Big deal it is. Down memory lane, in the late 1990s, a group of computer hobbyists used to meet for evening drinks on a regular basis in Wandegeya (a then suburb of Kampala) and discussing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) always dominated their agenda. They talked about anything Linux, UNIX and Slackware which happened to be their favourite Linux flavour. Almost twenty years ago, this small group of techies knew too well the benefits that FOSS had to offer to the nascent IT industry in Uganda. Using backdoors, they sneaked FOSS solutions in their work places only to later be commended for saving their organisations from high software expenses.
Back then, selling FOSS to Government institutions and even private sector companies was akin to selling a fridge to an eskimo. Most of them either used pirated software, were scared of the uncertainity around FOSS or in extreme cases, the line personnel benefitted from the expensively priced proprietary software in form of cuts. This therefore deprived the FOSS offering of incentives to go mainstream.
On this historic Wednesday, the Government was interfacing with the IT community to discuss among others the draft FOSS and Open Standards Policy and the National FOSS Strategy. This is the very reason that made it indeed historic, finally FOSS has arrived. While a few other African countries make mention of FOSS in their ICT related policies, one can hardly identify those that have come up with specific policies and strategies addressing FOSS. South Africa and now Uganda are going the extra mile to take the bull by the horn with the hope that others may follow.
With a vision of building a knowledge based society that benefits from the adoption of a holistic and focused Open Source Software eco-system, Uganda's FOSS Strategy has outlined some of the following objectives;
• Improving efficiency and transparency in the Public Sector
• Reduction and Cost efficiency in spending on IT Solutions
• Promoting Technology Independence
• Build a sustainable FOSS community
• Improve Public awareness on FOSS
• Encourage and support SMEs utilisation of ICTs
Analysing these objectives in detail, one can see decipher that;
• The Government of Uganda is concerned about the apparent unjustifiable high spend on ICT software.
• The Government of Uganda has realised that it can fall back to its local skilled human resource to acquire software solutions and support while at the same time reducing dependence on foreign dominance hence saving the country the unnecessary outflow of foreign exchange.
The Government of Uganda hopes to minimise the security threats posed by some of the current proprietary software solutions that have been found to provide backdoors
to leading global spying agencies.
The draft FOSS policy sets the following expectations;
• Government agencies shall actively and fairly consider both FOSS and Proprietary software solutions during procurement.
• In cases where there isnt any significant cost difference between the FOSS and Proprietary solutions, FOSS shall take precedence on the basis of its additional flexibility
• Those putting forward IT solutions for Government shall be expected to develop a suitable FOSS/Proprietary software mix and shall prove evidence of this during the procurement exercise.
• Government will wherever possible avoid becoming locked into proprietary software.
On Open Standards
, the Government wants to have the flexibility to achieve inter-operabilityof systems, avoid vendor lock-in, promote transparency and follow the more cost effective “build once, use many times” approach. In this regard, some of the expectations set are as follows;
• All IT investments shall be expected to comply with Open Standards.
• A review shall be done of all existing IT systems for Open Standards compatibility.
• General purpose software developed for government shall be released on an open source basis.
• In case of systems, designs or architecture already owned by the Public Sector, the Government will expect them to be reused and that commercial arrangements will recognise this.
• Request for Proposals (RFPs) shall require that software vendors clearly identify whether their solutions are fully functional using open standards.
The draft documents have been made public for comments and are available on the ICTAU Website
for perusal. Be a part of history, lets all participate in changing the IT Landscape of Uganda and by extension Africa through ensuring that we have a well designed, adopted and successfully implemented FOSS and Open Standards Policy. You dont have to be Ugandan to facilitate this process, all are welcome. Uganda's FOSS community needs you to realise this dream.