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Uganda''s Open Source friendly Policies and Sleeping FOSS Community

By James Wire

Added 21st July 2014 12:26 PM

The active talk of Open Source Technologies took root in Uganda during the mid 90s when a few enthusiasts started experimenting with the use of software like Linux which was in its infancy back then.

By James Wire Lunghabo

The active talk of Open Source Technologies took root in Uganda during the mid 90s when a few enthusiasts started experimenting with the use of software like Linux which was in its infancy back then. 
It was such a challenge for the initial Open Source promoters to break through onto the corporate scene and later the Government. The rampant piracy of software that existed then (and still exists) made most software consumers disregard the issues that were being raised by the Open Source Software community against the blind adoption of proprietary systems.
However, as time went by, the message began sinking in as the large software firms begun claiming their own and carrying out anti-piracy drives. The very people who were initially comfortable with the use of expensive but pirated proprietary software begun scanning the landscape for alternatives. This marked a new era in the repositioning of Open Source software. 
One area though which had remained a stumbling block was its acknowledgement in the Government sector. The spread of IT systems across the various Government departments presented such a great opportunity to consider the use of Open Source software but it wasn't to be until the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) begun offering dedicated internet access to these very offices. For purposes of being competitive cost wise as well as technically, the ISPs designed server systems to not only manage the internet access but also offer extended services like security firewalls, email and web hosting.
Despite such penetration being made, the Government had no policy in place on software usage, a thing that gave too much room to the various IT administrators to determine the choice of technology. 
In the final draft of the National ICT Policy 2014-19, under the Policy Area on 'ICT Promotion and Awareness', one of the strategies is to “encourage use of open source software and low cost commercial versions of software for normal operations.” The commitment is further manifested in Annex 1 of the same policy where the priority area on 'ICT Applications for Development' clearly re-affirms “Promoting the development and use of open source software, and building applications that are based on open standards” as an action area to be handled by the Ministry of ICT, National IT Authority, Academia and the Private Sector.
The Rural Communications Development Policy of 2010/11 – 2014/15 under specific objective 8 commits to “Promote rural deployment of appropriate technologies including open source software solutions to local problems”. Following the still birth of the NEPAD e-Schools initiative that touted the spread of ICT in African Secondary schools largely as a result of deployment of proprietary software systems which couldn't be afforded by the rural schools, this policy measure is very welcome.
Other policies like the National IT Policy of 2012 do reinforce the current positive stand by Government as regards recognition of Open Source. In private discussions I have held with some of the technocrats mandated to direct the ICT issues in the Government of Uganda, I have been impressed by their apparent new found belief in the power of Open Source software and technologies as the future for this nation. One of the key drivers has been without doubt the costs associated with taking on the expensive and proprietary solutions that are being offered to them. The scale of operations of the entire Government cannot justify spending millions of dollars on licenses alone when there is a possibility of greatly reducing on that expense and using the saved resources to advance the overall ICT infrastructure. 
Governments all over the world are considering or already experiencing cost savings as a result of adopting Open Source. These are some of the examples;
The UK Government since 2010 has spent 200 Million Pounds on the Microsoft Office Suite alone. The Government is in advanced stages of abandoning dependence on proprietary systems.
The city of Munich in Germany completed its switch from Microsoft software to the use of LiMux a variant of the Linux Operating system that they have come up with. This was a ten year process that eventually ended in December 2013 saving the city 11.7 Million Euros in the process.
The Spanish Extremadura Region has migrated 40,000 desktop PCs to its own tailor made Linux distribution LinGobEx and hopes to save US$ 35 Million in the process. This follows the initial migration of some 85,000 computers in Secondary Schools and healthcare.
The French Police has followed a well orchestrated migration plan that saw them start in 2005 at the application level and finally end up with the Operating system as the deadline for Windows XP loomed. There shall be 72,000 police force PCs using GendLinux a custom built Ubuntu linux version for the Police once the overall migration is completed.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin signed a plan for the transition of Federal executive bodies and agencies to free software by 2015. It is expected that by late 2014, all federal institutions will start using free software.
The Kerala Legislative Assembly in India has recently completed its migration to the use of Free Software thereby beating the Windows XP support deadline. Being a legislative entity, this is a very promising move since it can have an impact upon other government agencies in India and across the wold including our very own Parliament.
The choice of migration for many of these entities is not only premised upon the cost savings, it transcends into other issues like freedom as expressed by the Munich City Administration and security as is the case with the Russian Government's decision. 
Back home in Uganda, with all these events unfolding globally and locally, the time is ripe for the Free Software / Open Source community to stop sleeping on duty. Policy is usually the biggest stumbling block when it comes to entry of services and products in the Government sphere. With the pro open source policies that are being passed, its time to begin engaging the National IT Authority of Uganda, Ministry of ICT and the Uganda Communications Commission to ensure that we bring to realisation the various benefits that can be easily accrued by a developing country of Uganda's nature through the use of Open Source software and its associated technologies.
What can the Open Source Community do?
Resume regular physical meetings under the Linux User Group 
Interest Government Technocrats to participate in the Community events
Organise awareness events like seminars and workshops aimed at spreading knowledge on Open Source software among Government officials like Procurement, Information Systems and other personnel.
Aggregate the efforts of the various Open Source Software service providers in order to provide blended solutions and services to the Government of Uganda. A leaf could be borrowed from the Uganda Business Process Outsourcing Association which currently has made much progress in this regard.
Come up with open source ICT for Rural Development innovations that can be supported by the Rural Communications Development Fund.
Advocate for the promulgation of an Open Source / Free Software policy by the Government of Uganda.
Twitter: @wirejames


The active talk of Open Source Technologies took root in Uganda during the mid 90s when a few enthusiasts started experimenting with the use of software like Linux which was in its infancy back then.

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