What is ICT’s contribution to Rwandan GDP?
NSENGIMANA: The contribution of ICT to GDP is somewhat difficult to evaluate. We know what the contribution of the telecommunications industry is. It stands at about 3.5% now. But then I've seen other studies that put the contribution of the ICT sector to about 8.5%. When you take also the role of IT in enabling other industries such as banking, insurance, transport, hospitality, the accumulated contribution stands at about 80% and it's growing.
To what extent does the Rwandan government prioritize ICT?
NSENGIMANA: The ICT sector is a priority for the government of Rwanda since 2000. We've got a Vision 2020 and the overall goal of the Vision is to take Rwanda into middle income economic status by 2020, migrating from being an economy essentially based on agriculture to an economy based on knowledge and services. So it's really part of our strategy and the government has made significant investments in infrastructure, capacity building, and now we are supporting innovation.
Where are the best investment opportunities in Rwanda’s ICT sector today?
NSENGIMANA: Well there are three main areas where investments are required. One is accessibility of ICT. We've done the big part of that in terms of putting the infrastructure in place, but there are still gaps in coverage and there are still opportunities to connect people, and I'm looking at both the supply side of the connectivity and the demand side. And the demand side is where we still need to do much in terms of increasing the penetration especially of smart devices. So there are big investment opportunities right there.
Energy is a big challenge in the sector, so whoever invests in energy actually somehow also invests in ICT. Rwanda has reached about 16% access to electricity for households. We want to take that coverage to about 70% in the next five years, so we need a lot of investments in energy.
The second area is capacity building. One of the things we need to do is to really increase in numbers and in quality the IT skills available in the market because we're not only looking at Rwanda as such, we are also looking at the East African region and Africa broadly. So Rwanda is a place where, as in many countries in Africa, there is a big youth population that needs those skills to really step into the 21st century kind of jobs. So we are inviting private training institutions. We are also inviting overseas universities to come and recruit students from Rwanda. We are really looking forward, both for degrees and short courses and certificates. Right there in the human capacity building domain, there is a big investment opportunity.
Now the third area is services. We've got five key priority sectors: healthcare, education, agriculture, government, and business, especially the financial sector, small and medium enterprises, and hospitality. So in those areas people need applications, they need solutions. We are transitioning into the digital economy, and we need solutions for automating those sectors, for marketing those sectors, for running those sectors, and it's a big investment opportunity. And it's an area where you can come and partner with our own local companies and train a lot of young Rwandans and transform them into a workforce that you can use not only in Rwanda as I said before, but also in the region.
What is Transform Africa?
NSENGIMANA: Transform Africa is an international conference that Rwanda hosted in October of this year. The overall objective of Transform Africa was to reflect upon the achievements of Connect Africa, which happened six years ago, and whose major thrust was to connect Africa to the rest of the world. What we saw is Rwanda made it. We were able to move just in the space of six years, from less than 5% of mobile phone penetration to about 70%. That's in Rwanda.
We are able to move from just one single satellite connection to the rest of the world to the most connected country in terms of fiber optic networks, and also connect to the undersea cables. So connectivity is happening. It's getting in place. We are finalizing the last mile of connectivity with 4G LTE, completely leapfrogging 3G. So based on that foundation, the question was how do we leverage on those investments into connectivity and infrastructure, and en route transform the economy?
We’re also presenting Rwanda as a gateway to the African market. It's a gateway to the East African market, with 135 million people. Africa as a whole is a one billion people market. So we are ready to work with investors who are serious about taking Africa seriously, and then we go with them as they move and expand to the rest of Africa.
We wanted to share that reflection with the rest of Africa. At the end of Connect Africa, the leaders, seven heads of state and more than 2000 participants, agreed on this Smart Africa Manifesto. So Africa is definitely going smart over the next ten years, and being smart and conducting education differently, accessing healthcare differently, smarter, and running out villages and cities differently, all making the best use of new technologies of information and communication.
How can ICT help transform the Rwandan economy?
NSENGIMANA: Well I think it will be a human-based indicator. I think if my job is working well, then it should definitely translate into more jobs for the young people of Rwanda. But more jobs mean a lot of things behind them; it means a lot of investments behind to grow the economy. It means the skills that match the demand on the market. It means being able to anticipate on what tomorrow brings. So I want as many young Rwandans as possible employed so that they really contribute to transform this economy from an agrarian economy to a knowledge-based economy.
Why combine youth and ICT in one Ministry?
NSENGIMANA: Well one of the where Rwanda is really a unique case is the fact that the Minister of Youth and the sector of youth and ICT are combined together and therefore the Minister of Youth and ICT is one. Many people usually ask me, what's the idea behind it? And I tell them that the idea behind joining the portfolio of youth and ICT is really to lead from the future. You realize that the youth bulge that this country has, that Rwanda has, is a big asset.
Some other country may want to see it as a liability but Rwanda chose to see it as an asset, and they need to be empowered. So the tools of work of the future are the new technologies. It's about imagining a different future. It's about imagining a generation of young people well equipped with skills and the right tools to really drive Rwanda's economy to the next level.
What incentives are in place for investors in Rwanda?
NSENGIMANA: The Rwandan government has put in place a number of incentives for investors to come and invest in the sectors that I highlighted as priorities, especially the energy sector. But beyond fiscal incentives, what we've done is really improve our environment of doing business. This year the Doing Business Index ranks Rwanda as the 32nd best environment for business in the world, and the second in Africa. So that index looks comprehensively at a number of factors; how you start your business; how government helps you in terms of buying land; and in case of failure how do you fail gracefully? How do you repatriate your profits?
But also most importantly, we've got some fiscal incentives. Above a certain threshold, you are eligible to a tax holiday of a number of years and so on and so forth, and labor policies so on. All of those are incentives that we believe are strong for people to come and invest in Rwanda. But we’re also presenting Rwanda as a gateway to the African market. It's a gateway to the East African market, with 135 million people. Africa as a whole is a one billion people market. So we are ready to work with investors who are serious about taking Africa seriously, and then we go with them as they move and expand to the rest of Africa.