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Rwanda aims to be ‘smart nation’

Delivering his state of the nation address at the 15th annual national dialogue (Inama y’igihugu y’umushyikirano) at the magnificent Kigali Convention Centre (KCC) recently, President Paul Kagame said in order for Rwanda to reach the high income status, Rwandans have to be creative and innovative in information technology.

He said his government has a strategy to attract innovators and young Rwandan creative investors will be supported.

The president said his government which has won a seven year term in August, wants to turn to conference tourism into one of the vehicles for economic growth. Already in this year, the country has hosted 169 international conferences.This strategy alone will spur the growth of the hotels sector. Last year Rwanda launched the KCC, built at about US$ 300m.

Another device devised to reduce the dependence on exports is the made in Rwanda campaigns. Rwanda officially banned the importation of used or second hand clothes. Instead Rwanda is backing up Chinese investors to produce garment locally. The garment industry imports cotton from Mwanza in Tanzania. The Chinese investors are also involved in silk production. The president told the same conference that relying on home made products (made in Rwanda) has reduced the trade deficit by 20 percent.

In order for Rwanda to develop into an efficient and advanced business hub, it must have both a sophisticated socio-economic framework and the physical structure to complement it. Rwanda’s desire to create the region’s first ‘Smart Nation’ highlights the emphasis placed on infrastructure by the government.

President Kagame revealed that his government had spent $1.5 billion on infrastructure development including the construction of a new international airport at Bugesera, 35 kilometres from Kigali.

Kagame said his government intends to harness technology to the fullest to “improve the lives of citizens, create more opportunities, and build stronger communities. Utilizing technology to better serve citizens manifests itself in many innovative creations such as video conferencing to conduct national dialogue. Different people participate in the umushyikirano via video conference where they share their views with other participants gathered at KCC.

Claire Akamanzi the head of Rwanda Development Board (RDB), a government agency responsible for attracting investors said a highly sophisticated infrastructure is only worthwhile if the workforce that utilizes the systems and structures is equally efficient. She said the country needs to have the right mindset to embrace a smart nation concept.

“The workforce has to be disciplined. It must love work. It must produce quality work,” she said.

Rwanda wants to create a Singapore in East Africa. The difference though, Singapore is a port city, Rwanda is landlocked. But Kagame says investments in technology will unlock Rwanda.

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