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Archive for April, 2009

ICT poll coverage Put Rwanda’s Flag high in Africa

Source: The Independent |Monday, 27 April 2009

Last year’s Parliamentary elections in Rwanda put the country in the international limelight for bringing in more than 50 percent of women legislators, the highest on the globe.

As Rwanda made this historical record in gender representation, it also put a show of their technological advance in an election that gave more support to the ruling party Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF).

Past elections coverage in the country have been very much like in many African countries, with citizens getting results after several days and few monitoring what went on across the country.

To avoid election malpractices like ballot stuffing and defective data transmission and tallying that have tainted African elections, Rwanda became one of the few countries on the continent to use Internet Protocol Teleconferencing technology. Using this high tech, the national television- Rwanda Television (RTV), provided live transmissions of parliamentary polls from four areas from upcountry stations.

Laying a fibre cable. Rwanda has the highest density of fibre optic cables in the developing world.

Laying a fibre cable. Rwanda has the highest density of fibre optic cables in the developing world.

The Rwanda Information Technology Authority (RITA) provided the technology that enabled RTV to get live polling, views and comments from ordinary Rwandans at different polling stations in four districts of Rwamagana, Huye, Musanze and Karongi.

This was seen as an outcome of the ongoing process to use ICT to ensure good governance and transparency and in general advancement of democracy.

But the use of ICT to enhance transparency and good governance has not only been limited to the election monitoring. Most meetings in public institutions in Rwanda are using this type of technology to enable video conferencing and to avoid the burden of travelling from one office to another.

It is such improved ICT presence in government organs that has reduced red tape in Rwanda hence improving governance and business environment.

The country’s pledge to use new technologies saw it host the 3rd annual African e-government Forum 2009 last month jointly organised by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) and the Ministry in Charge of Science and Technology in the President’s Office.

E-Government, the use by government agencies of information technologies such as Wide Area Networks, the internet, and mobile computing in the day-to-day running of the country and the Rwandan government through RITA sees it as paramount.

The country has moved to set e-Cabinet, e-parliament projects to ensure all proceedings move from being paper based into soft copies that can be easily accessible and manageable.

The E-Government Unit is assigned to execute the deployment and promotion of the utilisation of ICTs to support the operations and activities of the civil and public services. This is part of a commitment to the transformation of civil and public service to facilitate administrative cost reduction and promotion of efficiency in the delivery of Government services.

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By Kato Mivule | April 20, 2009

Though Joomla (Content Management System) CMS Technology has been around now for quite a while, major Ugandan Media Publications did not jump onto the CMS Technology that quickly.

New Vision Website

New Vision Website

However, Media Outlets like the New Vision which is State owned embraced the CMS technology earlier on but the emphasis by the Web Developers seemed to have been placed on the Back-end of the CMS application that New Vision Newspaper utilized rather than the Front-end dynamics of the CMS Technology.

CMS Technology provides Media Outlets the ability to utilize a Database in which all Media Content is stored in an organized process, this being the Back-end of the CMS Application. Media Content such Newspaper Articles, Advertisement Banners, Graphics, Videos and Audio Files can then be accessed through the Front-end of the website front page, template, or portal.

The Advantages of CMS Technology is that since Content is stored in a Database, it is separate from the Front-end application and should the Front-end falter, then you have documents stored securely in a Database that you could always back-up automatically on separate Data Storages.

The Front-end simply became like clothing that one could change anytime to suit the theme of the company without damaging content.

However, for Ugandan Media Outlets, this new technology meant that they required more expertise beyond that HTML Only Based Web Development. This meant that they had to acquire Web Developers who had very strong backgrounds in MySQL, MSSQL, and Oracle Database Development and at the same time programming skills in Database Manipulation languages like PHP, .Net, Java among others.

Bukedde Website, Notorious for Over Categorization Menus

Bukedde Website - a Luganda Daily, Notorious for Over Categorization Menus and too much navigation that at times you wonder where to start in finding information

This meant that Media Outlets in Uganda had to spend money to retrain and train staff in utilization of the new CMS technologies even if for the most part this Technology is free and under Open Source License agreements. The lack of trained Database Professionals explains the reason why Ugandan Media Outlet Companies took long to transition to CMS Technology.

However, Ugandan Media Outlets are transitioning with fast pace in employing CMS technology. There are problems when one browses a Ugandan Newspaper website. Sometimes the Database is not available; this could be partly due to the numerous Power Outages in Kampala.

Media Outlet Managers in Uganda have to struggle with the issue of “sovereignty” over their content in case the website is hosted outside Uganda, somewhere on a Server in the UK or USA. In such cases, they would rather have their content not available at some time than have any control both over their Servers and Content.

NTV Uganda

NTV Uganda - Uganda's Popular TV Network, a Sister Company with Daily Monitor, good CMS work but content not updated regularly

The other issue is control over the URLs and Search Engine Optimization – SEO. Many times from my browsing experience and Google search of Ugandan Media Outlet Content shows a lack of consistency in Search Rankings.

I have observed how at times ‘Friendly URLs’ are utilized but then after some time a reverse is made back to the ‘Native URL’ structure of the CMS application. In such cases ‘301 Redirects’ are not used to redirect users to the right content, instead users bounce on a ‘404 Page Not Found ‘Error message.

This might be due to the fact that the Ugandan Web Developers are ‘experimenting’ with different SEO software. However, pre-planning in the Web Development process might help overcome such issues.

On the Front-end part, Ugandan Media Outlets like the New Vision have held out to old Templates and not moved forward to newer and more user friendly templates than the one currently used. Yet at the same time New Vision seems to be experimenting with newer templates on the Bukedde Newspaper Website, a local Luganda publication run by the New Vision.

Administered by New Vision, this web portal is never updated, left for the dead

Administered by New Vision, this web portal is never updated, left for the dead, the website is almost lifeless yet with great potential. It was one of Uganda's first web portals...

Browsing through the Bukedde Newspaper Publication Online shows another barricade that Ugandan Web Developers have to deal with. This has to do with over Categorizing Content and can be seen on the Front-end of the website.

The Menu and Navigation system is overdone and with same content repeated in the many Categories and sections of the CMS. One wonders if a visitor will have to browse through each Menu Category just to get to the story. Secondly the Content of the Newspaper website is so much centered on News and Advertisement yet Content on the locality is absent.

Daily Monitor Website, most times the MySQL Server is down,  Troubles with SEO Friendly URLs

Daily Monitor Website, at times the MySQL Server is down, Troubles with SEO Friendly URLs

This does not mean that the Newspaper website becomes a Portal. However, the goal should be that the visitors return to the website and thus more advertisement revenue. Content like Local Housing, Businesses, Employment, Hospitals, Clinics, Markets etc should be part and parcel of Ugandan Media Outlet Websites.

The Independent Magazine, Joomla at its Best but slow MySQL Server and Overdone Navigation

The Independent Magazine, Joomla at its Best but slow MySQL Server and Overdone Navigation

The embrace of CMS Technology is still in the infant stages and of course one does not expect to Ugandan Newspapers to be at par with say the New York Times, LA Times, Guardian UK, Financial Times, or Wall Street Journal websites when it comes to employing CMS Technology.

MyUganda Website - Ugandan CMS at its best but content not updated regulary

MyUganda Website - Ugandan CMS at its best but content not updated regularly

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Kato Mivule | April 14, 2009

Interesting story that appeared today in Uganda’s Daily Monitor…thieves broke into the multi million dollar ICT facility at Makerere University and took off with computer equipment worth 96 Million Uganda Shillings an equivalent of 50,000 US Dollars. The thieves stole RAM and CPUs.

Makerere University Block B ICT Center

Makerere University Block B ICT Center

The ICT Facility has received funding from some of the notable and prestigious I.T companies in the world like IBM, Cisco, Google, and Microsoft among others. The thieves knew that running off with Desktops or Laptops would have them caught that easily and so they resorted to RAM and Processors.

Thugs loot Makerere ICT faculty
Andrew Bagala

Old Kampala
Police is hunting for thieves who over the Easter weekend entered the Information and Communication Technology faculty at Makerere University and stole computer accessories worth over Shs96 million. The Police say the burglars did not break into the building but smartly found their way in. The robbery is captured in the Police’s Easter weekend crime statistics.

Kampala Metropolitan Police arrested 285 people on allegations of terrorising the city and its suburbs during the festive season. Police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba said the suspects are being held on offences ranging from theft of mobile phones, roguish behaviour and robbery.

“Among the arrested are 18 women and we have already sent their files to the Resident State Attorney for advice,” Ms Nabakooba said yesterday. On the Makerere robbery, she said, “Suspected thugs entered the fourth and fifth floors of the faculty and made off with 202 Random Access Memory (RAM) chips and 280 processors worth Shs96.4 million.”

RAM is a chip on which data is stored temporality in a computer. The Police said seven people had been arrested in connection to the incident that happened on Monday at around 9:30pm. They are being held at Wandegeya Police Station. The seven are Mr Bashir Turyahebwa, an Ultimate Security guard, Mr Charles Komakech, a university guard, Mr Mathias Luhima, a laboratory custodian and four laboratory attendants James Omach, John Bosco Tumusiime, Amos Kagaba and B. Mwesigye.

“The thugs didn’t break in but gained entry peacefully which means they either had master keys or keys to the premises. These thugs also opened the doors of the administrators but didn’t take anything,” Ms Nabakooba said.She said the Police had not yet recovered the stolen property.
It was not clear what impact this theft had on the operations of the faculty. Efforts to get to the dean and faculty publicist proved futile as none of them could pick their phones.

Despite the university deploying a big number of security guards, the campus has become prone to crimes ranging from theft and office break-ins. This is the fourth time computer equipment is stolen at the Makerere University in less than a year. The first incident happened in the Faculty of Arts last year.

The crimes forced the Police management to upgrade the university post to a station in order to combat rising crime. Meanwhile, the Police yesterday arrested 14 people on allegations of carrying out mob action that left three people died in Bujuuko in Wakiso District. The suspects, including the LC defence secretary George Wamanya, are accused of killing Moses Kimbowa, Ronald Musisi and George Njub, whom they accused of practicing witchcraft.

However, this brings into question the overall security that the multi million dollar facility. According to the Press Reports, the thieves did not cause any damage or ‘misplace’ any other Item, they only zeroed in on RAM chips and Processors. The thieves are said to have entered “peacefully” according to the Ugandan Press…it seemed they had “master keys” or duplicate keys and found their way inside the multi million dollar facility “peacefully”.

It sounds comical that thieves could make their way “peacefully” into a major African University without any intervention of the Campus Security. This certainly spells out some ‘collaboration’ over this ‘thieving project’, between the Campus Security Guards, some I.T Staff, and perhaps some students.

Makerere University Block A ICT Center

Makerere University Block A ICT Center

The thieves were very knowledgeable about Computers that they surgically let expensive laptops, desktops, and servers and instead settled down on RAM chips and Processors. They knew that they could sell off any of these items without being traced.

However, the main laps in security is with the Makerere ICT Department heads as they have certainly neglected Physical Security as an important component in the overall security of I.T. Secondly, the ICT Department Heads where negligent in handling High-end computer components like DIMMs and Processors.

Yet at the same time the ICT Department is not doing that bad, their policies so far have thwarted the abilities of thieves in stealing expensive desktops, laptops, and servers, among other hardware items. It shows that the Makerere ICT Department can improve on its overall I.T security by placing more emphasis of physical security.

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Kato Mivule | April 6 2009

The current Global Economic Crisis is forcing governments to cut unnecessary spending and the ICT sector is not exempt from this process. This is understandable especially when it comes to African countries in sub Saharan Africa with budgets financed mainly by European donors also reeling back and forth from the global economic melt down.

Take Uganda for instance, donors support 50 percent of Uganda’s budget and in such cases Uganda cannot escape the pains that have come with the global economic recession.[1] Uganda and much of sub Saharan Africa will have to cut back spending on none essentials in their budgets.

However, there are number of ICT Open Source solutions that the Ugandan Government can implement without curtailing ICT growth in Uganda even as the ICT Department suffers budget cutbacks.

Africa Going Open Source

Africa Going Open Source

The overall ICT infrastructure investment is somewhat ‘secure’ from the global recession in Uganda as Government had already secured loans from China for the Fiber Optic Data Transmission Cable across the country. [2] Telecom companies have already invested and laid Wireless infrastructure.

If there is any area that African governments can cut funding during this recession, it is in the ICT Procurement Departments. The problem comes with Software Licenses and agreements that have to be renewed annually in most cases. This places enormous costs on governments that have to spend thousands of dollars just to upgrade and keep up to license agreements for all governments departments, local governments, schools, hospitals, etc.

Microsoft Corporation for example makes some good hefty sales when it comes to both operating systems and software applications in Africa. Microsoft has been one of the biggest proponents of Proprietary Software in Africa and was late last year named in a corruption scandal in Nigeria in which they tried to bribe some government officials into signing up for their proprietary software according to the Wall Street Journal. [3]

The price for proprietary software in Africa is way beyond the incomes levels of many. As of 2003, South African Government alone spent 352 Million US Dollars on licenses and software. [4] This means that other African nations much poorer that South Africa cannot keep up with the price tag that comes with proprietary software.

Ugandan and other African governments can use this current economic crisis to push for the use of Open Source Software and perhaps pass legislation requiring government departments and schools in the education sector to employ Open Source technologies to cut costs.

As African Governments seek to cut spending in budgets due to the current global economic crisis, ICT innovations and developments don’t have to be put on hold. There are numerous Open Source options that ICT managers can turn to and in the long run free African Governments from having to spend millions of dollars paying Multinational Corporations in Software fees and Licenses.

Rather a small percentage of the money being spent on Procurement of Proprietary Software can be channeled for I.T Training, and support services as needed with new Open Source Software Installation and services.

NOTES
[1] New York Times: Uganda’s Presidential Elections, Mary Crane, February 23, 2006
http://www.nytimes.com/cfr/international/slot2_022306.html

[2] IT News Africa: Uganda legislators approve US$75 million for data backbone, Mobile and Telecoms, December 11, 2008
http://www.itnewsafrica.com/?p=1965

[3] Wall Street Journal: Microsoft Battles Low-Cost Rival for Africa, Technology, October 28, 2008
http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122332198757908625-lMyQjAxMDI4MjIzODMyMjgxWj.html

[4] Infoworld: South Africa, Nigeria move on Linux adoption, John Yarney, July 08, 2003
http://www.infoworld.com/t/platforms/south-africa-nigeria-move-linux-adoption-173

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By Kato Mivule | April 3, 2009

Image Scource: Reuters/Financial Times

Image Scource: Reuters/Financial Times

This Picture speaks a lot… The photo was taken at the recent G20 London Summit by a Reuters Photo Journalist but posted on the Financial Times Website… The picture shows a demonstrator throwing a Dell Flat Panel Monitor at the RBS Bank…

The Reuters Photo Journalist did a good job of capturing the Dell Logo and the disgust with which the angry anti capitalist demonstrator threw the monitor at the RBS Bank window. Interesting picture indeed that speaks lots about Corporate America and European Banks.

Is Dell doing enough in  helping bridge the Digital Divide especially in Poor Africa? Is Dell helping out with alleviating poverty and illiteracy across the globe? To be fair Dell is doing a great when it comes to ‘going green’ but have the Dell Publicists failed to connect with the larger ‘Climate Change’ and Green Movement?

Or is it that Dell is simply viewed as simply a ‘For Profit’ Capitalistic Company with no conscience when it comes to issues like poverty, illiteracy, and diseases across the globe?

NOTES

Financial Times: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/6d531e78-1e96-11de-b244-00144feabdc0.html

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