East Africa was the world’s last major region without submarine fibre-optic broadband internet access, and until the summer of 2009 had been forced to rely on slow and costly satellite connections for access. However, the region has recently been connected via fibre-optic cable, in theory, allowing much greater speeds at much lower prices.
This rapid transformation in the region’s connectivity has prompted politicians, journalists, academics, and citizens to speak of an ICT-fuelled economic revolution happening on the continent. However, while some research has been
conducted into the impacts of ICTs on economic processes and practices, there remains surprisingly little research into the impacts of changing connectivity on economic processes and practices in East Africa. This report focuses on changing connectivity in the Rwandan tea sector, seeking to understand precisely what impacts changing connectivity is having, who benefits, who doesn’t, and how these changes interlink with expectations for change.
We found that digital connectivity is increasingly important to the tea industry in Rwanda. However, the benefits of changing connectivity are generally being felt upstream in the Rwandan tea industry (for instance, by enabling higher volumes of production). The goal now should be to improve benefits further down the production chain for farmers and co-operatives. This can be done through more active support of connectivity in tandem with skills building and adapting technologies and services to be more appropriate.