We must create and disseminate the tools of our own liberation

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Modern day Kigali is the jewel in Rwanda’s crown

It’s been more than two decades since the guns fell silent over this nation and I’m the first to acknowledge just how far we have come. But saying that we have come far isn’t good enough anymore; we need to go even further and faster and we are trying.

A few weeks or so back, one of the trending topics on the local Twittersphere was the speed in which the Convention Center area roundabouts were built. Everyone was amazed that they materialized over the course of a single weekend. I wasn’t. I had seen it all before. Anyone who has been following my writing over the last couple of years will know that I spent a year in the Chinese capital, Beijing. You think we built the roundabout fast? I saw whole building demolished and rebuilt in a couple of months. So, when I saw the new roundabouts, I wasn’t impressed by the speed of the construction because all the necessary tools were there to complete the task.

Will and drive brought liberation to this nation of ours and will and drive is what will bring development as well. However, lest we forget, will and drive wasn’t enough then and isn’t enough now; the right tools were, and are, needed in the right pair of hands.

Currently, the vast majority of our people live in rural areas. They farm the way their great-grandparents farmed and they live the way their parents lived. All of which is a recipe for disaster. As a country we cannot afford to let this happen. We cannot have a vibrant and innovate urban class while our rural brothers and sisters get further and further behind.

Right now, the Government of Rwanda is being rightly lauded for its policies of rural electrification, affordable healthcare and 12 Year Basic Education. That is well and good. But what I’ve realized working for Tigo Rwanda, is that there are two huge gaps that can, and should be, filled by the private sector in partnership with the government. These are the financial and digital gaps.

No one works as hard as rural folks. They wake up at the crack of dawn and work in the hot sun all day just so that their families don’t starve. That is no existence in my opinion. There is no ‘Agaciro’ in that kind of life.

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What we need to do as a community is figure out how to bring up the very least of us

The thing is, very often all that is needed to improve their lives are small technological innovations. For example, we at Tigo are working on and about to launch a pilot project with tea farmers at the Mulindi Tea Factory and the Sagashya Tea Factory (in Gicumbi and Rusizi District respectively) that aims to better the farmers lives through increased digital and financial inclusion.

Currently, when the approximately 10,000 tea farmers in the two districts are paid at the end of the month through their SACCO accounts, they face a huge problem. Because the vast majority of the SACCO account holders don’t live anywhere near their area SACCOs on payday they have to wake up extremely early and walk for hours to get there. When they do arrive they have to line up for hours on end just to access their money. Which isn’t always a given. The lucky ones are able to get their money that day but the unlucky ones have to go back home and go through the process all over again the next day.  The waste of time and energy isn’t the worst thing about this; the worst thing about this is that during this whole time, they aren’t able to work and earn the money that their families so desperately need. Remember, they do not have a monthly salary; they are paid when they work.

Tigo Rwanda saw this issue realized that there was an opportunity to make the tea farmers’ lives better. All it had to do was figure out a way to link the farmers SACCO accounts to their Tigo Cash mobile phone accounts and allow these farmers to withdraw and deposit their money though their local Tigo Cash agent.

What Tigo did was create a platform that allowed the farmers to deposit and withdraw money, through their simple mobile phones, into and out of their SACCO accounts. Then after creating the platform, creating a scheme that gave farmers phones on credit (because many couldn’t afford mobile phones in the first place). Tigo Rwanda was able to do in partnership with Access to Finance Rwanda (AFR) and the Woods Foundation. And while Tigo Rwanda will officially launch the project in the coming weeks, today these farmers do not have to live the way they used to before; they have joined the digital age. They see the infinite possibility of the tool that is called the mobile phone.

That, my friends, is what ‘liberation’ means to me today. It is about the liberation of our collective potential. It is about the awakening of the indomitable Rwandan spirit. What our jobs are, as a collective, is to figure out a way to provide the tools that will awaken this spirit; no matter whether it is a word of advice, a government scheme or even a simple mobile phone.