|Community Internet Centers Give Rwanda Access to Information
Two community Internet centers (CIC) in Rwanda are providing their local communities vital access to information for both professional and personal uses. These telecenters in Nyanza and Gitarma were opened in partnership with USAID/Rwanda, dot-ORG and local entrepreneurs. They are privately operated, using a sustainable for-profit model to ensure they remain active after the startup project funding ends.
The CICs offer telephone access, business services (such as photocopying, word processing, etc.) and access to computers and Internet. A third CIC will be established in an "off-grid" setting, based on finding sustainable technologies to provide both power and connectivity to the center.
Thirteen Rwanda entrepreneurs submitted proposals and business plans in response to a competitive tender from the project. After a rigorous selection process, two operator/owners were selected to partner with dot-ORG to establish the two CICs. The entrepreneurs provided some funding, the space and covered the cost of staff. The project, using USAID/Rwanda funds covered the cost of equipment, software, a decreasing subsidy for connectivity and provides training to CIC staff. Each center received a server, nine computer workstations and software, a combined printer/copier/scanner/fax, furniture, and a digital camera from the project.
The dot-ORG team also provided training in CIC management and a voucher program to stimulate demand for CIC services and resources by specific members of the community. The team has also helped the operators negotiate a lower cost for connectivity with the telephone company. Currently, the dot-ORG team is investigating alternative power sources for the CICs since periodic power outages are undermining the long-term sustainability of these centers.
ICTs at the Center of Plans to Transform the Rwandan Economy
The centers offer a model for introducing ICTs into areas outside the capital of Kigali, which currently has 90% of telephone lines in the country. ICTs are central to the development goals for Rwanda - the government hopes to leapfrog into a 21st century information and knowledge based economy, and to transform the current subsistence agricultural base into a highly skilled service sector driven economy" through the strategic use of ICTs.
Quoting H.E. President Kagame; In today's world, information and communication technology has become increasingly important...Success in promoting democracy, human resource development, socio-economic development, international cooperation, trade and commerce, require access to information and our ability to use it effectively.
It is anticipated that CICs will play an important role in bridging a chronic information gap and the digital divide by enabling citizens to have access to information, ICTs and through these resources improve their lives. These centers will also become platforms for ICT stakeholders to combine efforts in ICT development towards reduction of poverty.
The CIC in Nyanza
Nyanza is a relatively small town about 90 minutes drive from Kigali. Its only significance is that it was the home of the Kings of Rwanda prior to 1960 when the last King was forced into exile. Boasting a population of forty thousand, Nyanza has several primary and secondary schools, a court of law, a hospital and a few local administration offices including the Mayor's. The existence of these institutions and the lack of public access to computer and Internet technologies were the main reasons for establishing the CIC in Nyanza.
The CIC, which opened for business in July 2003, is located in a three-room building across the road from the city market. When the dot-ORG team first visited the site, the building was extremely dilapidated. The CIC owner operator repaired the building, replaced the windows, poured a new cement floor and painted the rooms. The small verandah in the front has four benches where people can sit and chat while having a soft drink or cup of coffee. The former store room will soon be a 'movie house' showing movies and educational videos.
In front of the CIC is a typical rural market where people come to buy and sell not only farm produce such as vegetables, potatoes and fruits, but also goats, chickens, milk and other items. Some locals are curious enough to walk into the CIC to have a look at the computers and watch people using them. One old man who was once a clerk in an office saw a keyboard and it reminded him of a typewriter. The operator anticipates that these visitors will be his clients in the not too distant future.
The most popular service in Nyanza CIC is IT training, used primarily by young people attending local schools. On a recent visit to the CIC, at 11:00 am there were 14 people sharing the nine computers - this often occurs when an experienced user is showing (teaching) a friend an application such as email or MS word. Other popular services are Internet browsing, email and photocopying. Scanning of pictures is also popular.
Local Community Uses the Nyanza CIC
Local community members (especially students) are very excited about the new CIC. For many who visit the CIC it is the first time they have ever seen or used a computer. Local leaders see the CIC as an important step in the development of their community.
A doctor in charge of the local hospital could not hide his excitement when he first visited the CIC. While he has access to a couple of computers in the hospital, he had no access to the Internet until the CIC arrived. As a result, he makes very active use of the CIC carrying out medical research and exchanging e-mail with fellow professionals.
In most government offices, employees share one computer for Internet and email access. Because their office Internet access is limited to 2 hours a day and the connection is usually very poor they all prefer to use the CIC facilities to send and receive e-mail and browse the Internet.
Mr. Kamanzi, the CIC owner/operator, completely relocated from Kigali to Nyanza in order to run the CIC as his main business. The CIC has now become a reference point and local people now refer to the place as 'Kamanzi's Place.' The CIC is changing his life and life in this community.
The CIC in Gitarama
Gitarama is a fast growing town in the middle of the country; about 40 minutes drive from Kigali. With a population of sixty thousand people, Gitarama is the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Rwanda and a new University. It has a thriving business and professional community, including banks, insurance companies, local government agencies, hospitals, NGOs and schools, which makes it an ideal place for establishing a community Internet center.
The CIC in Gitarama was opened in July, 2003 and is located on the ground floor in a new building belonging to an insurance company. The place is spacious, clean, has plenty of light and is well located on the main road in the town, near the University. The CIC has many customers and is doing quite well - there are often two people to every computer. Most new users prefer to come with their own trainers and because it is desirable to have as many people as possible to use the CIC services, this arrangement is not discouraged.
The Gitarama CIC operator has hired a female trainer and a male manager, in charge of the other café business. Currently the CIC offers training, Internet browsing and email, photocopying and scanning. Due to the high demand of the services the operator plans to install more computers in the near future.
As in Nyanza, the local community is excited to have such a modern facility available. A regular customer is a medical doctor who is a former presidential candidate in this year's elections.
dot-ORG/AED was awarded the Rwanda Project July 3, 2002 for a period of two years (Award No. 623-G-00-02-00056-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No.GDG-A-00-01-00014-00.)