By James Tasamba
KIGALI, Rwanda (AA) – Rwanda has launched a campaign to collect 1 million smartphones through donations to be distributed to poor families across the country.
The campaign — dubbed Connect Rwanda, which will run until March this year — aims to increase Rwanda’s smartphone penetration, which is currently below 20%, according to officials.
Statistics from the Ministry of ICT and Innovation show that out of the 10 million Rwandans who have mobile phones, only around 1.6 million own smartphones.
“The Connect Rwanda campaign is aimed at increasing smartphone ownership in the country. To date, phone penetration stands at 79.8%, but smartphone penetration is still low at 14.6%,” Paula Ingabire, Rwanda’s minister of ICT and innovation, told Anadolu Agency Wednesday.
Ingabire said smartphones are critical to help Rwandans gain access to online services and information while remaining connected.
“Today, Rwanda has digitized several services, and many businesses are going e-commerce. Smartphones thus remain a necessary tool to enable citizens to traverse the digital value chain,” she said.
Nearly 40,000 smartphones have so far been pledged under the campaign, which was launched at the end of December.
Rwandan President Paul Kagame is among those who have responded to the call with a pledge of 1,500 made-in-Rwanda smartphones.
“Smartphones should not be a luxury item. Let's challenge ourselves to make smartphones an everyday tool enabling all Rwandans to fulfill their potential,” Kagame said in a recent tweet.
The Ministry of ICT and Innovation is running the campaign in partnership with local telecom company MTN Rwanda, which has pledged free SIM cards, one gigabyte of free data per month for three months and up to 50% discounts on data bundles during the first 12 months.
The call for smartphone pledges is aimed at all Rwandans, corporates, civil society organizations and friends of Rwanda, according to Ingabire.
“Everyone is welcome to pledge. Pledges can come in the form of smartphones — any number — or cash,” she said.
According to the ministry, the distribution of the first batch of collected smartphones will take place at the end of January.
The intended beneficiaries are Rwandans who are not connected with smartphones yet, including families without any smartphones and those with feature phones.
Others to be considered are those who are unconnected but who can afford to pay for data as well as people living with disabilities and volunteer social workers.
“Beyond the three-month campaign, a broader strategy is being designed aimed at ensuring affordability of smartphones,” said Ingabire.
The Rwandan government has set an ambitious goal of achieving digital literacy for all youths aged 16 to 30 by 2024 because of the important role of technology in development.
The country’s national digital literacy program also has the objective of achieving digital literacy of at least 60% among adults by 2024.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s mobile ecosystem supports around 3.5 million jobs, directly and indirectly, and in 2018, it contributed almost $15.6 billion to the funding of the public sector through consumer and operator taxes, according to a report by GSMA, a trade body that represents the interests of mobile network operators worldwide.