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Saturday, January 22, 2022

How Rwanda plans to leapfrog straight to the fourth industrial revolution

Julius Bizimungu


What is the fourth industrial revolution? This has always been the first question that comes to the minds of people not just in Rwanda but in other parts of the world as well, especially in the developed countries.

Think about the drones you have seen in Rwanda supplying blood to rural hospitals and healthcare centres, a company like babyl enabling people to consult doctors by just using a mobile phone and a firm like Blockbonds allowing smartphone users to transact and pay for goods and services using blockchain technology.

You can also think of technologies being used to predict weather conditions, the robotics being used in Chinese factories to do the work or even the flying or driverless cars you have perhaps seen on the internet.

A combination of these is what forms what many refer to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or industry 4.0. It is an era in which cutting-edge technologies are being invented, and they are changing the way people do work, how industries perform tasks and generally how economies are moving.

A country like Rwanda is already benefitting from the beginning of this revolution with people who hardly accessed doctors now able to access them by a click on a mobile phone and patients who risked dying because of lack of blood are now getting it with the help of unmanned aerial vehicles or drones.

But this is just the beginning. In developed countries, much more is happening. However, experts argue that Africa still lags behind.

There has been a conversation on how the continent can leapfrog into this revolution. Yet, this conversation has shifted from how to what will countries benefit and what it will take.

A case for Rwanda

Norbert Haguma, a Rwandan technologist, believes that the country has potential to benefit more from this revolution.

“The most important thing about this revolution is the efficiency that comes with adopting the new technologies. When you take an example of drones delivering blood; the time taken to get blood is much lower than what vehicles would take previously. This is efficiency,” he says, adding that a more efficient country has a more efficient economy.

He highlights that this revolution comes with increased capacity for innovation.

“When you talk about artificial intelligence, big data, and robotics, the more you master them the more abilities they give you. This enables people to innovate,” he adds.

Haguma was among the panellists that were hosted by DMM.Hehe yesterday to discuss what it will take for Rwanda to be at the forefront of the 4th industrial revolution.

Clarisse Iribagiza, the Chief Executive at DMM.Hehe, thinks being part of this revolution can enable companies like hers to utilise resources.

“In our case, for instance, we can be able to predict the demand for our products and therefore we can plan for the right production. And as a continent we can also be able to add value addition to our products,” she says.

There is another aspect that the entrepreneur says is important – the ability to move from scarcity to abundance.

“Going digital today has, for instance, enabled us to access abundance of educational resources and materials, which was previously almost inaccessible,” she says.

The fourth industrial revolution is associated with emerging technology breakthroughs like artificial intelligence (AI), big data, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT), and 3D printing, among others.

Klaus Martin Schwab, a German engineer and economist, best known as the founder of the World Economic Forum, has been on top when it comes to advancing this concept.

However, some believe that there is a need to define, own and contextualise this revolution for Africa. And for others like Haguma, addressing basic needs such as energy and infrastructure is critical.

“We still have people using their legs and hands as the main source of energy within the agriculture sector. It’s time to master the 3rd industrial revolution by making energy and communication more accessible,” he notes.

On the other side, experts argue that the 4th industrial revolution has potential to address these and other existing problems that Rwanda and Africa are facing.

What will it take?

Innocent Muhizi, the Chief Executive of Rwanda Information Society Agency (RISA), opines that it will start with education.

“We need to disrupt the educational sector, from elementary level, by not just focusing on sciences but problem solving in general, as well,” he says.

Betty Tushabe, from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), emphasises that capacity building for dreamers, prototypers and all innovators is significantly important.

“What we have found out from businesses we work with is that they know what technologies they want. People in the banana wine industry will tell you they need watering and crushing machines. But all they need is the capacity to innovate around these machines,” she says.

With capacity building, Rwanda in partnership with Inmarsat, has set up a centre for Internet of Things (IoT) to facilitate students to experience, develop IoT prototypes, and carry out academic research in the field of potential IoT solutions.

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