Opinion
What is Uganda's communications strategy?
Publish Date: Jun 04, 2014
What is Uganda's communications strategy?
MP Ekanya
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By Thomas Ddumba 
 
Recently in Parliament, Geoffrey Ekanya proposed for each phone user to pay sh5,000 tax for each handset. However, I am of the view that he should be arguing for a better communications development strategy which appreciates that mobile phones are transforming our lives and changing the way we interact with each other.
 
Also for how the Government ought to stretch the shilling further to achieve inclusiveness in communications. 
 
The opposition should add its voice to the fact that the potential voice communications as well as other mobile phone enabled capabilities such as mobile money are limited by low (signal) coverage across the country.
 
Extending network coverage, the internet and spectrum management to rural areas should consume most of Parliamentary time. How far has Ekanya tasked the Government on these?
 
A combination of all these digital technologies have a direct impact on the economy but less attention is given to realise greater value.
 
Ekanya's efforts on tax for each handset shows that he is out of touch with reality. Instead of removing barriers and red tape, he is adding confusion and cost of doing business.
 
This is a regressive policy especially in times when he is talking about the 'tax of things’ other nations are talking about the 'internet of things' to drive innovation, productivity and economic growth.
 
Uganda is a youthful nation and it needs more efforts on harnessing digital innovation and communications inclusiveness to achieve real growth. Stories have been written on how Ugandan charities like 40 days _40 smiles have benefited from the use of mobile phones and internet.
 
These are gains that Parliament needs to see deepening in society. Meanwhile, focus should be targeted at scams and fraud that involve mobile phones and need immediate solutions. All over social media you never miss a day without a Ugandan feeling distressed by unwanted unwanted marketing calls and text messages.
 
This is where Parliament needs to roll its sleeves up as it is such unwelcome features that distress us every day.
 
Facebook's acquisition of Whatsapp in February for $19b and Apple's hefty $3.2b acquisition of Beats this month should be a signal to our leaders that America is what it is because it relies on innovation and creative industries to spur its cultural intelligence and global influence.
 
And where innovation and creativity in technology is harnessed, Uganda can leapfrog to real growth and opportunities. 
 
We should not have leaders that think that URA missed the 'boat' when it did not tax each handset annually in the era of service fee but leaders that recognise the social and technological value of mobile phones.
 
Such a policy is not only a kick in the teeth for my 85-year-old grandmother, who has a mobile phone and is on whatsapp despite no real pension but also the youth who have just bought their first phone and hope to interact for the first time. 
 
The Government needs revenue but it also needs leadership on how to generate revenue in the best ways. Ekanya should spend more time probing the Government on how it can use mobile phones to create more people powered public services.
 
Leadership that emulates private sector like the banks have teamed up with phone operators on mobile money. It is more about seeing opportunities and challenges in the mobile phone industry than seeing 'nails' everywhere in the sector.
 
Together, we need leaders that are consumed in reviewing and improving how we communicate, taking away nuisance but maintaining and keeping an eagle eye on mobile phone companies which at most time deep their fingers in unused data and airtime.
 
Also long-sighted and informed politicians on issues of technology that can add value to debates on technological advancements.
 
From #BuyABrick to recent #BringBackOurGirls, it is the mobile phone that shared the stories, pictures and sound bites showing that through cheap mobile phones, people can redress the balance of powers especially with the old-style, top-down central control with users as passive recipients of services.
 
The mobile phone seeks to put more power in people's hands where innovative mobile solutions help promote social change and public interest.
 
The writer is based in Battersea, London
 
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