Kagame Should Be Utterly Embarrassed By The New Times Article On Rwanda’s So-Called E-Commerce

By David Himbara

In its analysis of the Kagame government’s strategy to digitize the Rwandan economy, The New Times reveals what we already know. There is no digital economy of any shape or form in Rwanda — 18 years of implementing Kagame’s so-called ICT strategy notwithstanding. This, after spending US$100 million to connect Rwandan districts with fiber optic cables that lie dormant. Perhaps, now that it is his newspaper, The New Times, which is reporting this dismal history, Kagame might be embarrassed into acknowledging failure and change course.

As is indicated by the title of The New Times article — “What is holding back the uptake of e-Commerce in Rwanda?” — a domestic business ICT sector remains a Kagame fantasy. The newspaper bluntly says that “only a small number” of enterprises have embraced e-commerce “as the majority continue to struggle.” The paper quotes the National Coordinator of e-Commerce Project in Rwanda on some vague hope for better results in the immediate future in these words:

“The project targets to increase the number of SMEs trading online to at least 150 by end of December 2019.”

This, of course, is another fantasy. How will 150 e-commerce businesses emerge in twelve months? Data from Rwanda’s ICT ministry indicates that there are 68 ICT companies in Rwanda employing 357 people — having shrunk from 4,046 employees in 2012. Most of these are likely to be startups that remain on drawing board.

The problem with ICT in Rwanda is Kagame himself. To him, ICT is a prestigious project to establish himself among the global elites as Africa’s Digital President. Kagame changes ICT policies and officials responsible for the sector as often as he changes his shirts.

Kagame ICT ministers (clockwise) Paula Ingabire, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, and Ignace Gatare — four ministers in eight years averaging 2 years.

Consider the following for example. In October 2018, Paula Ingabire became the new minister for ICT. Only a year earlier, Jean de Dieu Rurangirwa had replaced Jean Philbert Nsengimana as the ICT minister. The ministry was previously headed by Ignace Gatare, based in the Office of the President reporting directly to Kagame. Meanwhile, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) also had an ICT department. This was split off to become Rwanda Information Society Authority (RISA) in 2017. Previously, RISA was RITA — Rwanda Information Technology Authority. The purpose of the new RISA is ”to implement government projects that aim at digitizing services in Rwanda” — which is exactly what the ministry of ICT does. How in the world would a viable ICT sector emerge from this madness?