Rwanda has a very clear vision about ICT as a tool for development, which is well articulated by the authorities. However, the aftermath of the 1994 genocide and a mono/duopolistic market structure of MTN Rwanda and Rwandatel until 2006 have halted the developments in the sector considerably.
According to ITU, the penetration rate was 13% in 2008 (ITU 2009a), and around 20% end of 2009,which means that the market is still untapped and with a lot of potential. Rwanda is now catching up with other markets in East Africa using different methods. In 2007, the government reclaimed the company Rwandatel from Terracom for a payment of just US$25 million stating that “Terracom had not honored network deployment contracts” and sold it off for US$100 million to the Libyan company LAP Green just a few months later (Cellular-news 2007).
At the end of June 2008, the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA, www.rura.gov.rw/) invited bids for a third licence with the hope that increased competition would lower the prices for subscribers and thereby dramatic increase the mobile penetration rate closer to the African average. Zain, with operations in neighboring countries of Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Democratic Republic of Congo, put a bid but lost to Millicom, who operates under the name Tigo in sixteen countries in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Tigo launched in late 2009 and have since created a regional roaming network covering Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo where it operates under the same name.
A National ICT Plan has been developed and ICT has been identified as the primary catalyst empowering the government’s vision for Rwanda, which seeks to transform itself from an economy largely based on agriculture to one based on knowledge and information. This commitment by government to make sure that the ICT strategy is followed is unique. The Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA, www.rita.gov.rw) was created in 2002 to coordinate the implementation of the strategy. Due to this commitment and to its small size, Rwanda has good geographical coverage of the mobile network and one of the most developed national fibre infrastructures in the region, now connected to the high bandwidth submarine cables by the East African coast. Rwanda has a very flexible licensing regime offering something close to a universal telecommunications license.
However, one has to remember that Rwanda is good at promoting itself as an information hub, and is using all sorts of ICT terminologies to do so. Despite all the progress, when talking to people on the ground the story is usually different. Some believe that there has been some real progress and that the status is at an advanced level, while others stress that everything that exists is just a good plan and good marketing but concrete actions are yet to be seen. Many challenges remain at private sector level: the problems of quality of service, lack of competition, high prices etc., are still big issues. Rwanda still has a long way to go to become the regional ICT hub it aspires to become.