Leapfrogging is so central an idea on Worldchanging that we've given it its own category. We've covered literally hundreds of examples of poorer communities using technology to create new avenues for development for themselves. We've questioned whether the idea can be stretched to funamental infrastructure, whether new showcase efforts like the One Laptop per Child project, even questioned whether leapfrogging is even an adequate description of what's happening in the developing world.
In some fundamental ways, though, the whole argument about leapfrogging development has lacked a test case. That test case, though, may have emerged: Rwanda.
Office workers talking over Skype. Fibre-optic cable snaking hundreds of miles underground and to the top of a 4,500-metre volcano. Paperless cabinet meetings with every minister using a laptop. This may sound like an advanced western country rather than a tiny, poor African state. Yet this is Rwanda, now in the midst of an extraordinary development plan to leap into the 21st century.
More "mobile in every pocket" than "chicken in every pot", the Vision 2020 project aims to rapidly transform a depressed agricultural economy into one driven by information communications and technology (ICT). If it works, the percentage of Rwanda's workforce involved in farming will drop from 90% to 50% in 15 years. By then the country should be the regional ICT hub - a kind of Singapore of the Great Lakes.
There is more to Rwanda's Vision 2020 Plan than leapfrogging (one of the prime goals is "the development of a credible and efficient state governed by the rule of law" for instance, and there's a green element), but it's fascinating to see ICT4D and leapfrogging technologies made so central to a nation's plans for itself. Reading the press reports, it seems very like Estonia's Tiger Leap plan.
That said, it takes more than a plan to change the world.
Transforming a nation's society and economy while building from scratch a new infrastructure is no mean feat. In some places, it may be that it simply can't be done in any short-term way, as Bono and the TED team learned in Ethiopia and some American entrepreneurs are finding in parts of Rwanda. Then, too, some of the kinds of problems that face many developing countries in adopting technology are particularly severe in Rwanda. The essential question is can basic improvements, from democracy-building to movement-building to transparent governance to the creation of a free press to the provision of essentials be better delivered in a nation with a focus on employing new technologies.
Is Vision 2020 the leapfrogging test case? Hard to say from here, but it certainly seems worth watching Rwanda to find out.
Re: the linked article Entrepreneur has quixotic goal of wiring Rwanda, the following quote made me laugh:
"There are some damn good Java programmers out there!" Mr. Wyler shouted over the thick forest below."
If Rwandan hackers are going to leapfrog too, maybe they should be looking at Ruby, Python or Squeak.
I think better for rwandans to beleive they can starts from somewhere to developpe themselfs instead of waiting someone to do it for them. good to have a dream and work hard. from information technology comes something else who knows.For vision 2020 it's hard ,challenging but acheiveble.
Rather like cargo cult technology. Very interesting yet in the long run a bitt beside the point. Making work for bureaucrats while holding out hope to the masses, until time for the next fifteen year plan. A most uncanny genius at work, ja.