Rwanda, the Silicon Valley of Africa?

Twenty years after the genocide, Kigali is betting a high-tech future.

Twenty years after the genocide, Kigali is betting a high-tech future.

Almost twenty years have passed since the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when politicians, doctors, miners, traders and farmers killed about 800,000 of their fellow politicians, doctors, miners, farmers and tradesman in a country East Africa as 12 million. Today, the 100 days of horror remains one of the most obnoxiously case effective systematic killings in recent history and Rwanda, at least in the eyes of the West, is still synonymous to chaos known its not so distant past.

However, the eyes begin to turn to Rwanda for other reasons.


Under the chairmanship of Paul Kagame, who ended the genocide with his group, the rebellious time, the Rwandan Patriotic Front as the world reluctant to intervene, the country’s GDP grew an average of just over 8% per year since 2001, which has lifted one million Rwandans poverty.

For the World Bank, Rwanda is the second most conducive to african countries (32 th globally), behind Mauritius, for Transparency International , it is the st country the least corrupt in the region (the 49 th globally) and the NGO ONE , co-founded by Bono, the Rwanda is with Mali, the country that is closest to the Millennium Development UN a list that is as much about improving the education that poverty reduction and the development of a system therefore health system.And in terms of gender, with 64% of women in parliament, Rwanda is currently the country with the highest proportion of women MPs in the world.

However, these successes seem modest deal with long-term goals that has given the country. According to the text of the government mission,Rwanda Vision 2020 , it must attain the status of middle-income countries by simply skipping the industrialization phase and directly shaping an approach based on information technology and communications economy.

Start-ups, a university, tech companies …

The thing might not seem so ambitious that, except to forget that themain business of Rwanda remains subsistence agriculture, 40% of Rwandans are still under the poverty line and barely a Rwandan two was able to read and write in 2000.

Furthermore, without knowing substantial industrialization, a glaring lack of infrastructure is still being felt in Rwanda: only 16% of households are equipped with electricity , which is far from being a promising figure for a company making the challenge of a high-tech future.

But Rwandans can count on a solid access to mobile phones, about 60% of the inhabitants are filled, an increase of 6% since 2006. They also enjoy convenient access to the Internet, especially in comparison to other African countries, according to the Guardian and its newinteractive tool mapping the flow of the Internet world, upload a photo 5MB in Rwanda takes about 5 seconds against almost 10 seconds in South Africa (the United States, the thing takes a little less than 2 seconds and 1.56 seconds in France).

In September, the authorities have set up several WiFi spots in Kigali, the capital. And last summer, Rwanda signed an agreement with KT Corp., the first telecom operator in South Korea to allow 95% of the Rwandan population to be covered by 4G in three years. As for Visa, the company has given a major vote of confidence in the country by choosing to deploy a new mobile payment system intended to replace cash, and to better connect people in rural areas who not the usual banking services.

One of the front lines of Vision 2020 is KLAB . Located in Kigali, KLAB-to “laboratory of knowledge” – a unique collaborative space for young entrepreneurs and other engineers to access free WiFi, participate in workshops and conferences, to measure them at hackathons , or simply exchange tips code in a game of table football, to use the description of Katie Collins in Wired in October . The center can also count on the experience of 21 mentors available to develop ideas germ or offer business advice to new business planning to break into the technology sector.

Today, the hosts KLAB 85 “tenants” and 11 start-ups, most of which has already launched products on the market. Foyo, for example, has developed an application that sends daily health advice and dietary its users, while torque is famous for its inventory system in the cloud for small and medium enterprises. One of the most successful companies is KLAB GiraICT , which manufactures tablets and smartphones, very similar to HP and Samsung devices, but accessible to lower income through a system of paying in monthly installments. Since its launch, GiraICT opened branches in Burundi and Ghana.

Kagame, the “digital president”

Another element fulfilling promises the future of KLAB is its association with the research campus, relatively new , the Carnegie Mellon University, located one floor below. “You say:” I have entrepreneurs, university World renowned technology companies and ad hoc infrastructure, “it makes me think of a mini Silicon Valley” , said Michael Bezy, associate director of the Carnegie Mellon University-Rwanda, during the official inauguration of KLAB in October.

“The only thing we lack are venture capitalists.”

With 60% of the Rwandan population under 25 years, the authorities have relied heavily on the project One Laptop per Child , a partnership between two American NGO whose aim is to put cheap computers in the hands of younger the world’s poor. Currently, OLPC has distributedmore than 200,000 laptops to more than 400 schools throughout Rwanda, which places the country third in the draft, behind Peru and Uruguay, in terms of equipment provided.

Very wisely for a small country planning to become a technological haven, President Kagame, very present on Twitter , is often called the “digital president.” But it is doubtful that Rwanda is stable enough to achieve its objectives.

First, the country has the highest rates of inequality in the region, with 10% of the richest people earning 3.2 times the income of 40% of the poorest people, according to a report of the 2011 Society for International Development. Kagame government and an autocrat, with elections where opposition parties are absent and limits on press freedom justified by the fear that his words stir again genocidal flame.

The country’s weaknesses

In the past, Human Rights Watch  and the United Nations have accused Rwanda of fund armed rebel group M23 , now extinct, located at the time in the next and very troubled Democratic Republic of Congo.Although the Rwandan authorities have always denied, Western countries like the United States and Britain have suspended their regular foreign aid for these reasons support on which the Kagame government has to complete 40% of its annual budget -in 1995, the Rwandan budget depended even 100% of external aid.

Finally, national and private investments for technology have enabled the project to transform Rwanda into a middle-income society through ICT-based forward one step economy. And with the recent report on information technology by the World Economic Forum, placing Rwandain first place in the countries of East Africa ready for the digital, and the World Health Organization estimating that the country is one that on the African continent, invests the largest proportion of its budget on its health system, the former state almost found himself towards success.

According to Carter Crockett, co-founder of Karisimbi Business Partners , consulting firm based in Kigali, and founding director of theCenter for Entrepreneurial Leadership  from Gordon College in Massachusetts, Rwanda is likely to face such a challenge. “The best thing about the technology strategy Rwanda is its bold vision of the future “ , said Crockett on the phone. “This is a very small country that likes to very big dreams. Major projects attract people, and this is the advantage of Rwanda. “

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