By Steven Kirenga
When the Union Jack was lowered on 9th October, 1962 and the proud Ugandan flag raised for the first time, Information Communications Technology (ICT) as we know it was only taking shape worldwide.
It was only seven years later in 1969 that the first workable prototype of networked computers transmitted data, in effect, officially giving birth to the internet and opening the up the idea to further development.
In 1973 the revolutionary mobile phone was invented. It is only as recent as the 1990s that the worldwide web was born popularizing the internet as we know it. In the same decade search engines such as Yahoo and Google were launched.
These innovations and many more have shaped the world of ICT in ways that were hard to imagine jut few years before our independence. In Uganda, because of our tumultuous post-independence history and the bottlenecks faced by many developing countries, we took long to harness the opportunities which ICT presents in transforming lives.
Ugandans celebrating independence day in 2019 should be immensely proud of the strides we have taken as a country in growing a vibrant and productive ICT sector in the last few decades.
The first mobile Telephone service started in Uganda as recently as 1994, yet as we speak Ugandans from all corners of the country can receive e-Government services and other conveniences through their mobile phones.
Computers and Mobile phones are being manufactured in the country and Uganda is ranked as the most cyber secure country in Africa, to mention but a few milestones.
The growth of our ICT sector has been deliberate and systematic with the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U) under the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance at its helm. As we celebrate independence day 2019, it is worth noting that this independence year-if we can call it that, has seen us reach numerous milestones.
It is in this year that the Government of Uganda through NITA-U invested and established a Tier III National Data Centre and Disaster Recovery (DR) sites to provide centralized hosting services,
Data Centre services and Disaster Recovery (DR) services for all Government data and applications. Today there are over Seventy (70) critical e-Governments systems and applications being hosted in this Government facility.
At its Launch in July 2019, President Museveni urged Government Ministries, Departments and Authorities (MDAs) to fully utilize the Data Center by ensuring all their services are hosted at the data center to benefit from the confidentiality, integrity and availability of Government systems.
With this cloud Data Center, MDAs can now concentrate on their core functions of delivering services to citizens without worrying about the availability and sustainability of the underlying infrastructure.
In the same year, President Yoweri Museveni signed the Data Protection and Privacy Bill into law. The Data Protection and Privacy Bill will operationalize Article 27 (2) of the 1995 Constitution for the Republic of Uganda which protects the right to privacy.
The law, which expands the mandate of the National Information Authority Uganda (NITA-U) protects the privacy of the individual and of personal data by regulating the collection and processing of personal information. It secures citizens as government moves to bring all services online and promote growth in the IT sector.
In May 2019, President Museveni launched Phase Four of the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) to connect the internet to the West Nile and Karamoja regions, and to new border points of Oraba, Vurra and Mpondwe which will, open up new international routes to neighboring countries of South Sudan and DR Congo. These boarder points improve access, reliability and competitiveness of broadband services both domestically and regionally.
The launch came after the NBI had already connected 39 districts, 390 MDAs in four regions of Uganda in the first three phases of the project. The NBl not only has economic benefits but also serves to bring public services closer to the Citizens in these areas.
This infrastructure has also positioned the country as a regional communications transit hub, including laying the groundwork for an eventual backbone connection between the submarine cables on the east and west coasts of Africa.
Through the efforts of NITA-U, we have seen the cost of Internet Bandwidth drop from USD 1200 per Mbps per month in FY2012/13 to the current USD 70 per Mbps per month which presents an annual savings of UGX 10 Billion for Government.
The reduction in cost of Internet Bandwidth to Government has also forced the market prices to drop thereby positioning Uganda to be more competitive in the regions since now our internet pricing is 56% cheaper compared to the regional pricing.
In June 2019 NITA-U with the support of Uganda Investment Authority entered into a memorandum of understanding with SIMI technologies to promote Local Electronics Manufacturing in Uganda including computers and mobile phones.
At the ground breaking ceremony of the manufacturing plant in Namanve industrial Park, the minister of state Minister of Finance for Investment and Privatization, Hon. Evelyn Anite reaffirmed Government of Uganda’s commitment to attracting more investors into the country and creating employment opportunities for the youth through ICT.
Local manufacture and assembly of ICT related electronics such as Computers is one way of contributing to the country’s infrastructure, generating employment and tax revenue. The spillover of technology and knowledge to our local firms and workers is of immeasurable value.
This Independence year also saw us launch a Government IT Service Desk. It has been established to be the Single Point of Contact for IT service delivery to all MDAs and Local Governments. With this service desk, Operations are streamlined and there’s efficiency through tracking and timely resolution of requests, incidents and problems relating to the services provided by NITA-U.
One of the interventions under the Strategy for Rationalization and harmonization of IT initiatives and services in Government, is the promotion of Unified Messaging and Collaboration Services (UMCS). UMCS provides a uniform mailing platform for Government communication and enhances efficiency in information sharing.
To date over 3000 and 14 Government institutions are now using the unified e-mail and communication services. In FY2019/20, NITA-U will rollout UMCS to additional 10,000 users across Government. This system integrates a variety of typically disparate communication systems, fixed and mobile, so as to enhance government-wide collaboration.
In June 2019 NITA-U held the first ever e-Government Exhibition which was crowned off with the inaugural e-Government excellence awards. The efficacious exhibition which attracted more than 5000 visitors and 50 exhibitors showcasing 85 eservices was held to promote the uptake of e-Government services.
At the awards ceremony, where the Rt.Hon. Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda was the chief guest, 13 Government Institutions were awarded for their efforts in using eservices to serve Uganda. The events are expected to be held annually.
The ICT sector is growing and its impact more visible than ever. If we have managed to achieve all this as a country, in the one-year period since last year’s independence day celebrations, Ugandans’ anticipation and pride in what the future holds in terms of ICT is well founded. ata