The African country aims to turn itself into the 'Singapore of Africa.'
Sometime in the next two years, nearly every school in Rwanda – from distant mountain villages to swelling urban areas – will be hooked up to the Internet. And it won't be some crummy dial-up service. It will be high-speed broadband, carried by fiber-optic cables.
The fact that Rwanda is closing in on this goal without having the massive oil wealth of Angola or Sudan, the diamonds of Congo or South Africa, or even the copper of nearby Zambia is a testimony to the power of imagination. And Rwanda imagines that one day, it will be the information technology center of Africa.
"In 2000, we decided to transform the country from agricultural subsistence to a knowledge-based economy," says Albert Butare, Rwanda's minister of state for energy and communications. With two fiber-optic rings around Kigali, and cable being laid across the country, Rwanda is well on its way to being wired. "Once we've reached the towns of each sector, it's like you've covered the whole country. In another two years, we should be there."
The Singapore of Africa?
Rwanda's dream of becoming the Singapore of Africa – an information-technology hub for the resource-rich nations of Eastern and Central Africa – is a point of pride for the government, a matter of concern for some Rwandans, and a curiosity for just about everyone else.
Government officials and business leaders see high-tech as the best way to lift one of the world's least-developed countries into a better position to compete globally. Local human rights activists fret that Rwanda's money could be better spent on things like drinking water and electricity.
Countries like Rwanda, which rank among the world's least developed countries (LDCs), don't easily become high-tech hubs. Sixty percent of Rwandans live below the poverty line, defined by the UN as an income of less than a dollar a day. According to a 2005 study by the Australian National University, LDCs make up 10 percent of the world's population and represent only 0.13 percent of the world's Internet users.