Catching up fast

Jan 14 2017

Those of us who remember beep-beep modems and bulletin boards will appreciate how long it has taken to get from there to fast broadband and Facebook. We thought it all happened too quickly.

So spare a thought for the Rwandans who are seeing technological change flash past their eyes in a blur. Five years ago, internet access for the vast majority of Rwandans was limited to a usb stick modem with a sim-card. The Rwandans have a saying, 'buhora, buhora' meaning 'slowly by slowly'. With each year that has passed, cheap Chinese mobile phones have been replaced by cheap Chinese smart-phones. The real thing, usually from South Korea and with Samsung on the front are also increasingly available at three times the price.

So the Rwandans, particularly the young, are moving online. To allow this to happen, the government is laying kilometres of fibre cable across Kigali and the wider country. This week it is our turn and a legion of navvies are digging trenches along both sides of the road with picks and shovels. The trench passes across our front gate so vehicles have not been in or out all day.

It is not just in telecommunications that Rwanda is catching up fast with the world. They have introduced the world's first drone-port which allows flying drones to deliver blood and medical supplies to remote parts of the country. In banking too, the Rwandans are a step ahead of Europe with their mobile banking service.

For a country which fell apart twenty-two years ago, Rwanda has come a long way. The real challenge though is to make sure this progress benefits everybody. Even the cheap Chinese smart-phones are a stretch for many.