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Information technology super-charging Rwanda’s economy

Rwandans undergoing training on an “ICT bus”: The growth of Rwanda’s information and communications technology sector is stimulating innovation across the society.

Photograph: Redux / Tadej Znidarcic

A luxury commuter bus pulls up by the kerb to pick up passengers. A young woman quickly jumps in, retrieves a smart card from her wallet and swipes it against a machine next to the driver. A buzzer approves the swipe and the woman takes a seat by the window. Nothing unusual, something even routine in advanced economies. But this is tiny landlocked Rwanda, one of the world’s poorest countries, which was nearly brought to its knees by genocide in 1994.

The smart-card ticketing system is known as twende. Its introduction in the capital, Kigali, early this year by Kigali Bus Services is the latest in a string of technological advances that are unleashing rapid changes in the economy and transforming Rwanda into a regional hub for business communications and information technology. The innovations are altering the way Rwandans communicate, pay for goods and services, and go about their daily lives.

Rwanda emerged from the 1994 genocide that killed about 800,000 people with a severely impaired society, a traumatized populace and an economy in dire straits. Back then President Paul Kagame’s new government confronted enormous challenges at every turn: millions of refugees and displaced people to be resettled, genocide victims awaiting justice and an economy that needed restarting. Fast forward to 2011. There is much evidence that thoughtful policies are transforming an agrarian society into a sophisticated knowledge-based economy and instilling a sense of national identity and unity in Rwandans.

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