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How the Ugandan govt is harnessing ICT to create wealth

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Added 3rd February 2018 08:10 PM

The opportunities abound for, especially easy-to-use ICT Applications in the government, private sector and NGOs.

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The opportunities abound for, especially easy-to-use ICT Applications in the government, private sector and NGOs.

By Moses Watasa

In today’s ‘digital’ era, information and communication technology (ICT) is the ‘driver’ of virtually all facets of endeavour. Indeed, globally, ICT is a multi-billion dollar enterprise.

According to the World Bank, the current global potential of ICT stands at $500b annually and is projected to rise to $1.6 trillion in the next two decades. But here at home, there is that Sam Waibale (not real name). Possibly in his mid-20’s he has not found a formal job, but he is an ICT ‘wizard’.

He represents others with a shared dream of translating their immense ICT potential into wealth possibly beyond their basic survival needs. The good news for Waibale and co’ is that the ministry of ICT has new ICT programmes slanted towards job and wealth creation. The Government is walking the talk to Vision 2040 which envisages; “....innovative start-ups to growing into multi-billion shilling ICT businesses.....creating thousands of technology jobs and greatly expand the country’s tax base”. Our National Development Plan (NDP II) also articulates; “Increasing job creation through ICT research and development”. 

The sector is so laden with potential; the NDP II projects a surge in ICT related jobs in Uganda from one million to over three million jobs by 2020. It adds; “The ICT sector targets to increase its contribution to national tax revenue from 8.1% in 2012 to 10% in 2020”. Which is why the NRM Manifesto (2016-2021) articulates that; “the NRM Government’s ICT programmes for the next five years will be geared towards increasing creation of jobs for the youth and enhancing production and consumption of local innovations”. And, further that; “We will develop an ICT innovation framework, which will, among others, guide on innovation areas, funding opportunities and innovation partners, clients and innovation resources”.

The National ICT Initiatives Support Programme (NIISP) under Ministry of ICT and National Guidance is designed to support young ICT innovators to create jobs and wealth. Through NIISP, innovative ICT entrepreneurs can now access support to develop market-tailored ICT products and services for sale. It is a five-year programme through, which the Government is to invest sh75b between 2017 and 2022.

It is not a show of academic prowess here! Under NIISP, young innovators are required to practically demonstrate the use to which their suggested ICT application can be put or the problem it can solve for potential users.

And, the opportunities abound for, especially easy-to-use ICT Applications in the government, private sector and NGOs. There is need for ingenious ICT applications to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in our health, agriculture, tourism, minerals, oil/ gas, infrastructure and human capital development programs, among others.

Ministry of ICT and National Guidance would like to shake-up and ignite the potential for ICT innovations out there. And, there are Ugandan examples to draw inspiration from! For instance, a locally developed Application, Clinic Master, is being used by private health service providers to ease engagement with clients and manage overhead costs. User clinics are indeed reporting lower costs of delivering health services and increased revenue turn-over. As a result, the demand for the Clinic Master Application has been increasing steadily over the 10 years it has been on the market.

So, through the NIISP programme, the Government is seeking out more young ICT innovators like the ones who developed Clinic Master. Now under implementation, the programme was launched in October 2017, with groundbreaking for an ultra-modern sh6b ICT Innovations’ Hub in Nakawa, Kampala. The ICT minister also constituted a panel of eminent experts, who will review the proposals for innovations from time-to-time and recommend the deserving ones for support. The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance received an initial 340 entries from prospective innovators from whom 40 have made it to the penultimate stages of selection.

Those with proposals that meet the criteria will get support in form of cash, office space, internet connectivity, business mentorship and talent development as will be deemed appropriate. Through the ICT Hub, the Government will link innovators with researchers and entrepreneurs to ensure that their ICT applications are in sync with market dynamics. This approach is proven, having been central to the models for developing innovations in IT equipment and services in countries like India, China, Mauritius and Malaysia.

Thus, our ICT innovators will work from the Government ICT Hub for final research, product development and pre-testing. They will then be followed through with support to produce prototypes of their products and services for eventual introduction to the market.

For those ICT innovators a hawk’s eye on trends in the market, the timing is good. We, for instance, have a target of the Government having at least 70% of its ICT requirements, Applications and support met through local innovations in the next five years. Potential innovators must have heard about the Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) initiative! And, they do not have to lose sleep dreading piracy of their innovations predatory ICT ‘sharks’. The Government will support them to register and patent their ICT innovations so they reap the all rewards they deserve.

If local ICT innovations make the grade as anticipated, Uganda stands to save a large amount of foreign exchange which we are currently spending on imported ICT products and services. As highlighted, we stand to not only create jobs and wealth for young people, but also significantly growing our GDP through ICT innovations. So, to our Sam Waibales out there, the government’s message is that no reason to keep dreaming and agonising. Like the guys at one sport corporate giant would say; just do it! 

The writer is the commissioner of information dissemination monitoring and inspection at the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance
Twitter: @Moses Watasa

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