By David Himbara
On May 09 — 10, 2018, Kagame will take the center stage as he hosts the Transform Africa Summit 2018. This event brings together governments, business and international organizations to discuss means of accelerating and sustaining the digital revolution in Africa. Kagame, as usual, will be boasting of how he is transforming Rwanda into a knowledge economy. He will boast how he has created Africa’s most favourable business climate that is attracting large-scale investments, rewarding entrepreneurship, and leveraging ICT innovations to transform Rwanda into smart society.
It’s all a big lie. Kagame’s latest ICT project has flopped after forcing Rwandans to pay for a service that does not exist.
I am talking here about the infamous public transport internet system cooked in 2015, launched in 2016, and still dead in 2018. Here is how the East African described the dead project on April 8, 2018:
”At the beginning of 2016 when the Internet on the Bus Initiative was launched…More than two years down the road however, the project has hit a snag…Rwanda utilities regulatory authority (RURA) now says it will commission the Internet connectivity on city commuter buses afresh…Field assessment by Rwanda Today indicated that not a single bus on the Kigali public transport system has Internet connectivity yet passengers continue paying Rwf30 ($0.035) per trip incorporated in the transport fare.It is estimated close to Rwf124,840 ($144) is collected as Internet fee daily per vehicle, translating into roughly Rwf70 million ($80,500) per month according to sources in the city transport sector.RURA officials indicated they found it inappropriate to tell the public to stop paying the fee which is paid as part of the fare.”
For the past two decades, Kagame has spent a fortune on ICT with little to show for it. But he is addicted to showing off, so he continues to build large white elephants. Here some of the biggest ones:
The dead Kalisimbi projects
This white elephant was initially launched in the mid-2000s. Kagame’s Kalisimbi fantasy has since changed at least six times from radio/TV infrastructure, internet provider, African air traffic control, weather observatory, and finally, into a cable car for tourism. Back in 2013, Kagame’s New Times reported that the Kalisimbi projects would be completed by 2017:
”All the projects have different time limits within which they are to be implemented, and the furthest…is to be complete at least by 2017.
In 2018, Rwanda is still waiting for any of Kagame’s Kalisimbi fantasies to materialize.
Kagame’s fiber optic cables to every district
Kagame likes to say that the ”internet is a needed public utility as much as water and electricity.” He is right — except that in Rwanda, accessing water and electricity, let alone the internet is easier said than done. Kagame spent $100 million to construct a national fiber-optic backbone network that connects all districts in Rwanda. This infrastructure comprised a 2,300 kilometre (1,380 miles) fibre optic telecommunications network across the country.
The gentleman forgot a few basic questions before embarking on this white elephant. First, if the internet is a highway for connecting to markets, what exactly was to be transported on the Rwandan highway and by whom? Second, since Rwanda still has only 205 megawatts of electricity and much of which is consumed in the capital city, how would the internet upcountry work?
And then there is One Laptop per Child programme
The One Laptop per Child plan was launched by Kagame in 2008 to distribute laptops and electronic tablets in primary schools. Eight years later, Auditor General issued the following shocking report:
“In 2014, the Government of Rwanda (GoR) entered into an agreement with Positivo BGH Rwanda for the development, financing, construction and operation of an assembly plant to produce a range of ICT devices in Kigali…After the signing of this agreement, the government was supposed to purchase 50,000 XO laptops (OLPC) and 100,000 other laptops (notebooks) at a value of USD 34,100,000 during the first year of the agreement…During the execution of this contract the audit noted that REB acquired 24,180 XO laptops and 58,956 other laptops (note books) from Positivo Ltd without any concept document outlining how this equipment will be used, who the intended beneficiaries are, how the contractual commitment will be financed and a statement of clear responsibilities of each public entity involved in this contract. These laptops were distributed by REB to schools, universities, districts and sectors.The problem of unutilised laptops highlighted in previous Auditor General’s reports has not yet been resolved by REB. The audit noted that a number of XO laptops are still lying idle and unutilized in different primary schools all over the country.”
Welcome to Kagame’s ICT fantasizing and economic mirage.