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Wise Rwanda plays to its strength

By Li Lianxing | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2013-11-01 12:46

Size and lack of natural resources have not crimped African country's development ambitions

Three times in the past year I have been to Kigali, capital of Rwanda, one of the 10 smallest African countries, and with resources and economic power commensurate with its size. However, Rwanda has become an attractive destination for journalists because it has become an international and pan-African conference center as the result of a determined government strategy. As a result, after Addis Ababa, Rwanda has become the place to come to if you want to take the pulse of the continent.

The country is often called the land of a thousand hills, and its topography and geology have fated it to be poor in natural resources and lacking large-scale manufacturing.

In the years since the genocide of 1994, in which hundreds of thousands died, the country has begun to find its feet and is cleverly marketing itself as a hub for eastern Africa and even of the continent as a whole.

While location is a solid basis on which to form such a nerve center, more than that is needed, of course, and the country is making good use of information and communications technologies to connect and integrate the region.

It was natural then that organizers of the Transform Africa Summit, from Oct 28 to 31, and which assesses progress in information and communications technology in Africa and sets long-term goals, should have chosen Kigali as its venue.

Gilbert Mbesherubusa, vice-president of operations (infrastructure, private sector and regional integration) of the African Development Bank, says the number of mobile SIM cards sold on the continent has almost tripled, to 810 million, since 2007, and there are about 116 million mobile broadband subscribers in Africa now, about 11 percent of the population, compared with just 0.35 percent in 2007.

The significant benefits that information and communications technology have delivered can be seen in almost every aspect of life, including business, education and politics.

A bank customer can now even deposit or withdraw money from an account in remote Masai Mara savannah and transfer it to Nairobi in Kenya using nothing more than a mobile phone thanks to a system called M-Pesa.

Andrew Rugege, regional director for Africa of the International Telecommunication Union, says China has played a significant role in this development.

"Of course the most fundamental element is the related infrastructure construction, in which China has significantly invested," he says. "All the networks and relative technology have been brought by renowned Chinese firms such as Huawei and ZTE.

"Affordability is another important factor in terms of the future development of the information and communication technology, and China has done very well in bringing affordable products to Africa."

A medium-sized Chinese company that specializes in cloud technology is one that has seen the potential, in the shape of African transnational corporations and the push for continental and regional integration.

Many of those at the conference said Africa is bursting with enthusiasm to work with external partners to increase their technological know-how.

Carnegie Mellon University, based in the United States, and which specializes in information technology and engineering, has set up a campus in Kigali, the first one in eastern Africa, bringing its master's programs in computer science and researchers, students and other facilities to Rwanda specifically to train African IT talent.

China's efforts in this direction essentially involve receiving African students who wish to study computer science and information technology in China. With the country making significant progress in education relating to information and communications, a China-Africa academic partnership along the lines of Carnegie Mellon's ties with Rwanda seems like the next logical step.

The author is China Daily's correspondent based in Nairobi.

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