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[NAIROBI] A software deal signed between universities in East Africa and the US-based internet giant Google will improve access to web-based communications for staff and students.

Under the deal, Rwanda's government ministries and three Rwandan universities — the National University of Rwanda, the Kigali Institute for Education and the Kigali Institute for Science and Technology — as well as Kenya's University of Nairobi (UoN) will have free access to Google Apps.

The applications include email, shared calendars, instant messaging and word processing software, along with the associated support services provided by the corporation.

The deal, signed last week (19 March), looks set to improve internal communications at UoN and facilitate research, particularly for studies undertaken in remote areas.

The head of information and communication technology at UoN, Elijah Omwenga, says the email application Gmail will be particularly useful in reducing the bandwidth required for internal communications by its 50,000 students and staff.  

He told SciDev.Net that the institution was facing major challenges in acquiring enough bandwidth.

"This means our students and staff can access mail from the campuses as well as from outside. This will facilitate communicating all research, even when it is being done in remote areas," said Omwenga.

However, he called for Google to come up with specific details of the offer, so that Google and the UoN can develop research schemes geared towards Africa's needs — such as developing software in local languages and making it more relevant to the local audience.   


About 20,000 users in Rwanda will have access to Google Apps in the first phase. This will be followed by a broader countrywide introduction.

Students at UoN will be the first to use Google Apps in Kenya. Software access will then be extended to 150,000 Kenyan students at universities across the country.

A Google spokesperson told the International Data Group News Service, "We are exploring other opportunities in both countries, and throughout the region as well."