Quest for Smart Cities: Rwanda’s Journey into Tomorrow’s Reality

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By Daniel Sabiiti

‘Tap&Go card’. This card saved passengers from carrying coins and cash in their wallets. Today for any public transport, passengers just tap cards at the bus entrance and board.

As urban areas swell around the African continent, leaders are seeking better ways to accommodate citizens

Today as Rwanda hosts the third edition of Transform Africa, a Summit that brings together different players from across Africa and the globe to fast-tract the continent’s digital transformation agenda.

SMART Rwanda has the significance promise to leverage ICTs and other innovations to achieve the EDPRS II targets. The program will help government do things smarter, that is to do more with less.

Rwanda Eye analyzed a sample of some of the initiatives which have been implemented to make Kigali a smart city basing on access to internet, phones, and innovation.

Cashless Society

Rwanda plans to turn into a cashless society by 2020-the country been successful in two areas- payment of services, banking and transport.

With interoperability of banking services ATM services have been connected to commercial banks making 72 percent of Rwandans accessing financial services.

One can withdraw money from any ATMs (with Visa services) but not all even electronic payments in card based payment have increased year with a percentage increase in number of debit cards by 67.2% in 2012 to 73.7% in 2015.

For some major banks like Equity, Bank of Kigali, Kenya Commercial Bank and Cogebanque have been able to harmonize their ATM services because of the Visa credit card service.

With close to 1.2million people living in Kigali, increasing need for transport in Kigali city has compelled the city authorities to establish routes for commuter buses – connecting different settlements.

This connectivity has been boosted by a new bus fare payments system – ‘Tap and Go’ where commuters in Kigali do not have to carry cash but a credit card to pay for their bus fare.

Connectivity and governance has been made easy with the street naming and mapping project five years ago. Using google maps has made it easy especially for tourists and Kigali residents to locate their next destination using their smart phones.

This has been as a result of availability mobile phones (71.6 percent) and internet use which is targeted at 95percent.

Rwandans now no longer have to queue to access or pay for government services, with the installation of fiber optic connectivity 317 public institutions are now fully connected to the internet.

For the last two years, the Irembo services ( which started with 17 services- like Identity cards, birth certificates is now available online in all 30 districts at cyber cafes, business development centers and online for those with access to computers and internet.

By 2016 the Irembo platform had 9,500 registered end-users who can easily access driver’s license registration, birth certificates, visa services, apply for national identification card among others, thought 600 agents.

The number of people using mobile money services in Rwanda has increased, with around 2.3 million adult Rwandans using the service and 34% of the population registered with mobile money accounts.

There is plan to increase the availability of Government to Citizen (G2C) services to 1,000 in the next three years.

In 2016, government initiated a plan to make internet accessible to all- through distributing wireless internet and hotspot starting with Kigali business center, hotels and restaurants and public buses.

This has been a costly project and some hotspots, buses can only show up when on turns on the Wi-Fi icon. Only hotels and restaurants have managed to meet the costs to provide Wi-Fi services for their clients, but with restricted access to only clients.

Demand for internet in public transport has compelled government to install internet in 487 buses for starters.

Jean Philbert Nsengimana, Rwanda’s ICT and Youth minister says that it is important that stakeholders understand that SMART Rwanda is not one of those fancy plans, coming to introduce new projects while old ones continue to stall or turn out to be white elephants.

“Our approach will be to intervene in only those indispensable public good projects where it does not make business sense for private sector actors to invest or to invest in early-stage ventures so as to showcase opportunity and stimulate future private sector investment” Nsengimana said in a statement .

Clean and Green

Kigali is reputed as the cleanest city in Africa, and it’s no accident. Every month the entire country, including the president, participates in a mandatory community cleanup called Umuganda.

A plastic bag ban, in place since 2008, and recent investments by Rwanda’s Green Fund to turn Nyandungu wetland into an urban recreation and ecotourism park are examples of the city’s continued commitment to environmental initiatives. Phase one of the park is expected to be finished by 2018.

Rwanda has been awarded and recognized as one of the top 20 most clean, green and safe places in the world, according to World Travel Guide.

Innovation and Capacity Building

Rwanda has been named an ICT country and innovation has grown to at least over 160 new ICT based apps and new business innovations leading to making business easy in Rwanda.

This has seen centers like Knowledge Lab (KLab) – a Kigali based local tech innovators entrepreneurship hub- and several incubation centers coming up in schools.

The fact that app developers still face a challenge of access to finance for their start-up and uptake remains but with the plan to build the Kigali Innovation city (KIC) all these problems will be history.

The flagship project with an estimated value of $150million is currently under construction stage (with the first phase almost complete) at the Special Economic Zone (SEZ), located 10km east of Kigali City’s business district.

The innovation city is part of phase two of the Smart Rwanda Master Plan- will house medium enterprises, incubation park, innovation centers, innovation university and studios.

This project is expected to create 50 stock market list-able companies, 100 indigenous companies with market capitalization worth $50 Million, new annual local investments (worth $10 Million) and 10,000 advanced technology jobs before 2020.

With only three years to the vision 2020, the next steps will be utmost important period for Rwanda as it works towards achieving its vision of becoming an ICT hub in the region.

But the International Growth Centre (an international institution that seeks to promote sustainable growth), says that it would require Rwf630.6 billion ($770 million), generating annual savings of  Rwf118.6 billion, and paying back the investment in 5.3 years to turn Kigali into a smart city.




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