Rwanda this week launched the upgraded e-government services platform —Irembo.
With the upgrade, came not only improved navigation but also an increase in the number of services, which now stand at 98. Expiry dates for some certificates have also been scrapped.
Despite this significant progress, a bigger challenge now facing the team at IremboGov is how to ensure that many more Rwandans begin to independently navigate the platform as many still use commercial agents, who charge for their services, due to limited digital skills and access to smartphones.
Others are unfortunately illiterate adults, to whom the thought of going online simply scares them as they fear to be exposed.
Therefore, as the government moves to migrate most of its services into the virtual space, deliberate efforts are needed to ensure this goes in line with addressing the existing digital divide.
While innovations such as IremboGov made possible by advancements in information and communications technology (ICT), are transforming ways in which crucial public and private services are offered and have been integral part of life in the 21 century.
There is a big risk of many being left behind due to lack of digital skills. Moreover, access to smartphones is still limited. Figures show only 1.6 million Rwandans have smartphones of the 10 million who are connected to mobile phones.
The ongoing Connect Rwanda initiative is expected to help bridge the gap but one has to be cautiously optimistic as the initiative is not a magic bullet.
While the initiative will address access, the bigger challenge will be how to ensure that the phones that are distributed are put to use optimally by the users.
The impact of Connect Rwanda would have been far reaching if it had been preceded by a nationwide digital literacy campaign to create awareness and equip the targeted population with the required skills.
At the moment, many Rwandans still use their phones only for voice and text messages. There is a risk that some of the beneficiaries of Connect Rwanda may fail to use the smartphones or even sell them simply because of digital literacy.
There is a need for an integrated approach that prioritises educating masses to understand how and appreciate the opportunities.