SEATTLE, Washington — Mobile technology in Rwanda is playing a significant role in helping people stay connected, safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Around December 2018, Rwanda started distributing laptops assembled in the country at cheap prices to university students. The Ministry of ICT and Innovation reported that the number of people with smartphones in the country was below 20%. Therefore, in December 2019, a telecommunications company in partnership with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation along with an African based smartphone company initiated the Connect Rwanda Challenge.
The purpose of the Connect Rwanda Challenge was to collect smartphone pledges to give to the least connected population. They then distributed these smartphones with free basic training and free SIM cards loaded with three months airtime and data. It turned out to be good timing because it meant that during the COVID-19 lockdown period people were able to access different services from home.
5 Ways Mobile Technology in Rwanda Helps Amid COVID-19
Staying connected during the commemoration week. On April 7 of every year, Rwanda observes a week of commemorating the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. This period is mentally tough on Rwandans, especially for survivors. This year, the commemoration week looked different because people were in quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Complete isolation would have been dangerous for people’s mental health, since most of the adults experienced some kind of trauma during the 1994 genocide. However, people were encouraged to reach out and connect with their loved ones anyway.
COVID-19 testing: One of the best ways to fight the spread of the pandemic is to increase the number of people who are tested. Rwanda wanted to provide easy ways for people to access COVID-19 related services. To that end, the country established a helpline for anyone potentially displaying symptoms of COVID-19. Then, healthcare workers nearby could reach them at home for testing and any other help necessary. In April, the New Times reported that “[a]mong 360,000 calls received since the first reported COVID-19 case, five cases from the calls tested positive and 33 contacts were also traced from them.”
Weekly updates on the pandemic. The Rwandan government sent important public messages to people through SMS or on social media. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck the country, people needed constant updates on the number of cases confirmed and which safety measures they needed to take. The government stepped in to send weekly updates on COVID-19 and some guidelines for certain public services to safely operate.
Mobile money transactions: Right after the pandemic hit Rwanda, telecommunication companies waived the costs of mobile money transactions — commonly used for small purchases like groceries. However, during this period, the country encouraged contactless transactions. Telecommunication companies lowered their prices on certain transactions so that people could afford to make contactless payments. NextBillion reports that mobile person to person transactions increased to over 450% between January and April. This increase shows just how useful this method of payment has been for people during this period.
- Studying from home: Most high schools in Rwanda are boarding schools; which meant that administrators had to organize a way students could cover the school materials. The Rwandan Education Board decided that teachers would teach on the national television and radio channels. Additionally, the board opened a free online learning platform where students could access different class materials. Therefore, mobile technology in Rwanda allows students to continue learning even during the lockdown period.
Even though Rwanda was no exception to the COVID-19 pandemic, the country has implimented some great solutions to protect its people and businesses from completely shutting down. One of the most useful resources that helped people during this process was mobile devices, specifically mobile phones and laptops.
– Renova Uwingabire