Innovation Blog

Rwanda – Not Genocide, Wired!

By Shlomo Maital

   BBC journalists are the best and the worst.  The best, because they produce programs like Peter Day’s Global Business, and tell us about a country known forever for genocide, Rwanda, which is trying to become known for bandwidth and fiber-optics.  The worst, because the National Union of Journalists is on strike at BBC, protesting pension reform; they somehow don’t understand that in the global crisis, the value of pension-fund assets have fallen drastically, meaning that their benefits have to fall too.  French workers seem to have a problem grasping that fact, too.

    Thanks to the strike, old programs are being rebroadcast on BBC, and so I was happy to hear one that I missed last March.  It is Peter Day’s account of Rwanda’s plan to invest $50 m. of its own money, using South Korea’s expertise, to criss-cross the country with a fiberoptic network, bringing broadband access to villages.  Rwanda is a small African nation, a democracy, with 11 m. people, largely rural, formerly a Belgian colony (Belgium was among the very worst of the colonial powers).  Its GDP per capita is only $1,000 and its main industry is subsistence agriculture.  In 1994 some 1 million Tutsis were massacred by Hutu tribespersons, while the UN watched.  The massacre was a direct result of Belgium’s policy of favoring the Tutsi tribe, causing burning resentment among the Hutus. 

     Rwanda is already enrolled in the OLPC One Laptop Per Child program, launched by MIT Professor Nick Negroponte.  So Rwanda, under its visionary foreign minister Louise Mushikiwabo and controversial (but visionary) President Paul Kagame, is seeking to become Africa’s first fully ‘wired’ African nation. Kagame has a 2020 goal: Make Rwanda a middle-income nation in a decade. That will take 10 per cent annual growth.

   Many Rwandans earn their subsistence living by herding cows.  Ms. Mushikiwabo’s vision is to have Rwandan children use their laptops to help their parents modernize their agriculture and herding.  Perhaps if Rwanda succeeds, other larger nations will follow suit. 

     It is significant that South Korea is aiding Rwanda.  South Korea was torn apart in the early 1950’s by civil war between North and South.  The country was ruined.  It has rebuilt the economy, through hard work and innovation, and South Korea has become an exporting superpower, with exports comprising well over 40 per cent of its GDP, and global innovators like Samsung leading their markets with clever inventive products.  Now South Korea is aiding another country torn apart by disastrous civil war.  It is sensible for South Korea, not America or France or Germany, to run this project, precisely because of this empathy. 

    We should wish Rwanda well with its venture.  One day I would love to visit Rwanda and see the fruits of their innovative efforts.