VENTURES AFRICA – Rwanda’s new ICT innovation hub, kLab, in Kigali, marks the country’s latest step in the technological development that looks set to further spur its already bullish economic growth.
The country’s first innovation incubator is intended to promote the development of innovative technologies by Kigali’s tech and entrepreneurial community in much the same way as Kenya has sought to do with its own iHub, which opened two years ago and has seen numerous startups born from linkups between techies and investors.
The kLab, which will base its operations in Rwanda’s ICT Park, will provide ICT infrastructures to young developers looking to create new software and applications. Its launch is part of a wider push by the Rwandan government to boost the technology sector, having already created an Rwf400 million fund for ICT innovations. The recent National Budget Framework Paper also gave a boost to the telecommunications sector, while the government has been working to rollout connectivity across the country. Some tech innovations are already in place, but with the increased importance placed on ICT the government is clearly hoping for more to boost a GDP growth rate that has been at least 8 per cent per year for the last five years.
“Rwanda’s vision of becoming a knowledge-based economy will be realised through the support of extensive research and innovations in science and technology,” said Minister of Education Vincent Biruta.
Eighteen years after the genocide that tore the 11 million-strong country apart, Rwanda has turned its economy into one of the dynamic and fastest growing in Africa. President Paul Kagame has put his faith in infrastructural growth, as well as tourism, to create new employment. The results so far have been good. According to this year’s Rwandan Household Living Conditions Survey, one million Rwandans have been lifted out of poverty in the last five years, with economic growth reducing the number of Rwandans living in poverty from 57 per cent to 45 per cent. The aim is that continued growth will be based on investment and capacity building rather than aid. Having reduced the percentage of the government budget that came from aid from 100 per cent in 2005 to 40 per cent last year, Kagame hopes to get that to zero in the coming years.
ICT is clearly central to this, with the government seeking to turn Rwanda into a tech hub. The kLab is a significant part of this plan, developed in a joint effort between the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) and Carnegie-Mellon University Rwanda. Its slogan – “Community, Innovation and Openness” – is key to its mission to position the tech community in Kigali as central to Africa’s technological advancement. Those involved with the kLab have stressed its importance as a hub for Rwanda’s advancement.
The increase in funding has been central to this hope in technological advancement and further thus economic growth. The government has already specifically funnelled Rwf400 million towards promoting tech innovation in order to further social and economic development in the country, in conjunction with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Minister for Education Biruta said the creation of the Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund (RIEF) stemmed from a belief that investing in research and innovation for development was crucial to national development.
“Rwanda Innovation Endowment Fund provides the opportunity for researchers, entrepreneurs and business people to work together in order to fully contribute to the sustainable socio-economic development,” he said.