Information Technology in Rwanda

By John Weber

Rwanda has progressed by leaps and bounds in scores of socioeconomic areas since I first visited in 2005.  Computing is no exception.  Small computing stores abound all carrying the latest and greatest from laptops to network printers.   However, knowledge is lacking on how to use the equipment most effectively.  The pace of life in Rwanda is also a lot slower than I am used to.  When I arrived at the Faith Victory Association (FVA) office, I was asked if it would be possible to network their copier so everyone could print to it.  Normally, this would be very simple.  Insert network cable into printer, point the individual computers to the new network printer (about 10 mouse clicks) and install the printer software.  It’s normally a simple task that shouldn’t take more than a half hour and ideally less than 10 minutes.  In Rwanda, it’s proven a little more difficult.

First, discover that the copier was never purchased with a network card so it can’t be shared at all (significant oversight on the part of the sales department)!  A network card for this model is not readily available so we’ll have to connect it directly to one computer and share it from that computer.  We’ll need a USB cable to make that one connection.  I head downtown to the small but numerous computer stores to find a USB cable.  The price is excellent, less than $10.00 U.S. dollars.  But my instructions are a) get prices, b) call to get purchase approval, c) the cable will be purchased later the same day but by another FVA staffer after the money is obtained to buy the cable.

The cable was finally purchased and I set out to connect the printer a few days later.  First problem, the cable isn’t working properly.  Second problem, it takes a few hours to find out the problem is with the cable.  Normally I would just grab a laptop and another cable back in Minnesota and test each piece until I find the problem.  Unfortunately, there are no spare laptops or cables so I have to unplug another printer to test the cable and bump someone off their working computer to test where the issue lies.  Of course that means they have to sit thumb-twiddling while I use their stuff as I struggle to find why such a simple computer-to-printer connection isn’t working.

Finally I find that the cable is too long and that the data signal is getting too weak over the cable for the printer to properly print.  The only available computer to connect the computer to is the Executive Director’s old desktop.  The shorter cable I scavenged from another printer works properly but not without rearranging the furniture in the director’s office so that the short cable will reach the printer.  Unfortunately, he isn’t available so I’ll have to meet with him tomorrow.  Do we try another long cable or do we re-arrange his office?  Only time will tell, if I see him tomorrow.