The Blackhole mentality of some of Uganda’s Leading Schools

They always feature among the top ten best schools in the country in terms of passing national exams. As a result they have created a brand for being schools that make students “pass exams.To them, the end justifies the means. How do they achieve this?

They cage up our children in four walled prisons called class for longer than they should be. Students or pupils arrive at school as early as 6:30 am and some leave as late as 7:00 pm. In between, they justify all sorts of activities like Morning Prep, Morning Test, Lunch Test, Afternoon Tests and finally Homework (of not less than 40 questions daily). I hope you realise I have not included the actual lessons that have to be taught.

Syllabuses are forcefully completed in a fraction of the time that they are meant to be. A Primary 7 syllabus is usually done in one and a half terms as opposed to the entire three terms. Reason advanced is to allow the students time to cram for the final National exams. Huh!!!

Others have taken it a step ahead, by identifying the national examiners (who happen to be teachers already), they are able to spot exams (an attempt at second guessing what will appear) for their students. In the process, they part with large sums of money to benefit from this privilege. Afterall, a good performance guarantees more parents bringing their children to their school hence more money earned.

However, one of the worst vices I have noticed is the tendency of some schools to jealously guard their academic content in form of notes, lectures and even internal exam papers. Without mentioning names, one of the most prominent primary schools in Kampala today will dismiss any staff member who is found sharing their exam papers with ‘outsiders.’ This is why I chose the term Black Hole Mentality.

A black hole is a place in space where the gravity pull is so strong that all matter and even light that gets into it’s vicinity is sucked in with no hope of ever getting out. As you may recall, gravity is the force that attracts one body towards another that has mass, akin to what makes us always naturally stay on the ground as opposed to floating all over the place. Due to the intense gravitational force that blackholes have, whatever criss crosses their path is always devoured, unless of course if it can travel at a speed faster than light. In other words, Blackholes are always consuming without giving anything out.

The schools that have the practices I just shared previously are basically Academic Blackholes. They specialise in cannibalising whatever academic content is out there for their own purpose and interest but fall way too short when it comes to sharing with others in the industry. This doesn’t bode well for Uganda’s education industry. As a one Meghan Blistinsky once said, Education these days is making youths suffer like mental patients, but no one has anything to say about it because there is no other option to be given.”

However, on the brighter side, earlier this week while attending the 7th IDLELO Free and Open Source Software conference that brought together participants from all over Africa to meet at Munyonyo in Kampala, Uganda, I was very impressed by what I uncovered in the area of Academic Open Content. An OB of mine Mr. Ronald Ddungu who happens to be the Deputy Head Teacher of Gayaza High School, one of the best performing schools in the country shared with me their efforts in Open Content and the vision they have for it.

Essentially, this senior of mine summarised the aim of this initiative as one that will ensure that teachers will eventually go beyond the confines of their schools and become national teachers that teach students all over the country through the use of technology. The Gayaza Open Education Portal is already populated with student and teacher generated content that is really impressive. It is this culture of sharing that shall enable the seepage of knowledge across the board leading to uniformity in academic standards nationally if encouraged. Gayaza High School may be pioneering in Uganda what the likes of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) did over a decade ago in the USA only to be followed by numerous other institutions, I believe it is just a matter of time before other schools worth their salt realise that there is always more to be achieved through sharing than hoarding.

Such content sharing can help students as far as Butaleja to access material that their ill prepared teachers are unlikely to ever avail them. Since some of it is student generated, it is presented in a manner that students understand best and who better than their very own to pass on such knowledge?

Join me in talking to your school about the need to start sharing content especially with the less fortunate (third world) schools. Only then can we guarantee uniformity in prosperity and hopefully live to see our dream of becoming a Middle Income country in the near future.

Do your part this time round.

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Say NO to that customer

Lubanga (Name not real) wanted a machine to use on his small farm and he approached an engineer who came highly recommended by a friend. After making an assessment of the work, the Engineer quoted UGX 1,500,000/= (One and a half million shillings). However, Lubanga opted to bargain and eventually the two parties settled for a cost price of UGX 750,000/= (Seven hundred and fifty thousand shillings).

Having agreed on a time frame for the works to be executed, Lubanga fully paid up and waited for the delivery of his machine. It eventually arrived but failed to work. That is when the problems begun. One excuse after another was availed by the engineer eventually leading to a frustrated Lubanga. The cat and mouse game went on for more than six months until Lubanga decided to let the cat out of the bag and publicly shame the Engineer on a WhatsApp group.

Upon arbitration, the Engineer first gave the excuse of low electricity as the reason for the machine failing to work. When pinned further, he confessed that the low pay would not give him room to make adjustments on the machine design. Hence, he was stuck with a non functional client’s machine.

As Small Business owners, we are usually too desperate to get business and impress at the same time that we fail to make objective assessments. Since we never usually undertake thorough analysis of our cost structures, sometimes our pricing is temperamental and largely based upon the circumstances we are going through. I know of some artisans who will charge you twice the going rate for a particular job simply because they have to clear a LandLord’s debt.

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A Basket Weaver in Adjumani District – Northern Uganda

Since every service or product to be offered has overhead costs, it is always crucial to make a proper breakdown of the costs involved before committing oneself to a job. Sometimes the temporal smile you put on a customer due to the low price quoted could turn out to be the worst decision you ever made. Imagine the effect of an angry customer maligning you among your network of friends and associates who were considering the use of your services?

There is this tendency we have sometimes of trying to offer a product or service that fits within the budget of the customer. This isn’t such a bad idea but it shouldn’t be stretched too far. Often times, you can quickly sense a customer who wants to get a Mercedes Benz at the cost of a Toyota. Be very wary of such because if you accept their bait, the end result might bot be good for both parties. That is what must have happened to Lubanga. Bargaining is my favourite pass time but if someone is ready to discount a product by 50%, I would be very scared and most likely not partake of that transaction. It automatically means that there shall be some form of compromise which could affect the customer experience am looking for.

I know there are situations that arise, you have offie rent pending, multiple customers are yet to pay up for services already provided, you have a wage bill to sort out, your own livelihood is at stake and hardly have enough to transport yourself from home to work and back, your child has been sent away from school due to lack of school fees and so on and so forth. With all this baggage, you do not really want to let this money go. My brother/sister, I advise that you spend more time trying to convince the customer to embrace a payment structure that will enable you break even at worst. Alternatively, have then scale down their expectations and ensure that whatever is agreed upon is written down for the record.

In case no agreement can be reached, do not compromise. Say NO to that job. If it is the exposure you’re looking for, then probably offer a free service and make it clear to the customer.

Saying yes all the time and failing to live up to the promises made only serves the purpose of making you look greedy. Reputation is key.

Go say NO. You wont die.

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The Space Age is upon us. Don’t say I never told you so.

Friday is one of those days that many look forward to. From pupils/students to the employed. Programmes vary with the kids looking forward to watching their favourite TV shows, going out for a birthday party over the weekend or even heading to church for sunday school. The adults are probably looking forward to linking up with buddies at their favourite pub or restaurant, dancing away the night in the discotheque or even roasting a pig or goat in the open air. The more religious may be gearing up for an overnight service eventually culminating in a power filled sunday church service.

Enter the time machine with me and we fast forward to 2040. The proggies might be similar albeit with a difference in how they are executed. It is friday morning and through WhatsApp (I hope it will still exist) Dr. Onenkan sends a message on Wawa List inviting us for lunch. Jancobo quickly proposes a meet up at the SkyPort Restaurant. Departure time is set for noon. Using our flying cars, we link up at the Spaceport (No longer Airport) somewhere in Kajjansi (a suburb of Kampala) and take the vertical Space Elevator to space, covering a distance of 300Km in under 20 minutes (never mind the technology being used). On arrival at the Spaceport, we settle in comfortably and commence discussions in full view of the Earth miles away from us. We admire the moon that appears more vivid and while at it, Mars pops up too. Low Earth Orbiting satellites wheez past us and it all seems as normal as that bodaboda that races past you today.

Upon completion of lunch, Humble DB suggests that we go for a space race. We quickly board Alien Reproduction Vehicles (ARV) and embark on faster than light travel by bending space and time. The first target is to see who reaches Venus first. Our trail begins and Neri beats us to it by covering the 40 million Km distance in 2.5 seconds.planets_image

You think this is impossible? Imagine this, if the speed of light is 299.8 million metres per second and our ARVs are comfortably moving at the speed of light, in under three seconds we should be in the environs of Venus.

Yen then challenges us to a much longer race from Venus to Saturn a journey of 1,316,400,000Km. We all agree that this is one race that will test us better. Off we go, crisscrossing space, avoiding stray meteorites here and there, observing all sorts of alien activity going on in a vast sea of space. We by-pass Earth and Do-Blade is in the lead at this point. Zo seems to be hot on his heels having exceeded the speed of light. We are heading for Mars and it seems like all our ARVs are gaining speed. Dono takes the lead as we get into the environs of Jupiter. The pressure is mounting as we all want to win. Then suddenly out of the blue, Onenkan’s ARV makes a joke of ours by gracefully bypassing us traveling at almost Light2 (twice the speed of light). Before we know it, he’s hovering in the rings of Saturn, a sign he’s won the race. Time check, 80 Seconds and we are all admiring the beautiful rings of saturn, a giant gas planet.

t2iEBowxv24VqercCap3xwLoWe are in awe of the numerous moons that it has (official count is 150 moons and moonlets). Named after the Roman God of war, Galileo discovered Saturn in 1610. One year on Saturn equals 29.5 Earth Years. Had I been born there, I would now be close to 1.5 years old. While Galileo only saw it through the telescope, here we are chilling right in it’s environs because of technology.

At this point we agree that work is pending back home on earth. The fly back to Sky Port Restaurant takes us under 5 minutes where we descend with the Space elevator back to Kajjansi. Time check, 2:30pm and we are back in our offices after an exciting cosmic journey.

I bet you’re thinking these are insane thoughts. No they aren’t. Whilst most folks are focusing on making their existence better on earth, a section of mankind aided by technology is working on the possibility of colonising space. I envisage a future where we shall have floating cities, entire nations on Mars and possible military outposts on the Moon. Tourism currently being focused on Africa is likely to shift to space within 50 years from now. Elon Musk’s efforts at SpaceX are commendable in making space travel cheaper.

Without doubt, we shall soon have picnics, church services, discotheques, offices and other pass times in space while retreating occasionally to earth just to catch up with family and friends the way some buddies resident in Europe and America like traveling back home to re-connect with their families.

Before I die, I would love to see the first church service conducted in Space. I wonder how the spirit slayed christians will fall in the gravity-free floating environment of outer space.

Welcome back to 2016.

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Image Credits

Saturn – https://www.thinglink.com/scene/662855196417720322

Solar System – http://www.planetsforkids.org/images/planets_image.jpg

IDLELO 7 – Uganda’s Open Source Moment

The year was 1997 when as a student at Makerere University, I had the privilege of hobnobbing with a select group of ‘internet techies.’ One of them whom I later got to know was Kiggundu Mukasa had just returned from the USA after spending some time there studying and working. He was the first local advocate of Linux (an Open Source Operating System) and using the software CDs he had returned with, he very willingly shared with those who were already technically astute. Individuals like Paul Bagyenda and Terah Kaggwa are some of the very first I know of that toyed around with Linux in this country.

Our meet-ups used to be in Baghdad (Wandegeya) at the site of the current KCCA market and that is where the first unofficial Linux User Group (LUG) meetings took place. The inspiration that some of us got as a result of the open sharing that used to take place skewed our minds into embracing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) as the future for this nation and Africa at large.

Being convinced about a cause is one thing while having others buy into the same cause is another. The resistance faced while spreading the FOSS gospel then was so stiff that hadn’t it taken firm determination, Uganda would not be the Open Source beacon of hope that it is today. From Government to the private sector, IT professionals were sceptical of anything Open Source and while some of their reasons were valid, others bordered on mere fear for change of the status-quo.

Over the years, numerous developments have gradually altered local perceptions about FOSS and these include;

  • The increasing clout of FOSS products/companies like Fedora, SuSe, MySQL among others in the IT world.

  • Exposure by many IT professionals to FOSS systems starting with those that got a chance to pursue their studies out of the country.

  • Increasing grip that Proprietary Software companies were having on Software Licensing compliance.

  • The enactment of laws that rendered activities like software piracy illegal.

  • The growth of e-government

  • The limited operational budgets at the disposal of many Government organisations.

  • The Internet Service providers that majorly offered firewall and mail server systems based on FOSS.

  • The existence of a vibrant Linux User group that at one point used to carry out school outreach programmes.

  • Coordinated efforts of FOSS promotion with other African countries through the pan African FOSSFA organisation.

In November 2002, during an ICT Policy and Civil Society Workshop in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, it was agreed that a framework for Open Source Solutions be developed. This process later led to the formation of the Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa (FOSSFA) a year later. Come 2004, the first ever African Conference on the Digital Commons was held in South Africa where it was later dubbed IDLELO (meaning common grazing ground). This event is carried out every two years and attracts participants who are actively participating or interested in the FOSS world. IDLELO is to Africa what OSCON is to the USA.

Twelve years later, from the 22nd to 24th of August 2016, Uganda will proudly host IDLELO 7. What makes it even more interesting is the level of Government involvement. After shouting ourselves hoarse for nearly a decade, the local FOSS community had given up on ever seeing the Government of Uganda play an active role in promoting FOSS. However, over the last two years, the National IT Authority of Uganda has warmed up to the idea of integrating FOSS in the Government plans for e-government. A FOSS policy is in advanced stages of being approved thanks to this same organisation pursuing the matter. The financial and logistical support NITA-U has extended to the event clearly shows that this time round, the Government is serious about going in bed with Free Software.

It is therefore a very exciting and emotional moment for many that have seen the baby strides FOSS has taken to gain a foothold in Uganda. Hosting the Who is Who of Africa’s FOSS world is likely to alter our path for the better and for good.

To the delegates coming over, Ugandans are known for their hospitality and we are certain that you will leave a piece of your life in Kampala.

Hubasangaliye

Tubaaniriza

Twabashemererwa

Wajoli i Uganda 

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Bill Gates, Bring those Chicken, But …

I first heard of Bill Gates in 1994 when I got introduced to Microsoft Windows 3.0. His name has since time immemorial been associated with Microsoft and Windows software in particular. A few years later, as a firebrand Free Software aligned techie, I loathed him and anything to do with the Windows Operating System. Microsoft had so much dominance in the IT industry then and its efforts aimed at annihilating other players only left those of us who believed in Linux and other free software systems disillusioned.

Fast forward, the year is 2016, as I browse the internet, an article crosses my path screaming “Bill Gates to donate chicken to Africa’s poor.” The title almost made me think this was another typical White Saviour Mentality gesture until I decided to quickly read through. Coming to Africa to donate Chicken may sound such a dumb thing but this guy has got his reasons as highlighted on his blog;

  • They are easy and inexpensive to take care of. Many breeds can eat whatever they find on the ground (although it’s better if you can feed them, because they’ll grow faster). Hens need some kind of shelter where they can nest, and as your flock grows, you might want some wood and wire to make a coop. Finally, chickens need a few vaccines. The one that prevents the deadly Newcastle disease costs less than 20 cents.
  • They’re a good investment. Suppose a new farmer starts with five hens. One of her neighbors owns a rooster to fertilize the hens’ eggs. After three months, she can have a flock of 40 chicks. Eventually, with a sale price of $5 per chicken—which is typical in West Africa—she can earn more than $1,000 a year, versus the extreme-poverty line of about $700 a year.
  • They help keep children healthy. Malnutrition kills more than 3.1 million children a year. Although eating more eggs—which are rich in protein and other nutrients—can help fight malnutrition, many farmers with small flocks find that it’s more economical to let the eggs hatch, sell the chicks, and use the money to buy nutritious food. But if a farmer’s flock is big enough to give her extra eggs, or if she ends up with a few broken ones, she may decide to cook them for her family.
  • They empower women. Because chickens are small and typically stay close to home, many cultures regard them as a woman’s animal, in contrast to larger livestock like goats or cows. Women who sell chickens are likely to reinvest the profits in their families.

I have spent a better part of the past two weeks trying to use some linkages to access the research report that informed his decision on this chicken venture. Unfortunately, the consultant hired to do the study has not got clearance to share the report publicly.

Nevertheless, I agree with the arguments raised by this philanthropist. As a child, I used to spend my holidays in the villages of Butaleja district (Eastern Uganda) and clearly saw how wealth accumulation could start from a mere chicken. I was once given a hen as a gift and decided not to eat it. This hen within a year had given me enough chicks to exchange for two goats (that is how we did it then). I got those two goats and ensured that they grew and sired kids. The eventual goal was to raise 5 to 7 goats and exchange for a cow. Somehow along the way, I never achieved this but others in the neighborhood did barter their goats for cows. In brief, it is true that chicken can be a source of wealth for our lot of peasants looking for a meaningful existence.

As someone who has had his entire life largely spent on the African continent, my advice to Bill Gates and his team at Heifers international is to consider the following as you go about distributing the 100,000 chicken;

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My Local Chicken at home sitting on its eggs

  1. Local Breeds: Try as much as possible to ensure that you distribute local breeds in the different areas of operation for this initiative. I know the temptation might run high to purchase foreign breeds from a large international conglomerate, but their ability to survive not only the occasionally harsh weather conditions but also the low level of attention from these peasant farmers is suspect. You see, unlike in the USA where chicken are treated like new born babies, in most African villages, it’s survival for the fittest. I rear some chicken at home too but on issues to do with food, they have to take case of themselves, the most I do is offer them rent free housing.
  2. Vaccination: You rightfully point out the issue of vaccination and I agree 100% with that. However, as a caution, do not only look at the Western Style vaccines when addressing this concern. Consider tapping into indigenous knowledge and you will find a wealth of traditional practices and medicines used to protect these birds. That way, you will be creating a self sustaining system.
  3. Sensitisation: Many times we tend to plan for the rural poor and expect them to view things the way we do in the comfort of our air conditioned boardrooms. Nothing is always obvious when it comes to dealing with some sections of society. It will be very crucial to ensure that beneficiary communities are given good information about the initiative and its goals. They have to see from the word go how this will play out in favour of their family. Someone may fail to see the logic in waiting for the birds to lay eggs, hatch and raise the chicks to full maturity when they can sell the parent stock for some quick money to solve an immediate need. Others may raise the birds but expect someone to come to their home and buy from there yet depending on your location, you might have to spend some good hours standing by the roadside under sweltering heat conditions to sell off one or two chicken.
  4. Eagles: Yes, you may be wondering what this has to do with chicken but for anyone who has been raised in a rural dwelling, it is obvious that the biggest prey to chicks is the flying Eagles in the air. They have such a great eye sight, speed, are armed with tough talons and have mastered the science of trajectories. To spot and pick up a chick is something that comes naturally to these birds. I have however noticed a stark difference between my local hens and the foreign breeds when it comes to protection of their young ones. Somehow the former are more aggressive and protective than the latter. This therefore takes me back to the point I made of encouraging the distribution of local breeds. An eagle doesn’t need more than two days to rid a careless hen of 8 chicks.
  5. The money: You clearly show an estimate of an annual income at US$ 700. So many assumptions are being made about the actual income potential and I hope they are not based on a non representative study. The kind of target beneficiaries for this initiative are likely to be rural area dwellers whose access to urban areas and their consumers is very limited. To imagine that a chicken can be bought for US$ 5 from a farmer is currently not possible in many rural areas of Africa. In Uganda for example, that is the retail price of chicken in an urban market. The middle-men involved in the value chain dictate what the chicken rearer is going to earn and that is a fact we have to live with. I therefore request that you scale down your income expectations by at least 50% if all other concerns expressed are to be factored in.
  6. With Success comes the Man: Melinda Gates in her article indicates that one of the beauties of this idea is that it can be a “woman thing.” This is largely true until the money starts rolling in. Having observed as a young child growing up part time in the rural areas, for as long as a source of income in the family became significant, the man would take keen interest in controlling it. I see the same happening to this venture once it registers success. This therefore calls for sensitisation of the entire household prior to participation in the project in order to help all parties involved appreciate the ultimate goal being pursued.

Otherwise, Bill and Melinda Gates have won me over with their philanthropic pursuits. While other global billionaires are competing on who has a bigger yatch and some pea brained Ugandan wannabe rich chaps are struggling to get the most likes over their facebook photos depicting them counting illicitly acquired money, Bill and Melinda are seen interacting with the poor in rural locales as far off as Malawi. That is a much more fulfilling raison d’être to me.

To you Bill and Melinda, I may not be in favour of merely ‘giving out’ 100,000 birds from an economist’s point of view but I can only talk about that if you make public the research paper or project document you are going to base on for implementation. On the whole, your pursuit to change the lives of the deprived despite having such privileged backgrounds is very commendable.

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Hon. Minister Sir, This is what I wanted to say

In Uganda, it is out of the ordinary for a Government minister to engage the citizenry in a consultative manner. In most cases it is a one way engagement where he/she is telling the citizens what to or not to do. This is why I was taken aback when I received the call inviting me to the ICT & Communications Stakeholders’ dialogue convened by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance that took place on the 7th of July 2016.

That morning, I decided to pen down issues I thought I needed to share but midway my attempt, the little devil in me reminded me that it was going to be business as usual hence I might not even get a chance to air my views. I proceeded to send some Whatsapp messages to my Wawa buddy Simon Kaheru.

Screen Shot 2016-07-08 at 09.03.21

As you can see, he lambasted me for being negative and that is when I realised that just maybe, this is likely to be Business Unusual this time round. Given two minutes to make my submission, I realised that I had a herculean task and hence had to summarise in a manner that would make the creators of WinZip envy me.

Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, this is what I had to share after being fervently reminded that it was a dialogue NOT a finger pointing and popularity seeking contest.

Uganda may have made strides in the ICT sector over the years but like any other industry, we are always on the road, seeking moving on to the next best thing. As a result, my views on the industry currently while not exhausted by this submission are;

Get the National Fibre Backbone closer to the people. The National Data Backbone rollout by government is an impressive feat and should be applauded. Despite the hiccups faced in it’s initial stages, the team at The National IT Authority, Uganda (NITA-U) was able to turn around a nearly failing project into the deployment success it currently is. Steps were taken to have a private sector company manage it’s commercialisation but to-date, we are yet to see and feel it’s effect directly as citizens. While it may be interconnecting some critical government infrastructure that we rely on already, as well as offering capacity to some large corporates, as a resident of a village in Mukono Town Council, I would like to see it impact me directly. Short of working out ways in which we can see real value as lay men, it will remain a white elephant to us.

Case in point, Smile Telecom and Roke Telekom have some pretty decent internet access offers, however, because they have to roll out their networks from scratch as they extend the services from town to town, this has slowed their growth. Why can’t we win over some of these providers to use this backbone as a backhaul thereby allowing them to concentrate on final delivery of services in the various towns? The argument might come up that “They haven’t approached us” or “we failed to agree” but this is not the attitude of a proactive mindset. It always helps to engage and find out what middle ground one could achieve. So, the company contracted to manage this fibre needs to offer more services than merely maintaining the proper functionality of the cable. It should be able to advise the government on how to better utilise the resource, attract more customers through well packaged incentives.

By offering good backhaul links between the towns, this fibre has the potential to create a spinout of numerous Virtual Service Providers who can effectively offer services in their local areas and hence widen the catchment area of internet and e-government usage in this country. Imagine if the fibre has a termination point in Kumi and a one Ejalu sets up a local WiFi network in Kumi town with backhaul access to Roke Telekom in Kampala via the National fibre, he can provide not only a much cheaper service than the grossly expensive bundles that our Telecoms have made us accustomed to but also has the opportunity to customise its delivery through the use of open source software as well as language translations to suit the locals. The future of most services is localisation.

Certification of ICT Practitioners. NITA-U has come up with a proposal to regulate all ICT practitioners in the country just like is done in the Legal, Engineering and Surveying sectors. This is being met with alot of resistance from industry players.

However, in my personal opinion, this resentment is probably as a result of uncalled for Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD). The government needs to come out and sensitise the affected parties about the intentions of this initiative as well as make modifications where necessary.

The ICT industry is not as straight jacket as the Legal, Architectural, Survey and Engineering domains that are pre-defined out of the box. Many, including yours truly are self trained practitioners who spent sleepless nights utilising internet resources to gain skills. To be told that you need to have a certain certificate before being allowed to offer an IT service is a threat to our very existence. However, more of this is covered in this article I wrote on the need for certification.

Outsourcing. Through NITA-U, the government has made efforts to promote this sector of ICT Business. Truth be told, not much has been achieved and this could be attributed to the misguided belief that business opportunities will come from outside the country as opposed from within.

The Indian BPO industry honed its skills from the pro-active approach taken by the government to outsource services for some of their work to local businesses right from the local government level up to the national. A similar approach would help our companies too.

It is no secret that most government departments in Uganda need digitisation of their records. Secondly, there are numerous citizen centered services that the BPO sector could run on behalf of Government agencies e.g. The immigration department could have a tracking system for Passport management run by a private company to respond to various passport related queries instead of the massive human traffic that makes daily pilgrimages to their offices giving a semblance of a busy environment.

The Uganda Revenue Authority had a similar problem when it used to centrally manage all lodging of paperwork by clearing agents and various tax payers until they came up with an IT solution that allowed third party service providers to plug into the system and offer the same services. The traffic at their head office reduced very significantly.

Local Content. Local Content refers to the percentage of locally produced materials, personnel, financing, goods and services rendered to an industry and which can be measured in monetary terms.

Just like the Oil Industry, it is high time a local content policy for the ICT industry in Uganda was effected. I know NITA-U is working on this but it’s important that we bring it to the fore. During the run up to the previous elections, the discontent by many arose from the fact that most opportunities in the country are seen to be bypassing the local providers in preference for foreign. With all ‘big’ jobs naturally gravitating to foreign owned companies, this has left many brilliant ICT professionals with nothing to do locally as well as led to the closure of many a business venture.

Take a stroll around Africa and you will be amazed at the number of projects Ugandan ICT professionals have implemented. During a consulting gig for the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), I felt very proud when the head of the ICT department praised the Ugandan consultants they had used claiming they always did a great job. Why then can’t these very resourceful Ugandans be appreciated back home in preference for foreign journeymen way past their sell by date in their home countries? Yesterday, a friend intimated to me that a reknowned financial institution in Uganda flew in expatriates to install a Cat6 Cable Network in their offices. It is such instances that make me resort to Tamale Mirundi’s expletives “Ngalabi Za Mitwe” (Drum heads).

The cry by Government officials that we are not yet skilled enough is hogwash because we would not be hired by international agencies if that was the case.

I propose that an inventory be done of ICT practitioners in this nation complete with their areas of specialisation and businesses (if any). A move towards empowering them either through selective bidding (locking out foreign entities) or ensuring a procurement structure that enforces partnership of foreign entities with local businesses in order to undertake projects would be welcome. We need to start sieving the deal makers from the real solution providers and this is where accreditation through certification might come in handy.

National ICT Strategy. It is said that one human year equals four technology years. In other-words, every three months that elapse equal to one technology year. As a nation we are good at making plans, policies and the like, however, in some cases these are driven by the need to achieve simplistic quick gains without looking at the long haul.

We also tend to have a disease of implementation. When the good plans are made, either the resources (not only money) required to see them through are not availed or government departments attempt to outmuscle one another for implementation rights.

What we need is a well rounded strategy with a multi-disciplinary and long term perspective. ICT is an enabler, so any plans should take into consideration our aspirations in the Health, Education, Agriculture, Manufacturing, Transport, Tourism and other sectors. How can we can use ICT to address corruption, traffic jams, trade, manufacturing, illiteracy, security, travel, piracy, climate change among others. The desire for shortcuts will keep us heading back and forth in an unending loop only to take us back to the starting point.

Hon. Minister Sir, this is what I never had a chance to share in detail. I am glad you have read it in it’s entirety now. By the way, you asked where the developer of Me2U is. I would like to gladly tell you that he is very alive and plying his trade from Entebbe with a largely foreign clientele that keeps him busy. Not wanting to soil his career with the intricate dynamics involved in getting local business (especially government), he opted for the foreign strategy. Otherwise he is one of the most deeply rooted nationalists I know of in this country.

For God and My Country

Follow @wirejames on Twitter

To Certify or Not, NITA-U in the Dock

She broadcast the message onto one of Uganda’s largest online platforms for IT professionals, the I-Network Uganda and it read:

Please find link to read and know about Regulations that support the Certification process. These Regulations include: the National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (Authentication of Information Technology Training) Regulations 2016 and the National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (Certification of Providers of Information Technology Products and Services) Regulations, 2016.”

Within minutes, responses to the thread were flowing in. One of those that briefly summarised the general mood went as follows;

They do not account for experience.

They do not account for online courses.

They do not account for interning/mentoring.

They do not account for self taught prodigies and IT savants (PC whisperers).”

What are these regulations all about? The National Information Technology Authority – Uganda has come up with regulations that it wants passed in order to regulate the ICT industry. These regulations affect Individual and Corporate service/product providers as well as Training institutions. Information Technology is one of those industries that has largely grown organically with very minimal regulation.

On a fora dominated by more youthful ICT practitioners, comments were as follows;

Eh! Above requirements in document are going to bite all experienced players in contrast to those who have proffessional qualifications.

It might also spur employment of jobless professionals by the experienced players. Either way, I am emigrating.”

Shouldn’t the SMEs and startups put on evil smiles? All those ‘experienced’ chaps getting kicked out are theirs for the taking”

An unregulated market is how everyone loses out : Profit flight, Uganda being a supermarket for everyone to come and sale, Low levels of skill, Low tax bases, Those kinds of things

On I-Network, a forum dominated by middle aged first and second generation ICT practitioners, the discourse was dominated by such responses below;

I perused through the document and I kept desiring to throw up my breakfast. I request clarification on the documents shared above. Are they specific to individuals and organisations that intend to work with government or do they include people relating with private businesses. The documents seem to only aim to make the Authority relevant and to also increase its revenues through an unnecessary six month certification (taxation).

We appreciate the initiative by NITA-U to protect customers’ interests but I think rather than making it mandatory and making it criminal if you are not certified by NITA. An even more prudent approach is make it optional and spend all the resources educating customers on how to look out for a “suitable” IT solutions supplier. This is achievable and requires less resources to implement.

There is a reason that training is done . You have been doing the work but you don’t have the qualifications to do the work. ‎As a regulator there should be precedence as to what qualifies someone to do/offer a service. We can’t continue to run on try and error because it has worked in the past. If you haven’t studied the subject what principles do you use to do the work

Very interesting debate and dialogue going on here. I am still struggling with the ‘spirit’ of these regulations? How will these regulations enhance competence that is so lacking? So if my University is certified as a service provider and continues to churn the products it is delivering what is the value of this certification?

Let’s look at this as trying to streamline and provide some customer protection. It’s not a surprise that most people that don’t support this are service providers. May be tell us what you are trying to run away from.”

These regulations can form the start of the MRA’s (Mutual Recognition Agreements) for the ICT sector in Uganda. I hear the issue of the professionals with no formal education. What is needed is to work with NITA and have this category amended. Because as we stand today those people would not be able to get a work permit anywhere outside Uganda. Our ability to cover them in the proposed regulations would create a starting point for this category.”

I took time to read through the proposed regulations and from those targeting Service Providers and noted the following:

Part II 3(a) A person shall not provide information technology products or services unless that person is certified in accordance with the Act and these Regulations.

I believe this is a good provision. We are always complaining of poor service provision in our industry and being undercut by people who hardly have a clue about what to deliver. It is not strange finding a Fish Processing firm winning tenders in ICT only to later subcontract the work to a little known firm with the skills but then again pay them measly sums.

There are individuals who have specialised in these brokerage services and always win tenders due to their underhand methods of operation. Fifteen years ago, the Electoral Commission was involved in phoney dealings with a self styled Computer Expert, a one Frank Katusiime that saw the organisation spend over 3 Million dollars on ICT related consultancies that saw some consultants bag US$ 2000 per day. Do we want to maintain the status-quo?

We have lots of youths who have various ICT qualifications but are lacking work to do. This is an opportunity for them to team with the money bags to either run businesses together or work for them in order to ensure that their operations are compliant.

The only amendment I would propose to this regulation is that it should be paraphrased as;A person shall not commercially provide information technology products or services unless that person is certified in accordance with the Act and these Regulations.” This will give a breather to my 15 year old son who is already interning in my business operations learning how to fix computers and software.

Part III 7. (2)Without limiting the general effect of subregulation (1), a person intending to provide information technology products or services shall-

(a) in the case of a legal person, be registered in accordance with the law;

(b) abide by the standards for the provision of information technology products or services;
(c) demonstrate financial viability, where necessary;
(d) put in place and maintain a sound quality management system;

(e) have in place policies and procedures to govern the provision of information technology products or services;
(f) where applicable, employ competent and qualified staff to provide information technology products or services;

(g) provide appropriate infrastructure and equipment required to provide information technology products or services.

This regulation serves the purpose of facilitating the industry to address;

a) Fly by night business operators who have no interest whatsoever to observe the laws of the land hence operating but in an unregistered manner thereby defrauding the state of money through tax dues.

b) Unprofessional service providers that have no intention whatsoever to offer services in accordance with generally accepted standards.

c) Reduction of the prevalence of those service providers who are merely brokers. They specialise in clinching the deal and then pass it on to other financially capable players whose service provision may be questionable.

d&e) Unprofessional market players since having a professional setup in place is conducive when it comes to effective customer care.

f) The rampant joblessness of our youths many of whom have high qualifications.

Part III 8. (4)For the avoidance of doubt, the Authority shall assess every application to ascertain that the application-
(a) complies with applicable administrative, legal and technical
requirements issued by the Authority from time to time;
(b) demonstrates experience in the provision of information technology products or services;
(c) complies with applicable standards relating to the provision of
information technology products or services.

I foresee this netting those Fish Processing businesses that pose as ICT vendors. They have to pass all the hurdles indicated here. This provision while kind of scary for the small business or start-up, it should be looked at as a necessity. The small businesses in ICT have an opportunity to up their game, conform and then have a field day.

Part III 9. Grant or refusal of certification

(1)The Authority shall within forty five days after the receipt of an application grant or refuse certification.

.

(4)Where the Authority rejects or refuses an application for certification, the Authority shall give reasons and the registrar shall notify the applicant of the rejection or refusal within thirty days after the decision.

The commitment to a speedy handling of applications is a good sign since it shall not keep practitioners second guessing their status for mote than two months. If this is implemented as is, then few will complain of the process. However, after interacting with some NITA-U officials, I learnt that their goal is to set up an online engine that shall enable all applicants engage in the registration process without having to leave their offices. The engine shall have ensure full transparency of the process as the applicant will have frequent feedback on the status of the application. This addresses the fears expressed by some of having to make visits to the NITA-U offices from up-country.

Part III 11. Suspension or revocation of a certificate

(1)The Authority may suspend or revoke the certification to provide information technology products or services where the Authority is satisfied that–

(a) the person is operating in contravention of the Act or these Regulations;

(b) the capacity of the person to provide information technology products or services has diminished in a manner that affects the certification.

The beauty of this regulation is that it will be a continuous check for quality service provision as well as ethical behaviour. If customers are empowered to report unscrupulous registered albeit bogey providers, using this regulation could render them redundant.

Part IV 18. Products not in conformity with standards

Where the Authority refuses an application because the information technology products do not conform to approved standards for information technology products, the Authority shall take appropriate action including seizing and destroying the products at the cost of the applicant.

Scary as it may seem, this one serves to deter especially those that are into importation of fake products expecting to dupe our gullible consumers. The act of destroying all the stock is to ensure that it is not offloaded onto the black market.

I do hope that this regulation can be amended to exclude local innovators’ products that are testing the market. My proposal is to paraphrase it as; Where the Authority refuses an application because the information technology products do not conform to approved standards for information technology products, the Authority shall take appropriate action including seizing and destroying the products at the cost of the applicant. This shall however, not apply to local innovations that are a Work In Progress.

Part V 20. Persons providing information technology products and service prior to coming into force of these Regulations

(1) A person providing information technology products or services immediately before the coming into force of these Regulations shall apply for certification in accordance with the Act and these Regulations.

(2) The application under subregulation (1) shall be made within 90 working days after the coming into force of these Regulations.

Current players have been given upto three months to apply and that too is a fair deal since they definitely need some time to compile their paperwork as well as beef up their teams if compliance necessitates so.

Application Form

This deserves separate attention as it has generated a lot of debate and created fear among those practitioners who have no formal qualifications to justify them as ICT professionals.

Part 5 reads as:

EXPERTISE/ STAFF AND QUALIFICATIONS

(c) Indicate the qualifications in information technology of the staff as follows —

(i) Ph. D. holders

(ii) Masters

(ii) Bachelors

(iv) Diploma

(v) Certificate

(vi) Other Professional Certification

There are many competent ICT practitioners that are self taught and lack formal qualifications. I was one of those for a long time till I begun raking up various professional certifications with the aim of proving to those considering to engage me that I knew what I was doing. However, many have not toed my line and are not about to. They now are faced with the possibility of being stripped of a lifeline.

After my investigations with the NITA-U officials again, I realised that they have already catered for this group only that they could have erred by not indicating it in the application form. They plan to use the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA).

SFIA offers a skills based description approach to Information and Technology roles being handled by professionals. It gives individuals and organisations a common language to define skill, abilities and expertise in a consistent way. As opposed to the theoretical curriculums that many institutions are bound to give you which are then based upon to judge your level, SFIA looks at what you can do and through a well defined process, you get rated.

The output of the SFIA analysis is categorised in seven levels:

  1. FollowWorks under supervision; Has minimal influence; Performs routine activities; Uses basic information systems.
  2. AssistWorks under routine direction; Interacts with many and may influence immediate colleagues; Performs a range of varied work; Demonstrates a rational and organised approach to work.
  3. ApplyWorks under general direction; Interacts with and influences department / project team members; Performs a broad range of complex and non routine work; Demonstrates an analytical and systematic approach to problem solving.
  4. EnableWorks under general direction within a clear framework of accountability; Influences team and specialist peers internally; Performs a broad range of complex technical or professional work activities; Demonstrates an analytical and systematic approach to problem solving.
  5. Ensure, Advise Works under broad direction and tasks are usually self initiated; Influences organisation, peers, customers, suppliers and partners in areas of own speciality; Performs an extensive range and variety of complex technical and/or professional work activities; Advises on available standards, methods, tools and applications relevant to own speciality.
  6. Initiate, Influence Has defined authority and responsibility for a significant area of work including technical, financial and quality aspects; Influences policy formation on the contribution of own speciality to business objectives; Performs highly complex work activities covering technical, financial and quality aspects; Absorbs complex technical information and communicates effectively at all levels to both technical and non technical audiences.
  7. Set Strategy, Inspire, MobiliseHas authority and responsibility for all aspects of a significant area of work, including policy formation and application; Makes decisions critical to organisational success and influences developments within the IT industry at the highest levels; Leads on the formulation and implementation of strategy; Has a full range of strategic management and leadership skills. Understands, explains and presents complex technical ideas to both technical and non-technical audiences at all levels up to the highest in a persuasive and convincing manner.

For those who thought you were affected, do you now realise that using the SFIA approach you can still get high ratings for your experience based skill-sets? You can learn more from the SFIA 5 Framework Reference.

The Ugandan ICT industry in my view needs some form of regulation if it’s to nurture players with serious potential as opposed to the fly by night deal makers that currently typify it. With lots of innovative individuals as well as local businesses attempting to break in, the spirit of this move by NITA-U is aimed at not only protecting the consumer but in the process giving genuine players an opportunity to blossom.

@wirejames

The budget should show cause for the smallholder farmer

Uganda’s 2016-17 National Budget was read out recently. The smallholder farmer who forms the overwhelming majority of the 5.2 Million farming households is likely to need more attention.

There are tales of fruit processing machinery installed in some regional locations that are unutilised. Something is not right and we cannot keep blaming the farmer, maybe the implementers too need to rethink their approaches….

A move to commercial agriculture has been looked at as a necessary driver for the agriculture Sector and the economy in general. So, it is crucial to cease thinking about it as an activity that is done by farmers on large swathes of land with a lot of financial resources.

Read full article as published in the Daily Monitor here.

IMG_3489

Is Uganda’s Lands Information System really Computerised?

Lands_UgandaOn two occasions I have seen this advert  by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) inviting the general public to verify land title information in the new computerised land titles. They typically organise Land Registration Open Days, pitch camp in a specific location and expect every Wire, Mugwanya and Nabweteme to run to them and find out more about the status of their land.

The Ministry under “The Design, Supply, Installation and Implementation of National Land Information System Infrastructure (DeSINLISI)” project is undertaking measures to modernise land administration in Uganda. Alot has been done in the back-end as regards computerisation of the records and compared with the past, what we have currently is relatively impressive.

There is this famous story of a Muhima elder who boarded a bus for the first time to visit his son in law. Upon entering, he left his walking stick at the door of the bus (customarily, he is used to leaving the stick at the entrance of the house before he enters). When the bus reached it’s destination, he disembarked and expected to find his walking stick still there. The old man threw a tantrum when he couldn’t see his beloved walking stick. The Ministry of Lands is behaving in a similar manner. By embracing computerisation, they are staying stuck to habits that thrived in a non electronic era.

When I go to a restaurant and settle down, I usually have a menu that details all the available food and drinks they can offer. The food I want can only be prepared by the chef in the Kitchen. There are two options for me to get what I want:

Option 1 – I walk to the Kitchen and tell the chef what I want and wait till he has prepared it then walk back to my table with the food.

Option 2 – I get attended to by a waiter who takes my order, communicates to the chef and then later delivers my food at the table without me having to walk up and down.

The Ministry of Lands seems to be stuck to Option 1 in its understanding of how it should deal with the consumer (general public) even after computerisation. Like the legendary Muhima elder, they have embraced technology but are letting the very things that contributed to the inefficiencies in the past linger on. Why do I have to go to their offices anymore if indeed they now have an electronic system in place?

When designing computer systems, the new trend is to use the approach indicated in Option 2. The presence of a waiter in a restaurant makes the entire customer experience so great and thus increases the likelihood of customers patronising that place. In computer terms, the waiter that makes our lives simple can be referred to as an API (Application Programming Interface). With the system that has been developed for Uganda’s Lands Registry, all that is required now is for the National Lands Information System (NLIS) to come up with an API that can then be used by independent developers who are more than willing to come up with Phone and Web Apps that facilitate interaction with the Lands Registry. There is no longer a need for any sane Ugandan to walk to the National Theatre during the Land Registry Open Days, spend close to three hours just to establish information that could reach them on their phone with ease.

API_DiagThe National Land Information System (NLIS) can then focus on ensuring that it has a well functioning credible database and working with other partners in the private sector, it then ensures that the dissemination of the information is achieved swiftly. The dissemination of this information can be at a fee which is paid by those trying to access Land Information through avenues like Mobile Money or any other third party dealers that may have been identified.

The wins for the Ministry here are;

  • Increased access by the masses to the Land Registry

  • Increased revenue generation from the online land search activities that are now conducted by many more people than before. A revenue share model can be worked out with the participating private companies developing Applications just like the Telecoms have with the content providers.

  • Lands Information System extension at no greater cost to the Ministry since the private sector players will do this in order to generate more revenue.

  • Focus on the core database systems and ensuring that there is ultimate integrity of the information shared.

My plea to the team handling the NLIS, is that it’s time you focused on the customer and ensured that there is more inclusiveness. Avoid the traditional disease in most Uganda Government departments of desiring too much control of installed systems even when it’s to the detriment of the masses. Cede some ground and you will not only benefit as indicated above but also help spur innovation and entrepreneurial growth among the fledgling youthful software developers that are all over our streets.

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Dear President Museveni, As You Swear in, Remember …

Dear Mr. President!

It is under four days to your inauguration as our President for yet another 5 years. Congratulations are in order for this is no mean achievement! Best wishes too for a fruitful and prosperous term not just for you but for us as a nation.

As you start your new term in office, I want to bring to your attention a story that appeared in the press recently. Speaking at the closing of a meeting of District Engineers from across the country; State Minister for transport Dr.Steven Chebrot said in his own words and I quote; ” Government would ensure value for the taxpayers’ money. The new supplier is competent, professional and has the capacity to supply the heavy road equipment within the specified time. It is unfortunate that it is an extra cost to all of us Ugandans including myself,” This was in apparent reference to the new equipment Government is acquiring for Districts to replace the non functional equipment bought less than 5 years at the cost of US$100m from China!

Your Excellency; this mode of working should not continue in your new term of office! From the Ministers statement, it appears that the supplier of the Chinese was incompetent; unprofessional and lacked capacity. How then did they get a US$100m contract to supply equipment to the Government of Uganda?

I have previously expressed in similar write ups to you, that the whole notion of Government owning equipment and doing road works by its self has been tried before in Uganda and has not worked. There is no reason why we should go that route again because it simply does not work!!

The above notwithstanding, I find it odd that Government could spend US$100m on equipment that is found not fit for purpose and no one is held responsible. The following questions should come to mind regarding the procurement of this Chinese equipment;

1. Was there a contract between FaW China (The Supplier) and Government or was the equipment ordered by word of mouth?

2. If there was a contract, did the contract include a warranty for the equipment or not? If there was; has Govt exercised its rights under the warranty? Who is responsible for this?

3. And if there was no provision for a warranty in the Contract, who is responsible for this gross omission that is costing tax payers so much money? How do you buy equipment for USD100m without any form of warranty?

4. Did the contract include specifications for the equipment or it did not? If it did was there pre and post shipment inspection to check for compliance with the specifications? If inspection was done, who was responsible for it and why did they accept the equipment if it did not meet the specifications?

5. Is it possible that the equipment was poorly specified such that even if it met the specifications it would still not be suited for purpose? Who was responsible for prepping these specifications and why have they not been held responsible?

6. Is it also possible that Government did not have any specifications and the supplier was left to their own device to decide what they should supply? If that was the case; who should be held responsible for this omission?

7. Did FaW just promise to build service centres for this equipment or it was a contractual obligation? If it was a contractual obligation, why have they not met it and what has Government done about it?!

Your Excellency, this and many other wasteful transactions shall seriously impede our steady progress not only in the roads sector but in other sectors as well. It is therefore important that in your new term, persons responsible are brought to book. It is hard to believe that Government, can simply write off USD100m?! There is so much acute need in our country we surely cannot afford such waste!

Contributed by Anthony Mark Mondo via WhatsApp