It was a sunny Tuesday morning in Kampala as hundreds of Uganda’s finest techies, innovators, venture capitalists and hi-tech businessmen gathered to learn about the country’s bustling ICT industry.
Uganda is considered one of the leading hubs for hi-tech and innovation in Africa with start-up companies founded here earning global recognition.
The inaugural ICT Innovators Expo was an event every techie looked forward to before close of 2019.
On arrival, President Museveni keenly listened as Innovators explained how their systems work.
On display were latest tech products including School Management Software, mobile applications that facilitate record keeping and extension training services for dairy and poultry farms; bioinformatics and data science; health management and billing systems for hospitals; and robust digital ticketing systems for buses, trains and ferries in Uganda.
Innovators also showcased products offering simple and efficient waste collection tools and services to waste collection companies and general public; health Analytics systems; devices used to detect pressure in pregnant mothers and applications linking farmers to the market through mobile technologies among others.
Speaking after touring the exhibition booths. Museveni was visibly excited.
“I can see you are trying to have renaissance here,” said Museveni.
Renaissance is a French word meaning “rebirth.” It refers to a period in European civilization that was marked by a revival of Classical learning and wisdom after a long period of cultural decline and stagnation.
“I am happy to be among the Renaissance people. Africa is now waking up,” he added.
“What you are doing now is to wake up and look for answers for your numerous needs. Once you solve a problem, you are creating jobs. It’s good to use other people’s products but develop your own,” said Museveni, adding, “When I go to town, I will tell people that I have seen renaissance somewhere.”
“Businesses are there to solve societal problems. I am glad to hear you the youth are waking up. The big problem of Africa is sleeping. In Busoga there is a village called Lambala,” he added, sending the crowd into rib-cracking laughter.
Museveni praised Tumwebaze for spearheading the ‘renaissance’ using four pillars of the ICT sector’s digital vision – connectivity, e-government, knowledge products and cyber security.
Museveni also endorsed Tumwebaze’s request to introduce a law that requires accounting officers to prioritize local digital products in their procurement of ICT systems.
“If you see the imports from China to Uganda, each year is $900m. From India, the import bill is more than $ 1bn. So the demand is there. Now the young people should be able to fill that demand gap and in the process also solve the problem of wealth creation through ICT and job creation,” said Museveni.
He gave an example of an Innovator who has introduced pregnancy screening scanner at $80 yet government procures the same equipment at $400.
Museveni further gave an example of another innovator who displayed a cheaper ATM machine costing Shs $2,000, wondering why one would import the same machine at $20,000.
“You can see how much is lost. This is hemorrhage of resources,” said Museveni.
Tumwebaze told Museveni about the mandatory use of online services by government institutions.
“Why should people line up for passports, to search for land titles or obtain a permit? Why not take this service online for efficiency? The more you automate, the more you reduce human contact hence addressing corruption,” said Tumwebaze.
Museveni responded: “The Bible says Thou shall not lead us into temptation but deliver us from evil. Tenderers – we are going to make it an offence for not procuring online. People meeting… What are you discussing? Let’s put it in the system. So that everything is traceable.”
He said the massive government expenditure on ICT imports must be checked.
“It’s by order; not begging. The incoming ICT Minister Judith Nabakooba should tell me what is required and I will do it,” said Museveni.
The ICT industry has grown in leaps and bounds over the last two decades.
In 2018, a total of Shs 394 billion was realized as tax revenue in quarter four compared to Shs 357 billion realized in the previous quarter 3, signifying a 10.4 percent growth in ICT tax contributions to Revenue.
In the last two years of Tumwebaze’s reign, the sector contributed over Shs 14.2tn in direct sector revenues over the last five years to the Ugandan government.
This figure is projected to grow to Shs 18tn in the next five years.
Regarding Tumwebaze’s request to increase the amount of resources provided to innovators, Museveni responded: “The Shs 13bn fund given to Innovators is just a starter. We shall get more money. That’s not a problem. Shs 600bn is spent on several funds – wealth creation, NAADS etc. Why not have money for ICT Projects to solve societal problems?”
The event was graced by UCC Executive Director Eng Godfrey Mutabazi, incoming ICT Minister Judith Nabakooba and telecom executives among others.