Carnegie Mellon University and Rwandan President Paul Kagame announced plans Friday to open a branch campus in his country, making it the first American university to do so in central Africa.
Kagame was greeted by applause from an audience of about 500 people when he spoke at the Pittsburgh school. He said many past efforts to help poor countries through "quick fix" solutions resulted in much of the aid being misused.
Carnegie Mellon's long-term commitment to help build and operate the campus sends a different message, he said.
"I do believe this is evidence of a changing tide in the global partnership," Kagame said.
Carnegie Mellon President Jared Cohon said school was pleased to be educational partners with Rwanda. "Higher education is a key to success in the global economy," Cohon noted in a statement.
Branch campuses are common in the oil-rich Persian Gulf, Europe, and China, as are student exchange programs.
But opening a higher education program in central Africa is an entirely different undertaking, said Bruce Jones, a professor at New York University and author of "Peacekeeping in Rwanda," in which he analyzes events that led to the country's 1994 genocide.
"The odds are very high that that's for the good," Jones said of CMU's plans.
The program will target students from the region and will give preference to Rwandan citizens. Students from around the world can also apply. Students who attend the program in Kigali, Rwanda's capital, will get the same diploma as those who attend Carnegie Mellon's Pittsburgh campus and credits from the two programs will be transferable.
The first degree offered will be a master of science in information technology, followed by a computer engineering degree. The courses will be taught in English and will operate out of an existing building, until a new campus is built.
Carnegie Mellon said the African Development Bank is expected to fund construction of the new campus. The school hopes to have about 40 students next year and up to 150 a few years later.
Pradeep Khosla, the head of Carnegie Mellon's engineering school, said he was amazed on visits to the country by what Kagame's government has accomplished.
Rwanda has made a commitment to boosting access to technology. Mobile phone users increased from 130,000 in 2003 to 2.4 million in 2010, according to the United Nations. Hoping to become a regional high-tech hub, the country has completed a fiber-optic cable project to provide fast Internet access. Meanwhile, its gross domestic product has grown at about a 7.5 percent rate between 2004 and 2010.
Rwandan Minister of Education Pierre Damien Habumuremyi said the school fits well with the country's vision of becoming an economy based on information and communications technology.
Kagame also spoke of efforts to move beyond the horror of 1994, when extremist Hutus killed more than 500,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the country. 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. Outside the building Friday, a few dozen protesters criticized Kagame's human rights record.
Jones agreed some problems persist, in particular human rights issues. But he said the positives 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 has some 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, Amnesty said vague laws against hate speech 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 said.
But Van der Borght noted that Amnesty has seen reports of progress in education and other sectors of the country.