Electronic Communications in Rwanda, (Ben parker)

Electronic Communications in Rwanda,

(Ben parker)


PO Box 30218 Nairobi Kenya Tel: +254 2 441125 Fax: +254 2 448816 e-mail:

This paper has been produced in collaboration with the UN Economic Commission for Africa's Pan African Documentation and Information System (PADIS) which has a major project underway known as Capacity Building for Electronic Communications in Africa (contact for further information). It is intended as a brief on the current state of electronic communication systems in Rwanda, for the benefit of national institutions in Rwanda, as well as donors and NGOs considering interventions in this sector.

Nairobi, January 1996

Electronic Communications in Rwanda

by Ben Parker <>

Present Situation

Rwanda has no public, national e-mail or Internet provider. International organizations are, however, using a variety of means to carry international e-mail to and from the country. Almost all of these are in the capital, Kigali, but there are some international agencies using e-mail in places such as Butare in the south of the country. In addition, many agencies and a few government bodies have the use of Inmarsat satellite phones and Inmarsat C capsat systems. UNHCR and other relief agencies are making heavy use of HF radio telex systems: SITOR, PACTOR and QPSK.

International NGOs are using a variety of ad-hoc methods to exchange international Internet e-mail.

However, there is no system that is open to all: national institutions, multilateral bodies, businesses and individuals do not have any choice whatsoever.

UN agencies such as UNDP, WFP and UNICEF as well as donors including USAID are calling their headquarters to exchange mail several times a day. Other important bodies have no e-mail connectivity yet, including ICRC and UNHCR.

The UN Assistance Mission for Rwanda (UNAMIR) has a Very Small Aperture Terminal (VSAT) link to New York which offers voice services to UNAMIR and other UN agencies. Data communications over the VSAT link are possible, but line quality is poor and successful connections rare.

UNHCR is also linked to its own regional VSAT network for voice and fax, but e-mail is still being tested.

The quality of local lines within Kigali is good, but there is a shortage of international lines. Call completion rates on international calls are average by regional standards. Telephone services do reach most of the major towns of the country.

Electric power in Kigali is unreliable.

Options for expansion

African Communication Ministers meeting in Addis Ababa earlier in 1995 agreed that building African communications networks should be a development priority. The World Bank and the Internet Society have put out documents detailing options for African Internet initiatives (copies available from the author), and also the USAID's Greater Horn of Africa Initiative has just started planning some specific projects for supporting communications in the region within the broader goal of improved regional food security. African countries joining the Internet over the last few months include Mozambique, Kenya and Namibia.

Rwanda itself, and the international organizations, NGOs and UN agencies (numbering over 120) who work in the country could benefit from an increased national capacity in electronic communications. It would also help in stimulating international awareness of Rwanda's achievements, problems and needs as well as providing a boost to national commerce, education and development.

Political Issues

A number of options are open to pursue greater public connectivity in Rwanda, which can be either in the public sector or the private sector - or both. The issue of government regulation, or the lack of it, is key. Government regulations are significant both in terms of national communication regulations and in terms of the "freedom of information".

Given the appalling misuse of print and broadcast media in the incitement of Rwanda's 1994 genocide, any reluctance by the Rwandan authorities to open up their nation to the Internet must be understood in that context.

On the other hand, opening up the country's media might be argued as a significant element in preventing the possibility of undiluted propanganda ever being able to cause such a holocaust again. The installation of modern electronic communications could give extra leverage to the voices of moderation. It should be noted that groups associated with the former regime and/or suspected genocidaires are active on the Internet from abroad.

It can be argued that the only way to counter this propaganda is by countering it by the same medium. The Ethiopian government, facing a similar situation, has established electronic fora, chaired by the Speaker of the Parliament, to make sure the government's point of view is disseminated as widely as possible.

Options: Private Sector

In Uganda, after the government liberalized communications, two private companies started offering communication services. At no cost to the government, the country was connected full-time to the global networks, allowing access at reasonable cost to the huge variety of information resources the Net contains. The government in fact can charge licensing fees of these companies and duty on the import of equipment, as well as tax on the company's operations in-country.

This might be the quickest and easiest way to implement Internet connectivity in Rwanda - assuming there is a commercial interest willing to invest in the project. RWANDATEL, the state monopoly, would need to give its full permission and perhaps revise or waive some of its regulations.

Options: Public Sector

A number of donors have been involved in the support of electronic networking in Africa over the last few years. Notable among these are Canada's IDRC, USAID, the French research body Orstom, The World Bank, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and UNDP.

This paper is written on behalf of the UN Department of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Economic Commission for Africa's project, Capacity Building for Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA).

The most likely source of funds for the development of Rwanda's networking would be from the USAID's Greater Horn Initiative, which seeks to promote conflict prevention, food security and communications among the nations of the IGADD grouping as well as Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania. CABECA is likely to be an implementing partner.

Technical Options

Assuming a site is found and a technically competent operator can be identified, a basic electronic mail service could be established in Rwanda with capital costs of under $10,000. Running costs - salary for the operator and international telephone bills should be recouped from users either on a flat rate or pro-rata basis, according to the volume of mail. Non-commercial systems in the region generally charge about $10 a month plus $0.15 per kilobyte sent or received.

The system could work either using FIDOnet or UUCP systems, both of which are available as services from companies and institutions in Kampala or Nairobi. Another possibility would be the use of cc: mail which is used already in Kigali, but there is no public access cc:mail internet gateway in the region. Initial training and installation could be done by a Ugandan or Kenyan national conversant with the regional networking environment. Ongoing support could be provided through the East African Internet Association's members' mailing list. The Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Unit of MINIREISO (which receives technical assistance from UNDP, among others) has expressed an interest in manging this kind of service. Also, RwandaTel, the state monoploy has shown interest in electronic connectivity.

An intermediate system would require a higher initial investment in hardware (probably Sun UNIX) and a steeper learning curve for the operator. Running costs for a mail-only system would be similar to the basic option above. Capital costs could be in the $50,000 range.

An full Internet node for Rwanda would require a 64kbps leased line to South Africa, Europe or the US, guaranteed power supply an a front-end investment of at least $100,000. Monthly running costs could be in the region of $15,000. If Rwandatel cannot offer 64k lines, a VSAT station could be installed in Kigali. Given the technical challenges of running this option, in post-war Rwanda, it is not recommended for the public sector at this time.

From: (Ben Parker) Date: 25 Jan 96 10:05:20 +0300 Subject: Electronic Communications in Rwanda Message-Id: <>