Rwanda's Internet Revolution (Video) - InformationWeek

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12/2/2008
08:44 PM
Fritz Nelson
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Rwanda's Internet Revolution (Video)

Past an incomprehensible genocide and a still-agrarian economy lies a country that's pinning its last gasp of hope on the Internet to lift itself out of poverty, prevent future violence, and become the economic hub of sub-Saharan Africa. Some of TechWeb's TV crew traveled into the heart of Rwanda, crouched in the jungle amid a sea of silverback gorillas, danced on the border of the notoriously dangerous Democratic Republic of Congo, and came back with a remarkable, mesmerizing story of hope.

Past an incomprehensible genocide and a still-agrarian economy lies a country that's pinning its last gasp of hope on the Internet to lift itself out of poverty, prevent future violence, and become the economic hub of sub-Saharan Africa. Some of TechWeb's TV crew traveled into the heart of Rwanda, crouched in the jungle amid a sea of silverback gorillas, danced on the border of the notoriously dangerous Democratic Republic of Congo, and came back with a remarkable, mesmerizing story of hope.

Indeed, Internet Evolution -- a site focused squarely on the impact the Internet is making around the world -- has traveled to the United Kingdom, Poland, India, and Iceland to discover and make documentaries about how the Internet is making real changes in culture, society, politics, energy consumption, education, and industry.

But this particular journey to explore the fertile yet combustible ground of Rwanda, a country torn by internal strife, civil war, and a horrifying genocide (more than 800,000 people slaughtered) went beyond "eye-opening" into an experience that alternated between depression and uplift.

The Rwandan government thinks the Internet will make fundamental changes in the country's economy and way of life and is investing $150 million to make that a reality. In fact, in some ways it promises to take the country from an agrarian economy to an information or knowledge-based economy, bypassing the equivalent of an industrial economy. This is crucial for a country with very few natural resources.

Critics say Rwanda would be better served spending the money on mechanizing the agricultural system. But my colleagues Steve Saunders and James Lambie were optimistic after finding some early success in their journey.

There was free wireless Internet access everywhere, and the mobile infrastructure was very robust. Saunders interviewed the minister of science and technology, students, a local Internet service provider, and a former senior member of the Hutu militia (the Hutus were responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi tribe members) who is studying the Internet at the technical college.

At the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology, the epicenter for Internet learning, 3,000 students gather every year to beef up the country's population of experts and engineers. While the cost involved is very high, the country must press on. Even elementary schools are equipped with laptops, and 75% of schools have Internet connections.

As Saunders says during this spectacular documentary: "Using the Internet to start a private sector in Rwanda may be this country's last economic hope."

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