Monthly Archives: October 2014

Museveni, this is how you can solve the Kagingo Problem

The fracas around the management of President Yoweri Museveni’s Social Media interactions has been with us for a while now with stories of infighting among some key staff. What is interesting to note is that the decision to take the President online was well received by the online community and within a short time, the number of followers on the President’s Twitter and Facebook accounts grew swiftly. As of October 29th 2014, the @KagutaMuseveni official verified account has 66,258 followers while the Facebook page has 155,885 likes.

It is thus good to thank whoever had the dynamism in his team to see this social media push through. The fruits are starting to be seen. Unfortunately like is the case with many Ugandan Government related initiatives, whenever an initiative begins to shine, it attracts conflict. We have seen this happen before and are not about to stop. While some may be happy with the fact that the president is now able to relate with all citizens easily using online media, others are probably seeing it as a source of money and hence the genesis of the bickering. Unfortunately, the bickering eventually roped in my good friend Joseph Owino who in a bid to carry out patriotic services (bulungi bwa nsi) was construed as an evil brained hacker and had his movements restricted (arrested) for a while. His situation was the culmination of some unprofessional reporting by a local media house and the lack of comprehension of IT basics by someone that had been entrusted to manage the President’s Social Media image. Her choice to command the arrest of this young Ugandan technology talent reminded me of the ‘panda gari‘ days of Amin and Obote II regimes. Its a pity that she may be too young to realise that she is replaying history.

Mr. President, if I were you, I would take on this Social Media push as follows;

First, I come up with a Social Media Strategy in order to have a clear path on the way forward. When you simply dive into something without much aforethought, you are likely to get the kind of internal cannibalism that is being witnessed in your team. In our street linguo we call it jumping in fwaaa or okugwa mu kidiba. This strategy should allow you to identify the goals, set objectives, identify the target(s), know what the competition is like (opposition in this case), choose appropriate channels (do you opt for twitter and facebook only or even Google+, Instagram etc?), create a content strategy, allocation of budget and other resources (this will prevent the now standard Katosi like budgets that have become typical in Government) and finally assign roles (How many people do you need to run this initiative, what are their roles)

Secondly, I would get professionals (probaby from the private sector) to guide my team on designing the strategy and all this without having to spend obscene sums importing expatriates. I would support the Buy Uganda Build Uganda (BUBU) strategy and utilise the readily available local resources. I once heard of a training in open source software that was conducted by the Uganda Communications Commission where they imported trainers from Europe sidelining competent and proven local personnel. This should stop and I would ensure there is no repeat.

Finally, I would direct the National IT Authority of Uganda (NITA-U) to come up with guidelines on official use of Social media (in case they haven’t yet done it). These guidelines would then have to be followed by the Social media team at State House and adhered to.

At this juncture, there would be very little to be stressed about. Remember, while Ugandans may tolerate mediocrity the global audience that Social Media platforms expose you to isn’t usually that forgiving. Any small gaffe is likely to soil the already good image that you may have been built.

Adios

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Rural Communication Fund Scores High in Uganda

At the turn of this century, a number of African countries having embraced the changes in the Telecommunications Industry begun seriously considering extending the reach of the new technologies and services to all their citizens. This gave birth to the set up of various Universal Access Funds for the communications sector. Uganda was one of the early adopters and has walked the talk for over a decade through the implementation of the Rural Communications Development Fund as shared in this article..

Guatemala Confronts the threat of Patented GM Crops – Uganda beware

Located in Central America, Guatemala is a country half the size of Uganda. It is known for its abundance of biologically significant and unique ecosystems that contribute to mesoamerica’s designation as a biodiversity hotspot.

This country draws many similarities with Uganda. It underwent many years of civil war during which it lost most of its productive population leading to the displacement and death of many peasant farmers as a result and the departure of the educated few in search of greener pastures.

It has the highest population growth rate in Latin America, an honour Uganda is vying for in Africa too. Like Uganda, it has one of the youngest populations in Latin America and is still dogged by a high birth rate. Economically, both countries have a significant Agricultural industry.

During the last decade, Guatemala begun flirting with Genetically Modified Crops with the USA playing an active role in pushing for their introduction. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) with the support of the local Agribusiness sector was able to lobby against Guatemala’s restricitive biosafety rules as far back as 2005 with transgenic agriculture advocates strategising to ensure that subsequent government administrations are GM friendly.

Companies like Monsanto known as ‘breeders’ after carrying out modifications on naturally existing crops are turning around to patent those crops and expecting any one that grows them to pay royalties. Imagine a rural farmer having to contend with purchasing seed each season, paying a royalty fee and not being allowed to re-plant from the previous stock. Essentially, the future of the Agriculture sector is being sold to corporates who want to control what you grow and how you grow it. These companies are driven by profit and care less about the potential environmental side effects of their grand plans. Argentina a country that took on mass adoption of GM Crops is already paying the price with numerous rural dwellers abandoning the countrysides due to a myriad of problems that have evolved as a result of this drive.

On 10 June 2014, the Congress of Guatemala approved the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties” that among others stipulated punishments of upto 4 years imprisonment and fines in the range of US$ 1300 for any infringer. One could argue that only those who choose to plant GM Crops will suffer the brunt. This isn’t the case. When natural crop varieties are grown within the environs of GM crops, there is cross breeding that takes place thereby modifying the natural varieties. The farmer whose natural variety has been contaminated will now be liable to pay GM companies like Monsanto if they want to continue replanting their contaminated crop. Monsanto is on record in this regard in the case of Monsanto Canada Inc Vs Schmeiser. By virtue of being patent holders, these companies will determine what you can or can’t do with ‘their’ seeds and like software, they basically rent you their seeds.

The Public Citizen in one of its reports noted that Plant Variety Protection using Intellectual Property Rights is likely to achieve the following;

  • Increased harm to small scale farmers in developing nations. Worldwide at least 1.5 billion individuals depend on small scale farming for their livelihoods of which most are in developing countries. Saving, selling and exchanging seed is essential to the viability of their farming practices. Any system designed to stop this will create a catastrophy in future.

  • More harm to genetic diversity and other implications to Developing countries. Plant Variety Protection discourages breeding minor crops that don’t have a wide enough market. This is likely to have a significant knock on the bio-diversity currently being enjoyed. Traditional diverse agro-ecosystems containing a wide range of traditional crop varieties are likely to be replaced with monocultures of single agro-chemical dependent varieties.

  • The current domination of the GM Crop breeding by rich multinationals in developed countries is likely to skew development for farms in rich economies thereby ignoring crops like sorghum, millet, cassava among others. The spin off effect of this is a threat on food security especially in nations where there is heavy dependence on small scale farming like Uganda.

Following the passing of the “Law for the Protection of New Plant Varieties” in Guatemala, there was a lot of uproar in the country and protests followed. Subsequently, the same Congress that passed the law repealed it on the 4th of September 2014 to the joy of many, following a Constitutional Court ruling.

How did Guatemala get here? In 2005 Guatemala signed the CAFTA-DR Free Trade Agreement between Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and the USA. In this agreement, under Chapter 15 on Intellectual Property Rights, 15.1, 5(a) states; “Each Party shall ratify or accede to the International Convention for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants (1991) (UPOV Convention 1991). Nicaragua shall do so by January 1, 2010. Costa Rica shall do so by June 1, 2007. All other Parties shall do so by January 1, 2006.

Further clarity is provided on UPOV in the footer “The Parties recognize that the UPOV Convention 1991 contains exceptions to the breeder’s right, including for acts done privately and for non-commercial purposes, such as private and non-commercial acts of farmers. Further, the Parties recognize that the UPOV Convention 1991 provides for restrictions to the exercise of a breeder’s right for reasons of public interest, provided that the Parties take all measures necessary to ensure that the breeder receives equitable remuneration. The Parties also understand that each Party may avail itself of these exceptions and restrictions. Finally, the Parties understand that there is no conflict between the UPOV Convention 1991 and a Party’s ability to protect and conserve its genetic resources.”

On patents, the same agreement further states in 15.9, 2; “Notwithstanding the foregoing, any Party that does not provide patent protection for plants by the date of entry into force of this Agreement shall undertake all reasonable efforts to make such patent protection available. Any Party that provides patent protection for plants or animals on or after the date of entry into force of this Agreement shall maintain such protection.” This is the noose around the neck that could have led the Congress in Guatemala to proceed with the enactment of that harmful Act. Their desire to comply with the trade agreement meant going against their very people’s desires.

It is very clear here that the Government of Guatemala went into this agreement without thinking through whatever commitments were being made. Had they taken time to rummage through the paperwork, this scenario would have been avoided. At this juncture I realise that Uganda tends to be a victim of such gaffes and as the protagonists for GM crops mark their territory in this East African Country, the decision makers should take time to orient themselves with the implications of their decisions to the survival of humanity and natural life in this well endowed Agricultural country.

The Need to Formalise that Small Business of Yours

Uganda is known as an Entrepreneurial Country with various Global Entrepreneurship Monitor reports affirming that. It is very likely that 7 out of every 10 Ugandan employees do run a private business on the side. This could be driven by the low job security, lack of social security entitlements or the desire to earn more money and be more independent as opposed to maintaining  income. However, most of these ‘businesses’ are hardly formal and as a result operate below the radar. Initially this may be tolerated for the sake of testing the market but as they grow beyond certain boundaries, the need to formalise sets in. I share more insights in this Article.

go straight to the top to get services fixed

scare-a-hero

ONE morning this week, a friend of mine texted us a call for help; his internet connectivity was faulty and he had failed to get a response from the provider’s Customer Care department, so he needed the contact of “someone” in the company “to help”.

We fell upon him like a tonne of bricks; questioning why he was so accommodating of a service from a corporate entity he was presumably paying money to yet he often rants angrily when some government service or another does not meet his approval (even though he does pay taxes for it).

Some people, however, responded giving him names and numbers of people to contact within the organisation “to help” him.

Before he could make the phone calls for assistance, we told him he was subsidising mediocrity, abdicating his customer rights, and most importantly, wasting our own mobile internet packages because we were using WhatsApp.

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Uganda’s Law Protects the Online Consumer

As a consumer of Online services in Uganda, it is common to find people cursing their providers and vowing to move on to the next one. Many will tell you to ‘vote with your money’ by ceasing to pay for poor services, which is a good thing. But are you aware that Uganda has laws that can effectively allow you to get justice as an aggrieved consumer? Find out more in this article.

Data Thieves? Orange Telecom?

October 14th 2014 started off just like any other day. I dropped my kids at their various schools, passed by a Petrol Station to buy airtime and while at it, I play the piki piki ponki game of trying to decide whether to buy Orange or MTN Airtime. Eventually Orange takes the day. One thing for sure, Orange has always been my preferred data provider even amidst all the allegations that have been levied against them of cheating customers on data bundle usage. Those who know me know how spiritedly loyal I can be (ask KCCA). Fast forward, I head to my office, proceed to activate 200Mbs of data on my Orange line which still had 26Mb of data due to expire in a short while.

Having set up the hotspot on my phone enabling only USB access to my Mac, he fumbling then starts as I don’t seem to get access to the internet for about 5 minutes. The next thing I see is a message from Orange at 7:29 am “Your internet bundle has expired. Internet access ….” I could hardly believe my eyes. I then consoled myself with the thought that being a pre-programmed message maybe it was referring to the previous day’s bundle that had 26Mbs left. I was expecting to start consuming my freshly loaded 200Mb. To my shock, the fumbling continued and on checking my data status, I got the message “No valid package.”

A call to Orange support follows at 7:41 am and I am greeted by a one Patrick .O. After explaining what transpired, he advises that I had actually used up my data. This sent me reeling in shock. I recalled all my 16 years spent on the internet, how as one of the pioneer internet techies in Uganda I had learnt from first principles to use bandwidth in the most lean manner. The first ISP I worked for had a 64 Kbps data link that was shared among close to 600 customers and the Office LAN. Such lean access made me grow up as a natural miser of bandwidth. Now this guy tells me how I had used 226Mb in five minutes?What was I downloading? For starters;

  • I don’t play videos online save for when I am using some kind of fixed free internet.

  • I have optimised my phones and Mac never to make any reckless downloads without my permission

  • I am always careful to keep my Orange Phone switched off when I ain’t using it for data access in order to avoid ‘false data usage triggers’

  • Apart from Gmail, WordPress, Whatsapp, Tweetdeck and occasionally Facebook, I dont have any other applications that are likely to be bandwidth hogs

So, Patrick O takes me for a fool not to know when I have got my money’s worth yet the records on my Orange Account should be enough to show him that I am a consistent user of their bundles on a daily basis? In otherwords I am so much of a fool that I am like that chap who went to a petrol station, paid for a full tank of fuel and after driving for a mere 50 metres, the tank was empty. On heading back to ask the Pump attendant what the problem was, he was told; “You have used up all your fuel.” [duh!!!]

Orange Telecom, where do you school these support personnel of yours? Or is it that they are a reflection of the average levels of understanding of IT in Uganda? Patrick .O proceeds to advise me to send an email to customer care and wait for 24 hours for the problem to be resolved? In this day and age? What is a tech company doing replying to emails after 24 hours? So if I have no alternative, how do they expect me to send that email now that I am too scared to use Orange Data again? I was only lucky to have a ‘connected’ friend link me up to someone ‘upstairs’ but what would an ordinary consumer do? Just accept their fate and curse on the sidelines?

Recently my son touched the bathroom taps when he has a slight wound on his hand and received a mild electric shock, since then, he has boycotted touching those taps, I now understand his feeling and thats the same way I feel too about Orange as I rant.

It has been alleged that Ugandan Telcos are hiding behind the veil of Internet bundles to cheat unsuspecting customers and I am a living testimony to that, courtesy of Orange Telecom. Many users keep complaining and information has been passed on to the Uganda Communications Commission to this effect but the trend continues.

Many are the questions regarding how the traffic is computed to determine the actual data usage and this will remain a subject of debate until we call a spade a spade.

As I wind up the article, Orange has refunded my 200Mb, and assured me that I visited the site akamaitechnologies.com and that is where I lost all the data within a minute. Wow!!! I didn’t know the speeds were that crazy on their network. That would be a download speed of slightly more than 3.5 Mbps. Possible but not practical here in Uganda.

I am grateful for that action but at the same time shudder to imagine how many other subscribers have lost their hard earned money to telcos. If you dont live in Uganda, you may wonder, what the heck anyway? 200Mb of data valid for 24 hours costs US$ 1.5. In a country where a significant section of the population is earning less than Two dollars a day, it matters a lot.

To the other operators, you too are equally culpable, many are the stories that have been shared about similar challenges. I leave you with Exodus 20:15.

Is the .UG redelegation Necessary?

In the recent past, ccTLDs (Country Code Top Level Domains) have attracted alot of attention from Governments and national communities to the extent that they are being regarded a national resource. This has led to a desire to change the way they are managed with many of them having been run by individuals and private companies. Uganda hasn’t escaped that. I share a little history and my proposed way forward for Uganda’s .UG ccTLD here.

COMESA or EU. Which Market for Uganda’s Agricultural Products?

With many local producers, processors  and aggregators in the Agricultural value chain focusing on exporting their products to the European markets even amidst the various hurdles that are clearly designed to only encourage us to export raw materials as opposed to processed products, its time to rethink our approach. The COMESA region for starters could offer more than enough market for the average company in Uganda today. Find out more in this article.

Uganda Takes on Free Software by the Horns

Nearly two decades ago, a small community of IT nerds emerged and this group quickly got fascinated with Free and Open Source Software. From those humble beginnings, the community grew in both numbers and influence. The seed planted has now caught the attention of the Government of Uganda that is working on Policies to address Free Software in the country. I share more in this blog post.