As the 2021 general polls draw closer, a group of Makerere University researchers have advised government to set up community multipurpose telecenters in Karamoja sub-region to ensure that campaign information reaches the remote parts of Karamoja.
They stated that the establishment of the telecenters in the nine districts will not only bridge the digital divide gap that exists between Karamoja and the rest of Uganda but will also go a long way to achieve economic development of the region.
The group; Aloysius Mwanje, Dr Agnes Rwashana, Francis Ekwaro, Lois Mutibwa Nankya and Kenneth Kirya Erickson, made this call basing on their research findings on the Karimojong information needs and the setting up a multipurpose community telecenter to address these needs.
"Karamoja is behind in all aspects of development in Uganda. These multipurpose community telecentres are ICT for Development Innovations which are relevant for rural areas. If you adopt them for Karamoja, you will bridge the digital gap between the region and the rest of Uganda," Ekwaro said.
While presenting the study findings on Wednesday at the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences, he said that once established, the telecenters will catapult the region into a modern community.
The telecenters are being used in countries such as Tanzania and Ghana. In Uganda, Nakaseke district has one that was established by UNESCO in 1999.
They offer a variety of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) including community radios, Television services, library and computer services.
The research titled ‘A framework for the establishment of community multipurpose Telecenters in Karamoja sub-region', was carried out in six districts of Karamoja including Abim, Amudat, Kotido, Moroto, Nakapiripirit and Napak.
Karamoja sub-region is home to 1.2 million people according to the 2018 UNFPA issue brief on the sub-region. The population is young with the average age being 15 years. Half of this population is female.
According to the Uganda Demographic Health Survey (UDHS) 2016, the region has the highest total fertility rate (TFR), with women of reproductive age (15-49 years) giving birth to an average of 8 children, which is higher than the national average of three children.
UNFPA noted that the region remains the least socially and economically developed with 61% of the population living in absolute poverty. Over 70% of this population has never been to school.
The research involved 728 respondents including community members, district leaders, health workers, education officers and non-state organisations. Notable among the findings was that the region has only one public library which is in Moroto, five radio stations out of which four are in Moroto town, insecurity, illiteracy and poor communication networks.
Ekwaro noted that during national examinations, schools hire computers from secretarial bureaus. He also noted that due to poor radio signals, most locals listen to Kenyan stations.
Among the services the respondents asked for were radios, phone services, translation services, mobile money, computer training, internet, library and reading space.
Mwanje, the Principal Investigator, said the choice of a telecenter is the best response to these needs.
He said the respondents expressed willingness to support the innovation with some offering land and housing structure for the centres.
He noted that government does not need to fully implement the project but rather start small with a pilot centre and once successful, roll out to other districts in the region.
"We call upon the government to set up community multipurpose centres in Karamoja sub-region as affirmative action to address the needs of the people in order to uplift their social, economic and technological wellbeing by bridging the digital divide," he said.
Dr Joyce Bukirwa, the head of department, library and information science, said telecenters need to be set up quickly to enable remote communities in the region to receive information that will guide their voting choices.
"We need these centres to facilitate the online campaigns and homeschooling of children during this period. We need to act and act fast because if we talk about building a knowledge-based economy then information must reach the people," she noted.
Moses Kizige, the Minister of State for Karamoja, expressed willingness to work with the University to establish the centres.
"We shall move with you. The budgeting circle has started. Let's plan and move together," he told the researchers.