Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) have a significant role in the socio-economic development of our country.
By Pamela Ankunda
In September 2015, in a ceremony presided over by President Yoweri Museveni, the 193-Member United Nations General Assembly adopted new Global Goals which aimed at charting sustainable development for people and planet by 2030.
The new framework comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty fight inequality and tackle climate change over 15 years. In the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN) Ban Ki-Moon, "We must engage all actors.
"We must include parliaments and local governments, and work with cities and rural areas. We must rally businesses and entrepreneurs.
"We must involve civil society in defining and implementing policies - and give it the space to hold us to account. We must listen to scientists and academia. We will need to embrace a data revolution. Most important, we must set to work - now".
Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) have a significant role in the socio - economic development of our country and offer vast opportunities to enable the realisation of these goals.
ICTs is an umbrella term that includes any communication device (radio, television, telephones, computer hardware and software, satellite systems, etc.) as well as the various services, networks and applications that capture, transmit and display of data and information electronically whether in form of text, imagery or voice.
In series of articles, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) shall highlight some of the ways ICTs can facilitate the realisation of the various SDGs.
Goal 1: No poverty
The first UN goal seeks to "end poverty in all its forms everywhere". This involves targeting the most vulnerable, increasing access to basic resources and services, and supporting communities affected by conflict and climate-related disasters. Seven targets and 14 indicators were set under this particular goal.
These seek to ensure equal rights and access to economic and natural resources as well as technology, property, basic and financial services.
The targets also look at support for communities affected by conflict and climate-related disasters and emphasize policy commitment and mobilisation of resources as essential levers for accelerating poverty eradication. How can ICTs help with these?
Looking at the targets set, one needs information to track progress, and hold practical and inclusive engagements with stakeholders for effective poverty-reduction interventions.
One of the buzz words today is "big data". In the increasingly digital world, we leave digital footprints whenever we do any digital action, electronic communications or digital interface - using a phone, surfing the internet, social media activity, etc.
Data is also generated when ‘smart' devices communicate with each other, geospatial data sensors.
Big data is the resultant data from this digital activity so called because it is huge in volumes, being generated and needing to be acted on with ever higher velocity (at a fast rate) and containing greater variety (different types of data).
Data analysis is the process of extracting meaningful information from any raw data.
When this is done using specialized computer systems, it is referred to as data analytics. Such information is used to enable governments, organisations, businesses and now machines (in artificial intelligence) to make better decisions.
ICT can help in improving opportunities and facilities for the poor by enabling the mapping and monitoring of their needs to support development of initiatives.
In Uganda, Pulse Lab Kampala brings together data scientists, data engineers, partnership specialists, academics and technical experts to generate high impact data analysis tools used in anticipating and responding to poverty, impacts of natural disasters, epidemics and food security by leveraging new sources of digital ‘Big Data' and real-time analytics.
One of the projects currently being implemented by Pulse lab in partnership with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and private companies such as Google is the development of a toolkit to estimate trends in poverty levels.
This is based on use of the "machine counting" technique and satellite imagery from different years to establish the trends.
The tool bases on counts of different types of roofs of households as a proxy indicator of poverty in Uganda. The assumption is that as the household economy improves, the thatched roof is replaced.
Improving job and income opportunities
The best routes to get out and stay out of poverty are getting a decent job or being a self-driven entrepreneur. ICT provided immense opportunities in this respect.
In Uganda, about 72% of the population is dependent on agriculture for income. ICT can enable access to timely information to improve agricultural produce (e.g. good farming practices, weather predictions etc.) and also to facilitate getting value from their produce by knowing market opportunities and rates.
Today we have a number of ICT products in Uganda such as wefarm, ensibuuko, AgroDuuka, Jaguza, M-Farmer, Erignu Mobile, Farm Radio series, m-Omulimisa, EzyAgric, Kudu, that seek to facilitate farmers in Uganda.
These use the various available ICTs - mobile phone, radio, internet (for those who have smart phones or can use public internet access facilities) - to avail the farmers with technical guidance, extension services, input coordination, price discovery and even financial resources.
ICTs can also boast productivity and competitiveness among enterprises including the small and medium-sized (SMEs) by improving efficiency of processes (e.g. marketing, ordering of inputs, inventory management, managing customer and supplier relations, book keeping/accounting etc.) and enabling innovation. ICTs also open up new markets through m-commerce (mobile commerce) and
e-commerce (electronic commerce) which can be harnessed by all sizes of entrepreneurs. Today we see more people embrace online shopping with platforms such as Jumia, Eye Trade, Zidi, Shop 24/7, Kilimall, Take away ug, China2u, Home duuka, OLX, Meka, Kaymu, Paple Rayn, Dondolo, Supermarket, US Go Buy, Shop Easyuganda, Ugabox, 2ambale, Borderlinx and Bazebo.
ICTs have also opened up vast opportunities that enable and increase literacy, vocational skills and continuous personal development increasing the potential for employment among the populace that may be online (on the internet) or offline (physical jobs).
ICTs also facilitate access to information on available job opportunities. Additionally, the ICT industry is itself a big employer through direct and indirect engagements into skilled and semi- skilled jobs as well as a significant spin off entrepreneurship of the various segments of the ICT value chain (from suppliers, distributors and content providers including the app developers).
Access to financial services
According to a World Bank study, a 1 percent increase in financial inclusion corresponds to a 0.51 percent increase in business creation, and a 15% inclusion increase leads to employment growth of 1%.
When e-commerce and m-commerce first started, we were disadvantaged due to low penetration of credit cards and debit cards. When mobile money was created in East Africa and later started in Uganda in March 2009, it opened up a new set of opportunities.
What started off as funds transfers from person-to-person has evolved to include so much more:
1. Merchant Payments enabling SMEs and larger organisations like UMEME to receive payments,
2. Mobile banking enabling transfers from bank account to mobile wallet,
3. Bulk Payments such as salaries,
4. Group wallets e.g. SACCOs,
5. Statutory payments like taxes,
6. Government payments e.g. Senior Citizens Grants, Vulnerable Family Grants.
7. Cross border transfer.
The ease, convenience, ubiquity of the service as well as the speed of the mobile transactions has led to a growth in popularity and uptake of the service.
The ease of requirements to use this service has enabled its use by persons who do not even have bank accounts.
ICTs can also facilitate the realisation of sustainable resource management systems for last-mile delivery of food, medicine and disaster relief. This includes tracking systems and delivery systems.
We have become familiar with the use of drones in video coverage of events. In Tanzania, however, the Commission of Science and Technology (Costech) is currently conducting a pilot project on the use of drones to supply medical supplies such as vaccines, laboratory samples and blood to not-easily-accessible areas. This is expected to alleviate the challenges of timeliness and reliability.
Reduction of exposure to shocks and disasters
ICTs not only help advance weather forecasting and climate monitoring, but are also essential in disseminating information to large audiences.
Improvements in satellite communication have helped decrease the lag time between data collection and warning.
The global spread of radio, mobile phones and telecom networks is also being harnessed to facilitate the communication of warnings and coordinate preparation activities.
ICT also facilitates the use of crowdsourcing to get local people, mapping experts and other stakeholders to communicate incidents seen or heard in an area to inform interventions or avert more victims.
Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people typically via communication platforms like the Internet.
In Uganda, the Uganda National Meteorology Authority and the Department of Water Resources Management in the Ministry of Water and Environment are implementing a project, with support from UNDP and in partnership with other stakeholders, on Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems for Climate Resilient Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in Uganda (SCIEWS).
This project includes the harnessing of some of the opportunities offered by ICTs.
In subsequent articles, we shall explore other opportunities presented by ICTs and what we need to do collectively to realise and maximise the full benefits of ICTs.
The writer is the head public and international relations of the Uganda Communications Commission.