Archive for January, 2009

By Kato Mivule

According to Ugandan Press, Telecom companies are in a celebratory mood after subscribers reached 8 Million in number, given Uganda’s population of about 30 Million, which is a very significant number in the still relatively new Telecom companies in Uganda.

“Uganda’s mobile telecommunications subscriber base now stands at 8.2 million, a growth rate that is not only underscoring the pace at which Ugandans are embracing technological change but also the boundless commercial potential embedded in that deep yearning for new technologies.” The Daily Monitor        http://www.monitor.co.ug/artman/publish/business_power/Telecom_subscriber_base_now_stands_at_8million_78839.shtml

The future for Telecom companies looks great with the ever increasing middle class in Uganda that places demand for faster and better communication. It is a wonder for one to walk the streets of Kampala, Uganda’s Capital and find almost every other person with a mobile phone, which was considered a luxury for only the rich and wealthy just a few years ago.

From the Boda-Boda (Motorcycle Taxi) folks to politicians, communication has been made very easy.  Local businesses have taken on the Telecom infrastructure and used it to transact business more easily.

Take for instance, a Matoke (Banana Plantain – A staple food in Buganda, Uganda’s central region) dealer does not have to board a Taxi to go to Masaka (a Town in Uganda) from Kampala to place orders for Matoke, he simply calls and this makes his business much easier…  The Telecom Boom in Uganda is really remarkable and revolutionary.

However, despite the Telecom advances and the growing number of subscribers, major challenges remain that daunt Africa in growing out of its plight. There still remains poverty, diseases, and illiteracy.

The moral challenge for Telecom companies in Uganda which are currently harvesting huge profits from the exponential number of subscribers is to find ways to employ the current Telecom infrastructure to fight Poverty, Illiteracy, and Diseases.  It is in their interest to do so, rather than just focus on making hefty profits. A healthy society, an educated people, and a financially stable population will be of real ‘interest’…

Many Ugandans, who own Mobile Phones, only use them for making and receiving calls but perhaps more can be done. There is no doubt that Telecom companies in Africa are the current “Big Thing”.

However, many are still locked in the idea of simply increasing subscribers. Telecom companies in Uganda are among the largest spenders when it comes to advertisement, with budgets that would catch the attention of a Western Marketing Agent.

Telecom companies can move to show Ugandans and Africans that they can utilize the current Telecom Infrastructure to better their lives and fight diseases, poverty, and illiteracy. In the long run it is the Telecom companies that benefit from the increased usage of their infrastructure.

It is time Uganda’s Telecom companies moved beyond ‘Subscribers’ and “Boundless Commercial Potentials”… When Africans fare well, Telecom companies will fare even well…

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By Kato Mivule

I.T Experts agree that Africa generally lags behind when it comes to Information Technology. There are a number of benefits that could be derived from the use to technology, especially in the fight against Disease and Poverty, including illiteracy.

However, the greatest hindrance to the full utilization and deployment of Information Technologies in Africa has largely been due to Cost. The cost of procuring both Hardware and Software is astronomical and most African Governments cannot afford the purchases.

Most African Governments in the sub-Saharan region rely on Donor funds to help make such technological investments but at very minimal levels such as upgrading Central Banks and other critical financial institutions computer systems.

Many other government agencies are left to fend for their own. I recall visiting the Immigration Center in Uganda and going to the storage room were records are kept. Surprisingly, most of the records are kept in paper form and in cardboard files, most of which have been eaten by moth, dampness and mice.

No wonder there is such an alarming rate of forgery and impersonation when it comes to acquiring a Ugandan Passport. Ugandan Immigration Services would find it very difficult to locate a Passport Application of someone who applied in 1980 but happened to pass away… However, such is the sickness with which records and kept in many African Government Agencies, just naming Uganda as an example.

Well, the problem is that even when the prices of hardware keep coming down, the prices of software kept going up and making the accessibility to the latest Information Technologies out of reach for many in Africa.

Interestingly enough is that Microsoft does not cut its prices for software sales in Africa. License Agreements stay the same as when one purchases the same software package in the West. Secondly, one has to keep upgrading and with each upgrade is more money. You will find that some institutions that manage to upgrade to the latest version of Microsoft in 2003, will not do so for another 10 years because of price.

Ironically it is Bill Gates and his Foundation has been one of the main donors for funds to fight against disease, illiteracy and poverty in Africa. However, if Bill Gates sends A Million Dollars to help fight against HIV/AIDS in Africa, then Microsoft takes that Million Dollars away through high price tags and recurring license fees for their software.

Things seem to be changing, not to sound pessimistic but the economic downturn and recent shakeup at Microsoft with Windows 7 verses Vista, and Layoffs, will maybe help those in Africa look for alternatives such as Open Source Technologies and perhaps force Microsoft to lower their price tag and cut the strings that come attached with it. Even in Africa, the days of a Microsoft Monopoly might be coming to an end.

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by Kato Mivule

Makerere University opened a multi-million dollar I.T center, thanks in part to global companies like Google, Rockefeller Foundation, HP, Nokia, Siemens, and Sun Microsystems. Makerere University now has a clear role to play when it comes to providing solutions to poverty, illitracy, and diseases and how Information Technology can help in this cause.

MAKERERE University has opened a computing and information technology centre to develop local computer software. The 12,000sq metre complex valued at over $20m is expected to connect over 100 universities in 13 African countries with India in e-education. It is part of the Faculty of Computing and Information Communication Technology (ICT).
Makerere IT centre to link 100 varsities – New Vision

There has always been a school of thought that public universities should not use tuition fees to invest in long-term projects. Proponents of this argument reason that such projects should be left to the government and donors; with tuition fees going into short-term necessities like buying chalk, books, computers and paying staff emoluments. But as Makerere University’s CIT faculty has demonstrated; this is not always true. For example, just before the new centre can be opened, the Netherlands government, Rockefeller Foundation, HP, Nokia, Siemens, Sun Microsystems and Google have donated equipment worth over Shs5 billion. The returns will even be bigger when the centre becomes operational.
Lessons from Makerere Computer Complex – Daily Monitor

However, Makerere University should be held accountable to the standards that they have set. They now have the ‘I.T capital’ needed to move forward… Many projects get started in Africa with the funding of donors but end up wasted and never yield the results.

Will Makerere set a new standard and fully utilise the ‘I.T Capital’ given to them or will it go to waste as other projects in Africa? Two years from now, what will Makerere CIT offer in reports in regard to how they have been able to help provide solutions Uganda’s nuemrous problems ranging from poverty to disaeses? We hope that the Makerere CIT center does not just become another ‘Kampala Internet Cafe’…

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By Kato Mivule

Telecom companies in Kenya are not pleased with the introduction of a New tax called the ‘Rural Access Fee’ Tax of one percent. The purpose of this tax is not explained that well but seems to be focused on having more I.T accessibility for the Rural Kenya.

“…Already among the most taxed telecommunications companies in the world, Kenyan mobile phone firms are crying foul over the introduction of a new tax in the form of a Rural Access Fee in the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act, which is now law…Already we must pay 10 per cent excise duty and 16 per cent VAT on all airtime — this development could hamper the growth of the industry and will cause price erosion,” said Mr Rene Meza, managing director of Zain Kenya. Mr Meza said the additional tax would burden proposed budgets for mobile firms which are already taking a beating from reduced profit margins in the ongoing price war and said the development could even lead to a reduction in new products and services from the mobile players…”
Kenya telecoms fault new tax on airtime – Daily, Monitor

While the cause behind the taxation might be noble and a ‘right cause’, Kenyan Telecom companies are right in ‘crying foul’ as they already pay hefty prices when it comes to Mobile Communication Taxes.

This move alone could hamper the growth of Telecommunication in the rural areas that the Kenyan Government seems to target with this new tax. With already 10 percent Exercise Tax and 16 percent VAT is already way too much…

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Attended Longview Community College – Missouri. Studied Computer Science at the University of Missouri – Kansas City and pursuing further studies in the same… Very much interested in Information Technology and how it can be used as a tool for development in Africa.

On this Blog I will also endeavor to keep track of Western Nations and their contribution to I.T. Development in Uganda, and Africa at large… Are Western Nations ‘working hard’ to help ‘bridge’ the digital divide?

I will be documenting Information Technologies as reported in Uganda, both Historical articles, Present and Future… Interested in Open Source Technologies and How they can be enhanced to alleviate Poverty, Ignorance, and Diseases in Uganda and Africa.

God Bless
Kato Mivule

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By Kato Mivule

Uganda Telecom companies dismissed impact of the current global crisis on their operations in Uganda. A Newspaper report sited one Telecom executive saying that the global economic crisis will not have any impact whatsoever…

Speaking at a press briefing on Monday, Mr Tushar Kant Mahashwari, Warid Telecom’s chief commercial officer, dismissed fears that industry players would scale down on their investments as the economic slowdown continues to bite in the New Year. “The communication sector might feel some effects but will not be impacted seriously because it is a way of life, which is required by everyone,” he said. “In telecoms, we do not hope to see a scaling down of investments in the telecom sector in the short run. Some of the other industries are scaling down but in the telecom we do not hope to see this. We have not felt any impact whatsoever.”

However, this Telecom executive seemed to be either ignorant of what is going on globally or simply doing PR by painting a rosy picture that all is well in order not to scare off clients.

On the other side, it shows how some business executives have really not prepared and are not proactive at all… The Telecom executive seems to enjoy his moment of ‘bliss’ not knowing what the implications of the current global crisis could translate to, in Uganda.

The Telecom Executive forgets that though his company might have a secure line of Credit and might have their books in order, many of his clients depend on funds from outside Uganda to buy services from his company.

If the current economic crisis deepens, many Ugandan clients will loose ‘their line of credit’ and that would mean less calls and less sales. Cell phones are relatively new and not more than 10 years, and Ugandans still have memories of living without cell phones which they could very well resort to in case the global economic crisis deepens.

The Telecom executive cannot “extend” in any circumstance “free credit” to Ugandans to make phone calls… Rather than dismiss the implications of the current Global Crisis on Uganda, the Telecom Executive is better off becoming proactive and setting measures in place on how to respond should the global economic crisis hit Uganda.

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By Kato Mivule

China once again is at the helms of I.T infrastructure development in Africa. According to news reports, Uganda’s Legislative Body approved US $75 Million loan borrowed from China to install the second and third phases of Uganda’s Fiber Optic Data Transmission Backbone.

Uganda’s parliament has approved a US$75 million loan for the second and third phases of the country’s national data transmission backbone, ICT Minister Ham Mulira announced. In addition, a fourth phase has been added to the project in order to connect the war-torn region of Northern Uganda, which was not included in the original broadband infrastructure plans, Mulira said…China’s Huawei Technologies is executing the job, while China Exim Bank is funding the project with a $106 million loan. The Ugandan government has provided an additional $5 million for the project.
Uganda legislators approve US$75 million for data backbone

China is definitely increasing her foreign policy muscle economically in Africa while other Western Nations tend to lay focus on Human Rights and Democracy. China’s investments in the area of Technology are increasing in Africa yet Western Nations have largely been reluctant to invest in the continent.

In years to come China might have a more powerful say in the affairs of Africa than the West. However, this will not advance the causes of “democracy” and “freedom” as the West defines it.

Rather, China will advance its own form of ‘rule’ which is very favorable with many dictators across the continent of Africa, that is, China places a strong hand against dissent and largely controls the flow of information. There is no better gift than to have a dictator gag freedom of expression and control flow of information. This is what should scare the heck out of any Ugandan…

What will be the implications to Freedom of Speech, Dissent, Democracy, Freedom of Worship etc when China controls the National Data Transmission Backbone of Uganda? Will China not at one time seek to move in troops to protect her investments?

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