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When the Ugandan flag was raised for the first time, information and communications technology (ICT) as we know it was only taking shape worldwide.

When the Union Jack was lowered on October 9, 1962 and the Ugandan flag raised for the first time, information and communications technology (ICT) as we know it was only taking shape worldwide.

It is 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 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 popularising the Internet. 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 a few years before our independence. Because of Uganda's tumultuous post-independence history and the apparent bottlenecks faced by many developing countries, it took long to harness the opportunities, which ICT presents in transforming lives.

Ugandans celebrating Independence Day should be 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 Ugandans from all corners of the country can receive e-Government services and other conveniences through their mobile phones.

The Government boasts of the largest and most stable optical fiber cable — the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) — with presence in over 49 districts. According to the recently published United Nations e-government survey 2020, Uganda's online service index has improved from 56.94% in 2018 to 58.24% in 2020.

This maintains the country in high online service index bracket. The Online Services Index is a component of the e-Government Development Index(EGDI), which is a composite indicator measuring the use of ICTs by governments in delivering public services at the national level.

It examines how digital technologies and innovations are impacting the public sector and changing people's lives The growth of the 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 Uganda celebrates Independence Day, it is worth noting that there is more progress to be celebrated.

WEST NILE CONNECTED

In May last year, President Yoweri Museveni launched Phase Four of NBI to connect the Internet to West Nile and Karamoja regions, and to new border points of Oraba, Vurra and Mpondwe.

The NBI was extended to the districts of Pakwach, Nebbi, Arua, Yumbe, Koboko, Adjumani, Katakwi and Moroto. With phase IV complete, NBI has been extended to cover 4,000km across 49 districts connecting 609 government offices.

NITA-U has established and is overseeing a 24/7 Networks Operation Centre (NOC), which ensures service availability and uptime of 99.9%. Uganda is now a fully-fledged communications hub with the seven major border posts of Uganda connected to the NBI. This further strengthens regional ties.

This has facilitated regional integration, co-operation, communication and trade with neighbouring countries. NITA-U is providing the cheapest Internet at a cost of $70 per Mbps per month, this translates to a 70% cheaper offering than what other providers on the Ugandan market provide.

NITA-U's Internet pricing is competitive to a magnitude of being 56% cheaper when benchmarked against the regional pricing ($70 per Mbps, NITA-U price vs $158 per Mbps, the regional average).

700 MORE SITES TO BE CONNECTED

The Government has kicked off the Last Mile Connectivity Project aimed at further expanding the coverage of the NBI/EGI through laying of approximately 732km of fibre optic cable and connecting an additional 700 sites to the NBI across 58 districts.

Additional 300 public Wi-Fi hotspots will be spread across the country. Under Last Mile, the NBI will achieve its full potential through connecting end-users across the country in order for them to have access to high quality, low cost Internet.

The project will bring public services closer to the citizens through Internet connectivity sites, which include, local governments, hospitals, schools and universities.

UGANDA STARTS EXPORTING PHONES

On June 22, last year, President Yoweri Museveni opened Uganda's first ICT manufacturing and assembling factory. At its launch, it was proclaimed that Ugandans and the rest of Africa would finally be able to buy and own mobile phones and computers made in Uganda.

In May, the first ever international order for Ugandanmade mobile phones was filled and 18,000 phones were flagged off to Morocco. Hungary, DR Congo, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania are also exporters. This is a big step towards reducing Uganda's import bill on ICT products and boosting export earnings.

The factory is employing 200 youths and the number could rise to 2,000 in the next five years.

CLOUD-BASED NATIONAL DATA CENTRE

Digitisation, which is at the core of social and economic transformation creates data. That data needs to be stored and secured efficiently. As opposed to international data hosting, which was the norm, the Government set up the first Tier three data centre in Uganda to provide centralised data centre hosting services.

This data centre can host all Government data as opposed to each entity hosting its own data, which is costly and insecure. With this data centre, all the operational costs including power, cooling, security, maintenance and licence costs are centralised.

This centre has led to annual savings to Government of up to sh10b in costs that individual agencies would have incurred to build and maintain their own data centres.

UNIFIED MESSAGING

The Government, through NITA-U, has implemented a Unified Messaging and Collaboration system (UMCS) in ministries, departments and agencies and local governments to improve communication and service delivery within government.

There is no longer need to have several isolated applications to handle tasks, such as mail, instant messaging or intranet. UMCS offers a solution to communicate with All stakeholders instantly. It has now been Rolled out in 55 entities so far, with 13,000 users as of this month.

ELECTRONIC PAYMENTS

NITA-U and the finance ministry have rolled out e-PAY: An electronic payment gateway that enables online payments for all public services, as well be utilised by interested private sector business enterprises to receive payments for their supplies.

The move is aimed at promoting e-commerce and financial inclusion in Uganda. Recently, for example, the Office of the Prime Minister unveiled a citizen fundraising platform developed by NITA-U aimed at mobilising resources and funds to boost the coronavirus fight in the country using this very SMS gateway.

SMS GATEWAY

NITA-U provides subsidised SMS services, which public entities are utilising to provide USSD services and bulk SMS notifications among others, which create an enabling environment for ICT growth.

By the end of the FY2019/20 subscribers of MTN and Airtel could receive SMS messages through the SMS gateway with the short code 6120 and sender ID "NITA". The subscribers can also access Government services through *260#. The SMS gateway was rolled out in 10 Government entities.

And a cumulative total of 2,051,587 SMSs had so far been pushed through the SMS gateway from these entities by the end of the year.

SYSTEMS INTEGRATION

The Government has kicked off the integration systems so that data can seamlessly be shared across Government systems in a rational, secure and efficient sustainable manner in order to improve service delivery to citizens, as well as reporting, planning and decision making in Government. Assessment of integration needs of MDAs, as well as data collection is underway.

E-GOVERMENT PROCUREMENT SYSTEM

The e-Government procurement system (eGP) is an initiative of the Government to leverage ICT to promote efficiency, transparency and accountability in public procurement. eGP is a web-based system that will support the full public procurement life cycle. The system was rolled out in July and is being piloted in 10 entities.

ENABLING ENVIRONMENT

NITA-U has established a conducive legal and regulatory environment to support the uptake of ICT and e-government services in Uganda. Last year, President Yoweri Museveni signed the Data Protection and Privacy Bill into law.

The law operationalised Article 27 (2) of the 1995 Constitution, which protects the right to privacy. The law, which expands the mandate of the 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 the Government moves to bring all services online and promote growth in the IT sector. The second draft of the Data Protection and Privacy Regulations 2019 were developed and are under consultations for approval.

UNIVERSITIES BENEFITTING

The progressive reduction in the cost of internet has greatly contributed to the increase in distribution of electronic content among public universities. The Research and Educations Network of Uganda (RENU) is utilising the NBI to transport educational content to Gulu University, Makerere University, Uganda Management Institute, Makerere University Business School, Busitema University and Mbarara University of Science and Technology. Various innovation and incubation hubs, such as Camtech, Makerere Incubation and Innovation Centre, are also benefi ting from this internet bandwidth. They have established a cumulative average of 150 start-ups resulting into 750 jobs by end of 17/18. Together with the United Nations Children's Fund and the National Curriculum Development Centre, NITA-U provided a free digital learning tool (Kolibir) to keep children learning from their homes in the wake of the COVID-19.

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Quelle/Source: New Vision, 25.10.2020

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