The occasion was graced by Edward Sekandi, the Vice-President of Uganda, Houlin Zhao, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - an ICT arm of the UN with membership of 193 countries - and over 700 private sector entities, Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of ICT and National Guidance and other top ICT executives.
By Pamela Ankunda
ON October 3, 2018, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) held an ICT symposium themed ‘ICT Integration in service delivery’. This symposium was one of the activities the commission has held this year as it marks 20 years of regulation. The occasion was graced by Edward Sekandi, the Vice-President of Uganda, Houlin Zhao, the Secretary General of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) - an ICT arm of the UN with membership of 193 countries - and over 700 private sector entities, Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of ICT and National Guidance and other top ICT executives.
The Symposium had a panel of experts that comprised of Vincent Bagire, PS-ICT, Kojo Boakye- the head of connectivity and access-Facebook, Africa, Godfrey Kisekka, a telecom expert, Ham Namakajo, an innovator and Dr. Ally Simba, the Secretary General of the East African Communications Organisation (EACO). The discussions were chaired by the very amiable and knowledgeable Dr. Dorothy Okello. [Dr. Okello carries the weight of a strong woman ICT personality, mentoring and inspiring young girls in Uganda to embrace science and technology.
She doubles as the current Board chair of the Commission today.] The audience listened to a wide range of issues, all appropriate and relevant to the growth and usage of ICT; the futuristic, re-emphasising and re-echoing how ICT is an enabler to all the other sectors of development requiring very dynamic regulation that aims to spur sector growth and also allow innovation to flourish.
Over the years, ICT has had an increasingly significant impact on just about everyone in society. Even unknown to an ordinary woman who tends to her garden as her full time job, the use of ICT-in all its spheres can shape her life to unknown imaginations. There are few areas of life or probably none where ICT has not made an impact either by use of the phone, news through Radio and TV broadcast, Research/ Education through the Internet and use of Information Technology in our daily work. The old men in Rushere who live and swear by cows and their milk will be amazed what ICT apps they can use on their farms-without worry. Digital transformation is not an option but rather a core for evolution of organisations and society.
The changing landscape of technology in Uganda, through enabling the deployment of critical infrastructure is real. It must now be felt and used. MTN’s, technology expo that coincides with their 20 year anniversary gives a glimpse into the technology that is driving the future. Airtel, Africel and other companies have similarly invested trillions of shillings in the country, to boost the telecommunications sector.
Implementation of the new Broadband Policy in all government agencies is not debatable anymore. The policy emphasises ‘connectivity for all’. It will drive our society to cashless economy, accelerated use for E-government and E-commerce services. This is achievable-without compromise.
It means that application and processing of documents like VISA, birth certificates, passports, IDS (and ID replacement), and all government services must be done online. It means that one must find the ease and convenience of paying bills-yaka, TV subscriptions-URA, business registration, URA services, all online. It means that information can be accessed-whenever-with ease. UCC at 20 supports the Broadband policy in the full thrust implementation of E-governance.
Further still, UCC at 20 is about the profound employment opportunities in the ICT sector, which indeed, is now the engine of growth. UCC has over the years supported such entrepreneur innovations through the yearly communication awards, now a programme undertaken to greater heights by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance through the National ICT Initiatives Support Programme (NIISP) that was created to facilitate the creation of an ICT Innovation ecosystem and marketplace for Ugandan innovative digital products.
UCC at 20 is a journey from that past, trekking to Wandegeya to buy pot token, making long unnecessary lines to having internet service providers who make banking easier at the touch of a button. Technology is the main driver of the economies of the world and no Ministry, Department or Agency should work backwards when the world is moving forward. Data, and not just voice is driving this revolution. Again, UCC is at the forefront of attracting these investments that have in turn led to increased uptake as seen in the statistics: From AM to FM, from one Radio Station, to 292 stations, one TV station, to over 30 TV Stations, One telephone operator with 1000 fixed lines to over 20 providers of voice and data services-including 24 million subscribers today, from analogue, to Digital transmission, from less than 2% radio broadcast coverage, to 100% countrywide coverage, from one Internet Service provider to more than 20 data providers today, from one postal office-UPL, to 22 licensed courier companies supporting e-commerce, establishing ICT LABS in all government aided secondary schools and equipping teacher training colleges with computers, Promotion of local content on all broadcasts to 75%, supporting the implementation of the new broadband policy among others.
Only a progressive regulator in a conducive predictable regulatory environment can achieve this. And this again, is what UCC at 20 is about; enabling even a rural woman to be able to connect to the world whenever, even if through a neighbour, a son or a stranger. (No strangers in Nyamukyengere-everybody greets everybody-all the time). This celebration is about taking advantage of the potential of ICT to support learning in schools, using an ICT curriculum through teaching, enabling communities around school ICT labs to use the same labs to enhance their skills and UCC has through its Rural Communications Development Fund facilitated lab equipment to 1033 government aided secondary schools.
We must collectively soldier on, or perish under the weight of backwardness. See you at 40!
The writer is the head of public and international relations of the Uganda Communications Commission