The Surprising Story Behind The World’s Fastest Developing Country

By Robin Meyerhoff*

shutterstock_22941883Let’s start with a short quiz. Which African country is: the world’s fastest developing country according the UN’s Human Development Index – and has annual growth rates of about 8%? The second easiest place to do business on the continent? The safest to walk at night in Africa and fifth globally?

If you guessed Rwanda, you’d be right. Rwanda is a small country located in Eastern Africa bordered by Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

For many foreigners, the country is still associated with the civil war that occurred in 1994. But Rwanda has done an exemplary job putting its past behind with a commitment to democracy, justice, reconciliation, and development.

Last month the World Economic Forum on Africa took place in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, and was focused on “Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation.” It’s no coincidence the event was located there, given that Rwanda is now known as a “regional high tech hub and boasts one of sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest GDP growth rates.

Also, no surprise that SAP kicked off its second year of Africa Code Week from the Forum in Kigali. SAP and its partners created Africa Code Week to teach software coding skills to young people from age 8 to 24. Last year the initiative reached 89,000 youth in 17 countries. The goal for 2016 is to train more than 150,000 youth across 30 countries.

Why Rwanda?

Walking the streets of Kigali, the city is clean and beautifully landscaped with new buildings are everywhere. When I spoke with is Abdul Musare Arsene, a young journalist in Kigali last month, I asked him what excited him most about Rwanda right now.

“Rwanda is developing so quickly,” he said. “Much more so than neighboring countries – Burundi, Congo, Uganda — if you leave Kigali for two months, you come back a stranger. There are new buildings everywhere and so much economic development.”

Rwanda’s progress is due to a very deliberate strategy. Enacted in 2000, Vision 2020 is Rwanda’s strategy to become a middle-income country by the year 2020 and transform Rwanda into a knowledge-based economy that can compete regionally and globally.

Increasing the technology infrastructure is arguably the most important pillar to the success of Vision 2020 and cuts across all of the program’s priorities such as good governance, a skilled workforce and vibrant private sector.

The government has been steadily dedicating funds and raising foreign investment for the ICT sector. The result: Rwanda is now a best practice showing how a nation can overcome historical trauma, forging a new identity as technology innovators. An interim report on progress shows that since 2000:

  • ICT grew at 25 percent, while the rest of the economy grew at about 7 percent.
  • Phone and internet penetration is at about 70 percent and 28 percent respectively
  • The country is well on its way to providing 4G LTE coverage for 95 percent of Rwandans by 2017.
  • Over 5,000 kilometers optic fiber have been laid throughout the country.

Opening new opportunities

With 43 percent of the Rwandan population under 16 years, sustained growth depends on teaching young people technology skills and inspiring entrepreneurship. This is partly why government officials have embraced Africa Code Week, like Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the Minister of Youth and ICT of the government of Rwanda.

“Africa Code Week is opening a new area of opportunity up to everyone,” said Minister Nsengimana. “It’s shaping a mindset that coding is going to be the new language – that everyone has the right to be literate in the 21st century, especially the young generation. And it’s a challenge also, that more needs to be done to equip schools so that we close the gap as much as possible between those who have access to the best infrastructure and those in rural Africa that have been left behind.”

*Author is Senior Director, Corporate Affairs, SAP. This story originally appeared on SAP Business Trends.

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