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Airtel builds data & human capital in Rwanda

Interview - August 30, 2016

From its focus on human resources and community-based social programs to its pledge to deliver on ICT access and value, particularly in data services, Airtel Rwanda is intent on building up the nation’s capacity, both in ‘virtual’ and real-life terms. Managing Director Michael Niiboye Adjei explains the developments shaping Rwanda’s ICT sector and why it “is certainly the place to invest today for the future.”



Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, said three key priorities for Africa are build infrastructure, build institutions and build its people. How would you assess Rwanda’s policies towards and the capacity ICT has in building people?

It is indeed true that the three pillars mentioned form a critical aspect of Africa’s development journey and I would say that building the capacities and capabilities of the people are most important. Rwanda’s approach in this regard is more significant as it continues to prioritize ICT education amongst the youth. The initiative to ensure that each school-going child is provided access to a laptop is a step in the right direction. This demystifies ICT to the growing youthful population. Similarly, deepening ICT education in tertiary education is very important. The begging question is how we also enhance the instructional capabilities of teachers. The people transferring skills and knowledge to the youth must be equipped, well trained and aligned to global trends in ICT.


One of the main topics to be discussed during The Global African Investment Summit regards the inclusive TFTA agreement. What is the role of ICT in serving regional integration efforts?

East Africa as a whole has made a lot of progress in ICT development. I belong to the Telecom Assembly of the East African Communications Organization (EACO). The purpose of this organization is to push for the total integration of common regional solutions. It is a key initiative to develop ICT not only in Rwanda, but in the sub-region as a whole. The members of EACO have recognized this forum as appropriate in identifying and integrating common solutions necessary for regional integration. The next challenge is to make sure that all these policies translate into tangible benefits.

As the Chairman of the Telecom Assembly, my mandate is to bring on board all the operators and stakeholders from other countries in translating policies into realities. We will continue to collaborate with policy makers within the region in transforming EAC as the ICT hub of Africa and we must work collaboratively towards this common goal.


In a recent interview, Maurice K. Toroitich from KCB told us that the private sector is a lot more agile in seeking to take advantage of the integration agenda and governments are still trying to catch up. What is your take in this affirmation?

My view is that government agencies are providing the needed framework and it is up to the private sector to take full advantage of it. The bureaucracy has historically been very methodical in its approach to work, and risk taking is not necessarily a part of their diction. This presents them as not being agile and brisk to the needs of the private sector.

However, the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) is playing a very laudable role in attracting and facilitating ease of business. We also have the Private Sector Federation, which embodies all the private enterprises. Our activities are led by this coalition in ensuring that we are presented as a cohesive and unified development partner. The Private Sector Federation engages with all institutions, private and public alike, in making sure that we present one voice in shaping policy. When the PSF speaks, government listens and that is how we are collaborating for our mutual benefit.


What is your opinion of the investment climate in Rwanda?

Rwanda’s investment climate is very welcoming. First of all, there is easy access to information required in making investment decisions and mostly found online. The RDB also provides a simple and effective format to ensure timely and effective business transactions. Investors look for secure and stable environments to conduct their business. In Rwanda, economic stability is guaranteed and inflation is relatively low in comparison to other African countries. The macroeconomic fundamentals are stable and predictable, and with a growing market that targets the EAC, Rwanda is certainly the place to invest today for the future.


Rwanda is striving to become the ICT hub of the region. What are the comparative advantages of Rwanda to become this hub?

First and most importantly is the willingness of the government to make this happen. You will find every single person in the government speaking on this objective to transform the country into the region’s ICT hub. There are no contradicting opinions on this matter. Having a unified political will is critical to achieve such a target.

Secondly, the investments being made today are a clear attestation of that fact. When you look at the size of Rwanda and at the investments that have been made, it is clear that both public and private sectors are effectively creating the required positive investment climate for ICT development. There is huge investment in the fiber-optic network and 4G, and these are some of the ingredients needed to position one as a hub for innovation. The drive towards a cash-light economy also presents the opportunity for ease of payment, improved cross-border trade, and deepening of financial inclusion. This will certainly form the required impetus for e-commerce both within and outside Rwanda.

The focus to develop human capital in ICT and the imminent creation of a fund to support entrepreneurship in technology and innovation adds to my strong belief in this vision.


One of the key targets of the Vision 2020 Plan is to transform Rwanda into a middle-income nation and to achieve a cashless society. How is Airtel contributing to achieving these objectives?

We are a key player in the mobile money arena. We offer our services to various segments of the public. We facilitate the cashless or the cash-light economy through Airtel money. It is possible to make all payments via the Mobile Money platform! It is all about convenience and speed. Airtel is in 15 countries in Africa and we aim at integrating this entire footprint, making possible cross-border mobile money transfers across existing footprints. This should promote trade and ultimately lead to economic empowerment. That is how Airtel is contributing to this greater vision.


Bharti Airtel Ltd is the third largest mobile operator in the world, by subscriber base, and has a presence in 20 countries. How are you taking advantage of the synergies with the group?

Airtel is a very significant player in the telecommunication industry and we leverage on our understanding of ICT from other areas outside Africa to shape policy making. This can be seen in the area of spectrum management and tariff harmonization, just to mention a few.


Airtel has a market share of 19%, a 3% increase compared to 2015. In what pillars will your strategy be based in order to fuel your future growth in Rwanda?

I will touch on two areas. First is data. ICT and innovation can and must thrive on efficient data services. Our promise has always been to deliver on access and value. We offer our subscribers the best and most affordable tariffs. We continue to invest in our 3G network, and this explains our being the data provider of choice in Rwanda. It is not by coincidence that we provide internet services to the Kigali Convention Center, which hosted the AU Summit and RwandAir. These two institutions represent what Rwanda stands for and we are happy to partner them in this regard.

The other pillar is to build the capacity of our people in ensuring that we have the best talent in the organization to drive the growth we aspire to.


What are the responsibilities big brands such as Airtel have towards the communities they operate in? Where is your CSR campaign headed?

In CSR we focus on the key areas of: technology, education, health and economic empowerment. In the area of technology, our ultimate aim is to plug into the ambition of making Rwanda the ICT hub of the region. We have quite a number of activities that we run with institutions of higher learning.

We also partner the Ministry responsible for Youth and ICT in moving ICT to various communities through road shows. The idea is to take ICT to all communities for people to experience and understand how technology can transform their lives.

The other three areas are being pursued through the vehicle we call “Airtel Touching Lives.” We visit different communities, identify their needs and fulfill those needs. We have so far provided business opportunities to many, and provided shelter, education and health services to the economically challenged. We also collaborated with Rwanda Social Security Board in providing health insurance to deprived homes. These are but a few of the initiatives we are pursuing to improve the lives of the people of Rwanda.


You have been leading Airtel Rwanda since October 15, 2015, following a strategic plan to further drive commercial leadership and deepen Airtel’s engagement with the customer. What drives you to lead Airtel Rwanda and what is the milestone you want to achieve the most?

As Airtel Rwanda’s Managing Director, my ultimate goal is to partner the government in the development agenda of Rwanda through technology – easy access to the internet for individuals to communicate to their loved ones, empower SMEs seize global opportunities, and help position corporate Rwanda as the most efficient and competitive in Africa. My over-arching ambition is to positively impact on the lives of ordinary Rwandans and be seen not merely as a corporate citizen, but a development partner.