbed “Smart Kigali,” began in September in the capital city, targeting schools, public buildings, bus stations and hotels.

In a region long associated with genocide, Rwanda is busy trying to reinvent itself as a regional high-tech hub by rolling out free citywide and eventually nationwide wireless connectivity, DailyNation reported.

Information Technology Minister Jean Philibert Nsengimana said connectivity is one of the most important drawcards for business in the age of digital economy. Free Wi-Fi roll-out is a step in a direction of a bigger goal, namely deployment of 4G/LTE-based broadband across the small central African nation. 

In June, the Rwandan government signed South Korea’s KT Corp to build a 4G network that it wants delivered to 95 percent of the country. An estimated 10 percent currently have 3G access, the report said.

“Broadband access has to be considered as an essential, just like water and electricity,” Nsengimana said.

President Paul Kagame and his ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front are attempting to push through a dramatic transformation from trauma to economic success story. The party has dominated Rwanda since ousting Hutu extremists and ending the genocide nearly 20 years ago.

Rwanda is ranked one of the least corrupt countries in Africa. The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index for 2013 ranked Rwanda No. 52 out of 185 countries, and third best in sub-Saharan Africa.

The government wants to push economic growth to 11.5 percent for each of the next five years, drive poverty from 45 percent to below 30 percent and reach middle-income status by 2020 – no easy task for a mainly agricultural economy, DailyNation reports.

Smart Kigali is a test, said Alex Ntale, director of the Rwanda’s information and communications technology chamber.

“But it is not perpetual, someone has to pay at the end of the day,” he said. “The private companies are testing a business model… they are trying to find out if the market is really there.”

He cautioned, therefore, that if the new, high-tech Rwanda fails to take off and the program does not turn a profit, then the private sector will have “every right to switch off the machines.”

Mark Bohlund, an economist with IHS Global Insight, said he was optimistic Rwanda would develop “into a regional business-services center,” at least serving the currently war-torn but mineral rich area east of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

But he also pointed to tough competition from East Africa’s largest economy Kenya, which is already ahead on mobile banking technology and houses offices of tech giants such as Intel, Google and Microsoft.