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Rural Communications Fund Scores high in Uganda

By James Wire Lunghabo

Added 28th October 2014 02:34 PM

I first touched a computer while in my Second Year as a student at Makerere University thanks to being in the then Faculty of Agriculture that was among the first to get computerised.

I first touched a computer while in my Second Year as a student at Makerere University thanks to being in the then Faculty of Agriculture that was among the first to get computerised.

I first touched a computer while in my Second Year as a student at Makerere University thanks to being in the then Faculty of Agriculture that was among the first to get computerised.
 
Prior to that, I had only admired friends whose parents had taken them for computer studies during the long vacations of Senior 4 and Senior 6 at a steep fee. This was my experience as an urban dweller who was already priviledged in a way.
 
Lately, its common for the course of duty to take me to the remotest of parts of Uganda where infrastructure like electricity, roads, schools among others can't be taken for granted.
 
There are cases where I have driven over 200 Km without seeing a single electricity pole and the nearest to electricity are the occasional solar panels found lying outside the beautiful rural huts and that one generator based milling machine which happens to be a lifeline for many rural dwellers that can no longer process cereals by hand.
 
The one thing that strikes me on each of these trips is the level of computerisation I have found in the Government run Secondary Schools. These schools are fitted with computers including those in hard to reach areas.
 
It is hard to imagine that a student today doesnt have to wait until they make the proverbial trip to Makerere University in Kampala before interacting with a computer. As a result, IT skills are being demystified one day at a time and before long we shall have a critical mass of IT knowledgeable people thereby increasing their usage nationwide. 
 
Closer interrogation of the secondary school administrators reveals that they are beneficiaries of the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) a Universal Service fund for Communication in Uganda. Honestly, despite the myriad of challenges being faced in the implementation of this country-wide computerisation programme, what has been done so far is impressive enough to warrant mention.
 
So, what has the RCDF achieved in its lifetime? According to the 2012/13 RCDF Annual Report, these are some of the achievements;
Enabling 100% voice network coverage at sub-county level in Uganda. There were 1,026 subcounties as of 2010.
Integration of ICT into all Government Secondary Schools thereby making Computer Studies compulsory at the Advanced Level.
Activated Telemedicine installations in 53 Hospitals/Health Centres countrywide
Installed ICT Labs for all the Seven Health Training Institutes
Installed ICT Labs for all the core Primary Teachers' Colleges
Installed ICT Labs for all the Uganda Colleges of Commerce
Installed ICT Labs for Fifteen Government Technical Institutes.
These are significant achievements considering that for most Government initiatives, there isn't much one can be proud of after spending so much. By the year 2010, the School Labs initiative alone had already absorbed US$ 11.7 Million and while we could go around arguing on whether we got value for money, I will be implistic this time round and appreciate the fact that students anywhere in the country can now get computer training as part of their studies.
 
Some schools are already enjoying improved study of sciences using the Virtual Lab software which has found a lot of favour among the students. In Koch Goma Secondary School, Nwoya District, the students are so enthusiastic about the computers and always feel let down when their computer studies are cancelled for one reason or another. 
 
To the urban elite, the ICT implementations by the RCDF may seem like a non issue considering that they are more concerned about the speed of access to the internet, reliability, Quality of Service, trending gadgets, Social Media usage, among others. For the rural dweller, being able to transact using Mobile Money as a result of easily accessible Telecoms services, acquiring computer skills as well as experiencing technology even in its crudest forms can be a life changing experience.
 
We have cause to celebrate considering that by having these basic ICT skills and usage extending to the rural areas, the market for many services and products is being established. This is akin to the philosophy of the Rural Electrification Agency that sets up the electricity transmission infrastructure in all these remote locations with the expectation that it willstimulate consumption and it has worked.
 
In Sub Saharan Africa, I am deeply convinced that the RCDF is one of the best performing Universal Access Funds and its time we patted the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on the back for a job well done so far.
 
lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com
 

I first touched a computer while in my Second Year as a student at Makerere University thanks to being in the then Faculty of Agriculture that was among the first to get computerised.

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