Will Rwanda become East Africa’s WiFi hotspot?

This was the subject of my just-published report from Kigali, appearing on GlobalPost.

KIGALI, Rwanda — If your last exposure to this East African country was the movie “Hotel Rwanda,” you have some catching up to do.

In the 15 years since the genocide of 1994 brought Rwanda international notoriety, the country has been on a development tear. It is orderly and calm; this year, the World Bank ranked it as the top pro-business reformer in the world.

Now, Rwanda is attempting to position itself on the cutting edge of tech in East Africa. There are plans — none completed so far — to provide a network of fiber optic cables, citywide WiFi in the capital, and one laptop for every child in the country by 2020.

As President Paul Kagame puts it in a statement on the Rwanda Development Board’s website, “In Africa, we have missed both the agricultural and industrial revolutions and in Rwanda we are determined to take full advantage of the digital revolution.”

Some foreigners in the capital scoff at the idea — Rwanda is a very poor country, and it’s still easier to get online in some neighboring countries.

But many other observers, both locally and internationally, think Rwanda may be on to something. Read more…

Rwanda: Please do not step on mass graves (Road Trip pt. 2)

A sign at the Kigali Memorial Center

Let me first say that Rwanda is much more than its 1994 genocide. It’s been 15 years since that terrible violence tore the country asunder, and everyone agrees that the place has changed a lot. With his pro-business policies and development efforts, President Paul Kagame has gained the accolades of Western donors and diplomats (even though there have been strong criticisms from other quarters). Even if it has come at a price, stability reigns, at least superficially. My first impression stepping off the bus from Kampala in the Kigali bus station as the sun went down was that Rwanda is the tidiest, quietest country I’ve been to on this continent. All the motorcycle taxi (“moto”) drivers wear matching helmets and green safety vests. Things are clean (plastic bags are banned in Rwanda). Loud music does not blare, hawkers do not assault.

However, many people reading this blog entry – and many first time visitors too, including me – will be understandably preoccupied with the country’s bloody history when they hear the name “Rwanda.” Being there, I wanted to gain some insight into what happened. But in the end, I think I learned a lot more from reading books like Philip Gourevitch’s We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families and Mahmood Mamdani’s When Victims Become Killers than I did from actually spending ten days in the country. Continue reading