In the fourth quarter of 2021, only 1,943,786 smartphones were operational or active in Rwanda (approximately 15 per cent of entire population), according to data from Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA).
With digital transformation being continuously positioned as a key enabler for the country’s development agenda, access to digital gadgets, among other factors, remains a challenge.
However, it is important to note that internet penetration in Rwanda is at 66 per cent while mobile subscription (number of active SIM cards) is at 85 percent, according to data from RURA by September 2021.
For maximum digital penetration to take place, Charles Gahungu, General Manager of ICT Regulation Department at RURA, said that it requires different mechanisms and interconnected technological activities to take effect.
For instance, if device penetration is still low that means that a larger number of people have not yet adopted available digital services, he said.
“A person with a smartphone is exposed to digital knowledge and access to digital services. If I am able to make payments online, access bank services online, it’s because I have a smartphone.”
He noted that considering the financial capacity of citizens and the cost of these gadgets, many don’t have the means to immediately buy them.
Another important issue remains the gap in digital literacy in the country, especially in rural areas. While one can quickly learn the basics of using a smartphone, it requires some significant knowledge to navigate through advanced digital services by using the gadget.
Gahungu emphasized the role that improved education will play in digital transformation in long-term period.
He said that in the coming years, a person who will have at least primary level education or ordinary level secondary education, they will be in a better position and knowledgeable enough to manipulate digital technologies.
On these issues, different interventions were made by the government and stakeholders to increase digital literacy and provision as well as the adoption of digital gadgets.
Launched in 2017, the Digital Ambassadors Programme, locally known as Intore Mu Ikoranabuhanga, is an ambitious plan in which the Government targets to introduce five million citizens to digital literacy and opportunities through the use of e-Government and e-Business services.
Another key effort is the ongoing Connect Rwanda Challenge – a campaign that seeks to mobilize people to contribute to providing smartphones to Rwandans who cannot afford them is expected to drive up access to smartphones.
Since its inception, Connect Rwanda programme has majorly focused on different segments of the population; the unconnected, female farmers, persons with disabilities, individuals in categories 1 and 2 of Ubudehe, among others.
The initiative curated a pledge programme that saw a national multi-industry participation where over 44,000 smartphones were pledged and 24,973 were honoured. Out of these, 7,670 have been distributed last year.