Sunday, 21 January 2018

The silicon valley of Africa Plan | Rwanda

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Rwanda plans to build an innovation city in line with the country's ambition to have a technology-led economy.The flagship project with an estimated value of $1.9 billion will be built in the Kigali Special Economic Zone 10 kilometres east of the business district.The project plans show the innovation city will comprise all elements of a typical urban centre including corporate buildings, retail, leisure, sports, accommodation, healthcare centre and other amenities. Paula Ingabire, head of ICT department at RDB said technology parks are huge infrastructure projects that require very detailed planning. "Actually what we are doing as Rwanda is to ensure that we implement the Kigali innovation city on time," said Ms Ingabire.Government is still looking for a "good" investor to support the development of the innovation city. The government is also banking on the existing ICT innovators from centres of excellence, based in the city together with other learning institutions; and technology companies to play a bigger role in the country's digital economy's competitiveness. As a result, Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda, an ICT centre of excellence is expected to play a bigger role in the innovation city development by attracting similar institutions and training future innovators. While similar projects in some African countries have struggled or delayed to get off the ground; Prof Michel Bezy, associate director at Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda believes the project will succeed. "It is not the buildings that create innovation, the people with the brains create innovation," said Prof Bezy.

 

These city models were inspired by US Silicon Valley, which started with Stanford University which has the best computer science faculty in the World. According to Prof Bezy, the buildings came only later when innovators from the university started buildings with the money they made from their Tech innovations. Ericsson, a global communications technology company has expressed interest in the 10-year project while African Institute for Mathematical Sciences is the other centre of excellence that is interested in the future city. However, industry experts say it could be difficult for the technology city planners to attract tech companies in the new city, given its location (10km from Central Business District) and different needs of tech companies. In other words innovation city should target specific technology areas. According to Ms Ingabire currently a lot of effort is put on understanding the niche areas that will be promoted within the city.

 

Normally companies in manufacturing, software and other areas of ICT have different tech ecosystem needs. For instance tech startups may prefer to stay in co-working spaces, innovation hubs such as K-lab or even working from coffee shops in the main city where there is wireless internet and near their clients to reduce operating costs; while hardware companies may go to industrial areas where there are facilities and the space they need. Unless there are tax incentives, the innovation city start-up may not go in the park. Other multinational companies prefer to set up their African headquarters in Nairobi, but analysts say the park could attract some big companies.

 

However, city planners hope once infrastructure is ready, companies will join the park. Meanwhile, Rwanda Today has learnt that the country has now chosen to focus on four ICT sub-sectors namely: Internet of Things, Cyber Security, Multimedia, and Big Data amid increased competition in digital technology from the region as other countries seek to position themselves as regional tech hubs. Business Processing Outsourcing is another area that is associated with the ICT Park; but the country is not attracting foreign investors in this sector. According to Francis Gatare CEO of RDB currently there is only one international BPO company. It is ISON BPO involved in call centre management. There are ongoing discussion with other companies.

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