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Drones in Rwanda: Might There Be a Hidden Agenda?

By John On:21 October 2016

The U.S. start-up company, Zipline, intends to transport blood, plasma and coagulants across rural areas of western Rwanda, in order to do away with long waiting periods.

document 7508 Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAV, are not a new invention, they can be traced back to the Second World War, and even earlier. They have mostly been used for military purposes to kill or drop explosives into a particular region while the pilots steer the device from the comfort of their seat at their base. However, as time has gone by and technology has advanced, drones have also been put to commercial use, for photography, delivery and agriculture, which have all fuelled innovation. Simultaneously, as convenient as drones have proven to be, their controversial nature should not be taken for granted. When nations use unmanned aerial vehicles to gather intelligence and survey others, it puts the sovereignty and privacy of that nation at risk. This is one of the main reasons why many African countries are reluctant to open their borders to drones use, because it may place sensitive and confidential information in the hands of whichever foreign government, who may use it to their advantage. This is the contention that surrounds the use of drones in Rwanda for medication transportation, as well as the intention to build the world's first drone port. The U.S. start-up company Zipline intends to transport blood, plasma and coagulants across rural areas of Western Rwanda, in order to do away with long waiting periods. The cost for these operations is said to be the same as those for current delivery via motorbike or ambulance. Although this could be to the benefit of the Rwandan people, the issue that arises is how would these drones be regulated. How would they be able to ensure that the use of the drones is exclusively for the transport of medication and blood and not for the additional purpose of gathering intelligence of the country, or that of its neighbors? Furthermore, what is interesting is that according to Reuters, in 2013 Rwanda openly opposed the U.N.'s deployment of drones in Eastern Congo, saying that "Africa shall not become a laboratory for intelligence devices from overseas." However, President Kagame ceded to the idea of opening the country's frontiers to drones, in the name of peace building. Thus, three years later, the nation is not only welcoming the use of these devices but will be the site for the world's first airport reserved exclusively for drones, whose operations are set to begin in the year 2020. On the one hand, the use of drones could accelerate the transportation of medical supplies across the country, which could, in turn save several lives. They could also be used for deliveries, the news and/or agriculture. Another very important role unmanned aerial vehicles could play on the continent is to produce wireless internet sources, catering to the United Nations declared basic human right as well as enhance Africa's technological progress greatly, creating numerous job and entrepreneurial opportunities that would catapult the country right into the foreground of development. On the other hand, history has shown time and time again that foreign, humanitarian-inspired intervention exposes the uneven playing field between countries of economic superpower and those who are in the process of development; the former tends to set the tone for the way in which the relations between the countries will unfold, meaning that the latter is often expected to conform to the context established, thus instead of making the relations between the two of joint-agency and cooperation, it rather perpetuates those based on superiority and dependence, which is the main avenue neo-colonialism. Moreover, although the drone port to be established in Rwanda is reserved specifically for commercial use, the fact that there are countries, such as the U.S., who already have drone bases in parts of Africa means that this drone port could serve as a strategic move to be able to keep a close eye on the happenings on the continent in order to gain tactical information or to mobilise troops if need be. Thus, it is not to say that all drone use be banned, as Zipline has made it clear that their operations will strictly be commercial as opposed to military, however specific regulations should be put in place that ensures that all activities conducted by these drones be monitored so as not to infringe on the privacy of civilians and the confidentiality of sensitive information meant only for Rwandan and/or other African governments. {{Jimirasire}}

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