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How Coronavirus Exposed Telcom Companies In Rwanda

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A young man in his mid thirties living in one of the swanky suburbs of Kigali, attempted to place a WhatsApp video call shortly after midnight in two days after the government issued a country-wide curfew.

The phone rang, but the recipient could not pick the call. He received a message saying his Network Operator was not allowing such calls.

He tried a voice call. The phone rang, and popped up the same message, no calls were permitted.

The man became anxious and decided to Google search what was the cause. He found out that such scenarios could have been a result of his settings. He slid in his WhatsApp settings and authorized WhatsApp to use his mobile data to make calls and consume data.

He then made a second attempt.

He rang his friend. All calls were declined. His frustration began to itch him. He wondered why he was able to browse but fail to make calls. He was able to chat though.

He then asked another friend who is conversant with these IT matters. His friend works with a telecommunications company. He was advised to conduct an internet speed test.

Results? Shocking: 256Kbps.

That kind of speed, IT experts have told us, is like the speed last used in the early 90s. “That is like dial-up speed,” one IT expert said. “Such internet is maybe only found in some remotest areas, not in a place like Kigali.”

It turns out that the man’s internet was at the lowest point possible.

Another user, who shared with us his speed test results as seen below, lives in Kanombe, about 5km away from the airport.

Last week, the user in Kanombe who is on MTN network could hardly download a 5MB video, even simple browsing was a problem.

“The lockdown is one thing to have to deal with, but the internet speed especially on MTN is quite another. It is making working from home near impossible and certainly making a bad situation worse,” he said.

Taarifa tried to find out if this was not a specific case to these users.

In Kicukiro, another user conducted a speed test and shared his results: 220Kbps. His test was conducted twice, in March 5 and March 25.

Before the quarantine this user’s location had about 2.5Mbps, but the speed dropped mid March.

“I and my neighbors have called and informed service providers of this weakness. It is now a year and nothing has been done about it. Some body (regulator) needs to act!” he said, angrily.

Apparenrly due to a large number of users hooked on the internet during the lockdown period, telecoms have been experiencing a surge in usage and frequently found difficult coping up.

The burden to provide quality and faster speed internet is not current, but the challenge suddenly escalated during the lockdown because literally every user on smartphones and computers remained active almost 24 hours.

MTN Rwanda CEO told Taarifa that indeed the network operator was experiencing some challenges.

“Yes, the team is receiving these (complaints) and working round the clock to meet the growing demand that has come with everyone working from home,” said Mitwa Kaemba Ng’ambi.

Airtel Rwanda claims it has better internet, but some of its users had similar complaints.

Both operators are facing more or less challenges because they use the same technology, 3G.

Each network has been investing in upgrades to provide sufficient and quality speed, but they have not satisfied their subscribers.

Both operators have no license for 4G connectivity, except for KTRN that enjoys a monopoly.

MTN and Airtel are simply carriers of 4G. The technology belongs to KTRN that provides the connectivity at a wholesale arrangement.

KTRN also has been experiencing troubles with increased demand causing disruptions and thus inability to provide quality internet, prompting users to switch back to MTN or Airtel’s 3G, which is not that good, but stable most of the time.

Note that stability and quality are totally different parameters.

Taarifa is informed that the two operators have had issues with government offering KTRN a monopoly to operate 4G, yet KTRN itself has not met its expectations, although government gave them end of March to have fixed their mess.

After pumping millions of dollars in 3G, the telecoms had less interest in making more investments into 4G before they made return on their initial investment in 3G.

Things moved quickly and Rwanda needed 4G technology, thus offering KTRN the license to operate 4G, but the company has since not made this technology easily available to Rwandans.

Now that the population has increasingly become tech savvy and highly dependent on internet, particularly the youthful demographic, MTN and Airtel are agitating for ways to upgrade and meet the expectations from their subscribers.

Their dilemma is that whatever investment they make, 3G is not what the subscribers want to settle for.

This, experts say, is definitely a policy issue. “The government needs to work out a formula in the interest of the population,” an independent industry expert who has worked in government  before in the sector, and very conversant with the dynamics, told us.

“The regulator (RURA) has to step in and do something, because this issue has been dragging on and on for years,” he said. “A decision has to be made,” he says, “and no one else can make any decision that fixes this problems except government.”

Meanwhile, other internet providers such as Liquid Telecom, are closing in with fiber technology rollout in households and offices with up to 100Mbps. But their numbers are depressing. They serve a small fraction of users and at a premium. Most households still depend on wireless networks than fiber.

According to the Rwanda Utility Regulatory Authority (RURA), there are 9 million active mobile-cellular telephone subscriptions in Rwanda.

The number of internet subscriptions increased from 5,475,448 to 6,234,520 in 2019, representing an increase of 13.9%.

The capacity of international bandwidth increased from 49,074 Mbps to 64,548 Mbps, which accordingly reflected an increase of 31.5%.

The increase in internet subscriptions and capacity of international bandwidth is mainly attributed to the affordability of smartphone devices and flexibility of internet bundles.

However, the problem at play is the capacity of operators to distribute quality and faster connectivity at a given time regardless of how many users are active with unlimited consumption.

While those in the urban areas where there is increased allocation of quality connect complain, those in the countryside don’t bother anymore.

Although users tolerate these disturbing and ubiquitous experiences, thanks to the lockdown that has exposed the weaknesses so vividly, the industry needs a permanent fix sooner than later.

 

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Rwanda Police Chief Briefs 240 Officers Ahead Of S. Sudan Deployment

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The Inspector General of Police (IGP) Dan Munyuza, on Tuesday, March 9, briefed 240 police officers set to be deployed for peacekeeping duties under the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

The pre-deployment briefing of the hybrid Formed Police Unit-One (FPU-1) contingent was held at the Rwanda National Police (RNP) General Headquarters in Kacyiru.

The contingent commanded by Chief Superintendent of Police (CSP) Faustin Kalimba, will replaced the same number in Malakal, Upper Nile State where they will be largely charged with protection of civilians in internally displaced camps, UN personnel, security of key installations and humanitarian assistance, among others.

IGP Munyuza urged the officers to use their experience and the high level of training acquired to execute their peacekeeping mandate effectively.

He further reminded them that they will work with other peacekeepers from different countries and they will have to exercise respect of diversity.

“Learning will be continuous throughout your tour-of-duty, use your experience to build on what your predecessors achieved, cooperative with other peacekeepers in the mission area and respect the people under your protection as well as their culture,” IGP Munyuza emphasized.

He urged them to keep up the good conduct and protect the image set by previous contingents adding that ” you are representing your country, be at the best of your performance.”

“Your country and Rwanda National Police in particular, have full trust in you, resilience and sacrifice are key. Remember, your conduct and professionalism will depict the image and values of Rwandans, ensure your performance is exceptionally good and maintain the same spirit to the end of your mission,” said IGP Munyuza.

The Police Chief reminded them that Rwandan peacekeepers are defined by their professionalism, discipline, teamwork, integrity, values and alertness, and urged them to keep the momentum to “maintain and protect the image and reputation.”

He emphasized that respecting each other and their superiors in particular, discipline, hard work, teamwork, dignity and respect for diversity are strong guiding values and principles which will help them towards mission excellence.

IGP Munyuza appealed to the officers to maintain the spirit of supporting others and to engage in human security activities with the local people they are mandated to serve.

‘’Participating in human security activities is our culture as Rwandans, you should not only conduct peacekeeping duties just to maintain peace and security. It goes beyond that as our tradition to work towards the overall wellbeing of the people,” IGP Munyuza said.

As the wolrd is still faced with the pandemic of COVID-19, the Police Chief reminded them to always observe all health guidelines including wearing face masks, avoiding shaking hands, washing hands and practicing social distancing, among others.

This will be the sixth rotation of FPU-1 hybrid since the first one was deployed in South Sudan in 2015.

It is also one of the three Rwandan FPU contingents currently deployed in South Sudan.

Currently, RNP maintains over 1000 police peacekeepers in various UN missions, including six contingents serving in UNMISS and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA).

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Chinese Companies Win Tender to Construct Railway From Mwanza to Isaka 

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The Standard Gauge Railway from Mwanza to Isaka in neighbouring Tanzania will be constructed by two Chinese Companies that have won a lucrative tender for this job.

Prof. Palamagamba Kabudi Tanzania’s foreign minister said on Thursday during a presser on the eve of the Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi’s two-day visit to Tanzania.

The Mwanza-Isaka railway stretch will cover a distance of 341 kilometres and construction is estimated to cost TShs3 trillion will be handled by China Civil Engineering Construction (CCEC) and China Railway Construction Company (CRCC).

The Tanzanian government through the Tanzania Railway Corporation (TRC) is constructing a 2,561Km SGR network that links Dar es Salaam, Mwanza, Kigoma, Katavi and neighboring countries of Rwanda, Burundi Uganda and DRC.

The over Sh7 trillion project is being implemented in phases with the first round covering 202km between Dar es Salaam and Morogoro, was initially scheduled to be ready by November 2020 but heavy rains disrupted construction works.

Construction of the first and the second phase is being undertaken by Turkish construction company, Yapi Markez.

The first phase will have six main stations at Dar es Salaam, Pugu, Soga, Ruvu, Ngerengere and Morogoro, with the Dar es Salaam and Morogoro stations being the largest.

The second phase which is under implementation involves 422km between Morogoro and Makutupora in Singida with the project set to be completed within 36 months at a cost of $1,924 billion.

The railway is East Africa’s fastest and will use electricity to move trains will travel at 160km per hour and transport 10,000 tonnes of freight which is equivalent to 500 cargo trucks.

Upon completion, the SGR project is expected to payback the investment value after 15 years.

In October 2020, Tanzania government signed $60 million (about Sh138 billion) contract with a South Korean firm to supply trains for the standard gauge railway (SGR).

 

The Citizen

 

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Trump Attacks Election Integrity As Biden Nears 270 Electoral College Votes

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President Donald Trump is testing how far he can go in using the trappings of presidential power to undermine confidence in this week’s election against Joe Biden, as the Democrat contender gained ground in tight contests in some key battleground states.

With his pathway to re-election appearing to shrink, Trump has advanced unsupported accusations of voter fraud to falsely argue that his rival was trying to seize power. Thursday’s moves amounted to an extraordinary effort by a sitting American president to sow doubt about the democratic process.

“This is a case when they are trying to steal an election, they are trying to rig an election,” Trump said from the podium of the White House briefing room.

The president’s remarks deepened a sense of anxiety in the U.S. as Americans enter their third full day after the election without knowing who would serve as president for the next four years.

His statements also prompted a rebuke from some Republicans, particularly those looking to steer the party in a different direction in a post-Trump era.

Electoral college magic number

Neither candidate has reached the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the White House. But Biden eclipsed Trump in Wisconsin and Michigan, two crucial Midwestern battleground states, and has been inching closer to overtaking the president in Pennsylvania and Georgia, where votes are still being counted. It remains unclear when a national winner will be declared after a long, bitter campaign dominated by the coronavirus and its effects on Americans and the national economy.

On Wednesday, The U.S.set another record for daily confirmed cases as several states posted all-time highs. The pandemic has killed more than 233,000 people in the United States.

Rising tensions

Biden spent Thursday trying to ease tensions and project a more traditional image of presidential leadership. After participating in a coronavirus briefing, he declared that “each ballot must be counted.”

“I ask everyone to stay calm. The process is working,” Biden said. “It is the will of the voters. No one, not anyone else who chooses the president of the United States of America.”

 

Biden’s victories in the upper Midwest put him in a strong position, but Trump showed no sign of giving up. It could take several more days for the vote count to conclude and a clear winner to emerge. With millions of ballots yet to be tabulated, Biden already had received more than 73 million votes, the most in history.

Trump’s erroneous claims about the integrity of the election challenged Republicans now faced with the choice of whether to break with a president who, though his grip on his office grew tenuous, commanded sky-high approval ratings from rank-and-file members of the GOP.

Lawsuits and late mail-in ballots

Trump’s campaign engaged in a flurry of legal activity to try to improve the Republican president’s chances, requesting a recount in Wisconsin and filing lawsuits in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia. Judges in Georgia and Michigan quickly dismissed Trump campaign lawsuits there on Thursday.

Trump has held a small edge in Georgia, though Biden has been gaining on him as votes continue to be counted. The same is true in Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead had slipped to about 22,000 votes — and the race is destined to get tighter.

One reason is because elections officials were not allowed to process mail-in ballots until Election Day under state law. It’s a form of voting that has skewed heavily in Biden’s favour after Trump spent months claiming without proof that voting by mail would lead to widespread voter fraud.

Mail ballots from across the state were overwhelmingly breaking in Biden’s direction. A final vote total may not be clear for days because the use of mail-in ballots, which take more time to process, has surged as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Trump campaign said it was confident the president would ultimately pull out a victory in Arizona, where votes were also still being counted, including in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous area.

The AP has declared Biden the winner in Arizona and said Thursday that it was monitoring the vote count as it proceeded.

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