Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Science and Technology Policy in Rwanda

As part of the Compton Lectures at MIT, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame spoke about the "Imperative of Science and Technology in Accelerating African and Rwandan Development" (MIT):
“Our continent is no longer all about violence and disease and human disasters that scarred many African countries in recent decades,” says Kagame. “We are now becoming a continent of opportunities.”

There are those who doubted Rwanda could “constitute a viable state,” says Kagame, but 14 years after bloody genocide and civil war, his country has managed an astonishing revival -- enough “stability and resilience to allow the economy to grow at an average 7% annually in the past several years.” Other African nations have been expanding at the same pace; oil producers are zooming along at even faster clips. Kagame attributes this recovery to such factors as the “leapfrogging power of mobile technology,” where hundreds of millions of new cell phone users, even in remote areas without electricity, drive the growth of new business. And the number of internet subscribers in Africa is growing more than three times as fast as the
rest of the world, says Kagame.

Cell phones and the internet allow Rwandan and other micro entrepreneurs to develop business networks. Kagame describes how technology helped a Kigali bakery expand beyond its neighborhood to reach more customers and suppliers, enabling workers to move into larger homes. In Kenya, Kagame recounts, a new agricultural commodity exchange “has reduced barriers between farmers, traders and consumers,” with the internet and cell phone text messages providing timely market information. This network has improved the incomes of farm families by 25%, leading to better healthcare and education. Rwanda’s power utility is also reaping the benefits of technology, keeping track of customers and accounts more efficiently, and no longer relying on government handouts.
HT. Also see this recent piece in the Christian Science Monitor about a young Rwandan mobile phone entrepreneur. The article describes Rwanda as the "Singapore of Africa." This bit from a student captures their spirit of enterprise:
"When you start a business, you have to take a risk," says Mr. Ntwale. "Sometimes you fail, but you have to keep going. Our president [Paul Kagame] says you have to create your own business, not wait for someone to hire you. People used to just graduate and expect a job, but if I don't start my own business today, I won't do business in the future."
Finally, for more on the role of mobile phones in development, be sure to read the interesting dialogue between Iqbal Quadir and Nicholas Negroponte, "Phone vs Laptop: Which is a More Effective Tool for Development?" Innovations Journal. It is also available in Good.

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