PITTSBURGH — Carnegie Mellon University plans to open a branch campus in Rwanda next year, making it the first American university to do so in central Africa.
The students who attend the program in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, will get exactly the same diploma as those who attend Carnegie Mellon’s Pittsburgh campus, officials told The Associated Press. Credits from the two programs will even be fully transferable.
Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame, was expected to give a speech Friday in Pittsburgh, announcing details of the program. The first degree offered will be a master of science in information technology.“Higher education is a key to success in the global economy,” said Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon.
“Rwanda’s Minister of Education, Pierre Damien Habumuremyi, said the school fit well with the country’s vision of becoming an economy based on information and communications technology.
Branch campuses are common in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Europe, and China, as are student exchange programs. But actually opening a higher education facility in central Africa is an entirely different thing, said Bruce Jones, a professor at New York University and author of “Peacekeeping in Rwanda,” an analysis of the events that led to the country’s 1994 genocide.
“That strikes me as a very significant thing. The odds are very high that that’s for the good,” Jones said of CMU’s plans.
The program will target students from east Africa, and will give preference to Rwandan citizens, the university said. However, students from around the world can apply.
During the genocide, extremist Hutus killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in Rwanda.
Almost a generation later, Rwanda has won international praise for a growing economy, promoting women’s rights and cracking down on corruption. But activists say the economic gains have not been matched by growing freedoms.
Jones agreed there are some problems, in particular surrounding human rights issues, but said the positives in the country still far outweigh the negatives.
“And you’re 15 years after one of the most intensive genocides in human history. The idea we would be past human rights issues in Rwanda is absurd,” he said. “There has to be some historical perspective here.”
Erwin van der Borght, Africa Program Director for Amnesty International, said the group does have some important concerns about human rights issues in Rwanda.
“Amnesty has an ongoing dialogue with the government. At the same time it’s a very difficult environment for human rights groups, to operate in a situation where people were scared to speak out,” van der Borght said.
In a report on the situation, Amnesty said that vague laws against hate speech which were introduced after the 1994 genocide are now “misused to criminalize criticism of the government and legitimate dissent by opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists.”
Amnesty also noted the 2010 murder of Rwandan journalist Jean-Leonard Rugambage, who had published an article alleging that Rwandan intelligence officials were linked to the attempted killing of a former head of the army.
“The investigation is not to our satisfaction,” van der Borght told AP.
Van der Borght did note that Amnesty has seen reports of progress in other sectors of the country, such as education.
There’s no dispute about the Rwandan government’s commitment to boosting access to modern technology.
According to the United Nations, mobile phone users grew from just 130,000 in 2003 to 2.4 million in 2010 (out of an 11.4 million population), and the country aims to become a regional high-tech hub. Rwanda has completed a fiber-optic cable project to provide fast Internet access, and the country’s gross domestic product grew at about a 7.5 percent rate between 2004 and 2010, an exceptional rate.
Pradeep Khosla, the head of Carnegie Mellon’s school of engineering, said that he’s been amazed on visits to the country by what Kagame’s government has accomplished.
“I think it’s an opportunity that’s clearly waiting to happen,” he said of the Rwanda plan.
And Carnegie Mellon isn’t alone in seeing potential in Rwanda: The African Development Bank is expected to fund construction of the new campus, the school said. The program aims for about 40 students next year, and up to 150 a few years later.