“Law of Diminishing Astonishment” – President Paul Kagame Wins ICT Award

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The ITU just bestowed on President Kagame an award for making an exceptional contribution to improving lives through ICT. How so?

As shown by the above Rwanda official statistics, Internet subscribers in Rwanda in 2013 numbered 1,282,389, and in the following three categories:

* 1,278,626 (99.7%) mobile Internet users;
* 2,647 (0.2%) fixed phone broadband users;
* 1,116 (0.08%) fixed narrowband users.

WHY IS THIS A DISASTER?

Kagame and his praise-singers would have you believe that mobile computing in Rwanda has grown by leaps and bounds, and that ICT in the country has “taken off” as a sector in its own right and as a facilitator to other sectors. The praise singers in particular paint the 1,278,626 mobile Internet users in Rwanda as a “success” story.

Let us agree that indeed the 1.2 million mobile phone users is a sign of success – in making telephone calls and texting SMS. But beyond telephone calls and texting SMS – can a country rely almost entirely on mobile phones for its computing needs and hope to build a viable ICT niche?

LIMITATIONS OF MOBILE COMPUTING

It is hardly rocket science to know that mobile computing has severe limitations:

1) BANDWIDTH: Bandwidth is the biggest limitation in mobile computing. Do the 1,278,626 mobile Internet subscribers in Rwanda use the most advanced networks, namely, 4G that provides, relatively speaking, a more decent bandwidth for serious computing? The answer of course is no. For the most part, bandwidth on mobile devices and services available in Rwanda is severely limited – when compared to basic broadband connection that only 2,647 Rwandans enjoy!

2) AFFORDABILITY: Cellular bandwidth used for providing Internet access is a premium service over and above telephone charges. Cellular internet is therefore bound to either increase monthly cost on the contract, or to incur extra fees when used. In other words, data transfer is not cheap in Rwanda or anywhere else. We should pose a question here, therefore: How many of the 1,278,626 Rwandans said to access cellular Internet have unlimited data without incurring extra costs? Even the super rich among this 1.2 million need to rein in data consumption to avoid bankruptcy.

3) POWER: As noted, most Rwandans with Internet access are connected via mobile devices – a factor that predictably implies power challenges in a double sense. As anyone who owns a laptop, tablet, or smartphone knows, power is a serious limitation. Mobile phone batteries run down quickly, especially with higher-end devices. Even the most advanced batteries cannot match power supply provided by electricity. In Rwanda therefore this adds to another power challenge. Sixteen percent of Rwandans have access to electricity.

4) STORAGE: Storage is an additional issue with mobile devices for obvious reasons. Mobile computing devices are much smaller than their non-mobile counterparts. This necessarily means sharply decreased storage capabilities. I hope the 1,278,626 Rwandans with cellular Internet do not depend on the mobile devices to store business data – highly limited anyhow.

5) SECURITY: Cellular networks are far less secure than fixed cables used in the office or at home. Mobile computing devices, furthermore, are smaller and therefore easier to lose or steal than non-portable computers in an office or at home.

RWANDA AN ICT SUCCESS?

Rwanda government’s statistics tell us that in 2013, only 2,647 Rwandans enjoyed broadband Internet services. This is equivalent to 0.2% of Internet users in the country. Is this success? Should Paul Kagame win an ICT award? We live in times of the “Law of Diminishing Astonishment.”

David Himbara

Himbara

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