Tag Archives: Infrastructure

Hon Tumwebaze, Uganda should venture into Outer Space

I am one of the numerous Ugandans who expect little in terms of cutting edge knowledge and proactive initiatives from our distinguished Ministers. A good number of them are viewed as partaking of political rewards as dispensed by the Fountain of Honour.

After being entertained by pedestrian reasoning from the likes of Hon. Anite Evelyn one would be hard pressed to expect anything better from the current lot of ministers. However, I was taken back when I came across a statement that Hon Frank Tumwebaze made in the Parliament of Uganda in response to a query by Hon. Cuthbert Abigaba. I must admit that I’ve had to eat my words and change my attitude abit. I now believe there are some ministers and Members of Parliament worth their salt in Uganda.

The Minister had been tasked to share plans that the Government of Uganda has to tap into the vast opportunity provided by the Upper Air Space. In his response, he made an effort to point out a number of issues that got me and my fellow amateur astronomers excited. While it definitely fell short of many things, we agreed on one thing, it’s a good start and commendable line of thinking.

The use of the term Upper Air Space would literally restrict the kind of information the minister shared, if we are to go by some of the definitions out there. However, I would like to believe that what Hon. Abigaba wanted to know about was basically our plans as a country to tap into the opportunities offered by Outer Space.

The Minister’s full statement is available here in which he points out a number of issues that are being considered both as a nation and Africa as a whole.

According to Wikipedia, Outer space is defined as the near vacuum that exists between celestial bodies. Celestial bodies are natural bodies located outside of the earth’s atmosphere like the Sun, Moon, Jupiter, Mars, the numerous stars and planets that litter the sky etc. Scientists refer to the point of separation between the Earth’s atmosphere and Outer Space as the Karman Line. This is located 100km from the earth’s surface.

Karman-Line

Depiction of the Karman line. Image courtesy of Derekscope

Countries like the USA, Russia, China and India are already trailblazing in the space exploration arena and some people have been left asking why we mind so much about investing money in space exploration when hunger and poverty are still rife in our countries.

Uganda has largely been passive in this endeavour and this can be attributed to the overwhelming need to address survival basics for our citizens as well as a general lack of guidance in this regard. A discussion on outer space should not be restricted to satellites and communication technologies. We need to be looking beyond that. Like the explorers of yester-years who traversed the world by ship searching for distant lands and peoples, the opportunities outer space offers us today are;

  • Better monitoring and management of planet earth. We can be in position to track a lot of aspects about this planet including among others weather. This monitoring will definitely help us better manage the resources at our disposal as well as right the wrongs that have been done over the years.

  • Explore alternative planets/locations for settlement. Have you ever imagined that one day man shall be an interplanetary specie? Just like you have Ugandans living in Uganda and others in the U.K, we cannot rule out a time when we shall have humans living on Mars or dwelling in floating cities in space. Earth as we know it might eventually become hostile hence the need for us to establish alternative locations of abode in the universe where we can set up ourselves afresh in the event of a catastrophe on mother earth. You might for example not be aware that 50Km above the surface of the planet Venus, one finds an atmosphere that is very earth like. This could be one good candidate for a space colony through the use of floating cities.

  • The Solar System that we are a part of is just one of the millions of solar systems in the Milky way Galaxy. The Milky way Galaxy is just one of billions of Galaxies in the universe. Have you ever considered the possibility of other intelligent life forms existing elsewhere in the Universe? Sincerely, do you really believe that God only placed man in this universe? We may have been the only ones he made in His own image but we cannot rule out many other human like beings He created that are not necessarily in his image.

If we are to remain relevant to the future, as a nation we need to stand up and be counted. We have to join the Space agenda as fast as possible. Uganda has entry points that can be utilised to get into this arena if only we took time to educate ourselves more on this subject matter.

Located at the Equator with a big water body in the form of L. Victoria, Uganda is an ideal location for a Spaceport (used to launch rockets to space).

The earth is always continuously spinning on its axis. This spin can act as a boost when launching rockets into space. The experience is similar to someone giving you a push before you dive into the swimming pool. The strength of the push determines how fast you get into the pool. Due to the oval nature or the earth, in the 24 hours it takes for it to spin on its axis, a spot nearer to the North or South Poles moves a shorter distance than one at the equator.

earth_rotation

Earth’s rotation.

An object at the equator in Uganda already has a rotation speed of 1670 Km/h as opposed to one in Norway at about 800Km/h. Since the surface of the earth is travelling faster at the equator, a launch in the same area implies that the rocket takes off at a faster speed and reaches orbit much quicker. This has a lot of implications towards minimising the cost of launches.

The presence of Lake Victoria as a water body is ideal. These water bodies are favoured near launch sites because they tend to offer a good backup of water supply in the event that a fire erupted at the spaceport. Remember rocket launches are basically controlled explosions. Something could go wrong at the launch pad. SpaceX had a pre-launch explosion in September 2016. John Young (American Astronaut) once said, “Anyone who sits on top of the largest hydrogen-oxygen fueled system in the world, knowing they’re going to light the bottom, and doesn’t get a little worried, does not fully understand the situation.”

Uganda being on the Eastern side of the African continent is also another compelling factor. Most space launches (at least for geostationary orbit satellites) tend to take on the easterly direction during launch. With the Indian Ocean not too far, the stages that eject during flight can drop into the ocean.

Today, our Mpoma Satellite Earth Station is largely idle. It could easily be revived and used to track satellites most of which are largely cycling around the equator.

On the Human Resource front, as a country, Uganda has been acknowledged for having a large youthful population. This coupled by the high numbers of technology graduates being churned out of school is another mouth watering opportunity that awaits exploitation. These brains can be put to use in an elaborate space programme.

ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organisation has not engaged in any major inventions but simply utilised already available knowledge in the public domain to make leaps in the Space arena. They have sent probes as far as Mars at a fraction of the cost of NASA to study more about celestial bodies. This is encouraging news and implies that Uganda can easily follow suit.

For starters, Uganda’s Space Agency can count on the massive backlog of satellite launches to make money that would then fund other activities in this regard. A thorough strategic plan is required prior to taking this leap of faith.

Once again, Hon. Tumwebaze, I thank you for the insight you and your team has shown. I believe there are Ugandans out there ready to work with you to turn this Outer Space fantasy into a reality and appease visionary MPs like Hon. Cuthbert Abigaba. Please join the Uganda Astronomers’ WhatsApp group or the Facebook Page for starters so we can engage from both a civil and technical perspective.

“The probability of success is difficult to estimate; but if we never search, the chance of success is zero,” Giuseppe Cocconi and Philip Morrison’s paper ‘Searching for Interstellar Communications’ that was published in September 1959

Let us start NOW!!!

James Wire is a Small Business and Technology Consultant based in Kampala, Uganda

Follow @wirejames on Twitter.

Email lunghabo [at] gmail [dot] com

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Uganda’s Budget, A Glimmer of Hope

Having had a chance to read through the Budget speech by the Minister of Finance, I have to say that as a patriotic Ugandan, it is a God send. For years I have been one of the silent complainants about our continuous never ending begging sprees that see us parading begging bowls before various Developed nations. What hurts most is when the very nations we are begging start making us dance to their tunes with total disregard of our needs as a nation and society of people with our own values.

Starting off with the Theme “Maintaining the Momentum: Infrastructure Investment for Growth and Socio-Economic Transformation” it is very clear that the investment in Infrastructure that has been kicked off in the recent past is not about to become history. Uganda is in need of a thorough revamp, upgrade or added investment in infrastructure like Transport (Roads, Railways, Air), Electricity (Generation and Distribution), Communication (Broadband, National Backbone, hardware systems), Water (Processing and Distribution), Agriculture (Irrigation Schemes, Processing) among others.

Due to the negligence over the past 20 – 40 years in addressing infrastructure needs in tandem with the growing population and economy, the country is now at that point where everything needs urgent attention. Unfortunately, its even complicated by the fact that for any meaningful economic growth, most of this hitherto ignored infrastructure cannot achieve results in isolation.

You for example cannot talk of constructing new roads when they have nothing to transport once done. The areas these roads are opening up should be stimulated into increased production for effective benefit of the masses and nation as a whole. A good example is the roads being built in the oil rich Bunyoro region as a result of the Oil exploration going on there.

The budget’s strategy is built on four key inter-linked interventions that are summarised as;

  1. Improving the business climate by undertaking key economic infrastructure investments.
  2. Leveraging Government assistance in Agriculture, Agribusiness, Agro-processing, Tourism, Industry and Services like ICT.
  3. Improving Human Resource productivity by enhancing provision of quality education, health and water services
  4. Strengthening Institutional Governance, Accountability and Transparency.

In brief, the Government would like to stimulate the private sector to grow in the sectors that Uganda has a core competence in by investing in key infrastructure, ensuring good health of the working population and addressing corruption. What more would one ask for?

On the Science and Innovation front, the Government plans to enhance support to industrial research institutions in order to develop and commercialise technology innovations. Uganda needs this in the same measure that we need good roads. Asa country, we have fallen victim and shall continue to fall victim of imported technology that is not suitable for our environment. No attempts at modification are even made and after being flooded with all this dumped technology, nothing gets off the ground and we are back to square one. Lately there has been a drive at a number of local Universities to foster innovation among the students. This has led to initiatives like the Food Technology Business Incubation Center at Makerere University, Tooke under the Presidential Initiative on Banana Industrial Development (PIBID), IT Innovation hubs like Outbox e.t.c. I am optimistic that in the next ten years, we shall have decent home grown innovations that can compete favourably on the world stage and emulate what our Agriculture scientists have been doing at the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) for years.

Finally there has been a turn around by Government after having led a lie all these years believing that the solution to our unemployment challenge is to attract foreign investors who will create thousands of jobs. Those investors are either rare or have taken the country for a ride for too long. Cases are rife of so called investors shipping in cheap labour from their homelands especially those of Asian origin thereby defeating the very purpose of the investment sweeteners they are benefiting from. In this budget, there is clear recognition of SMEs being critical towards creating jobs while at the same time mobilising the informal and rural economic activity. I sincerely hope this can be followed through.

On the ICT front, the push by Government to extend the reach of the fibre backbone i.e. National Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) as well as commercialise its operations is very commendable as it is definitely going to stimulate the growth of ICT services beyond the key urban areas. It will also enable the faster realisation of countrywide e-Government initiatives that are infrastructure dependent.

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) subsector has finally began getting the recognition it needs too. With over 4000 employees, it has been recognised as another growth area. My take here is that the Government shouldn’t leave the BPO operators to hang out dry and look for work from overseas only, charity begins at home and I believe that the Government should lead by example, outsource to these operators as soon as possible.

Agriculture and Agribusiness have also received prominence in this budget. For a sector that employs 70% of Uganda’s labour force while contributing about 21% to the GDP, I must say that the technocrats in the Ministry of Finance have finally come down to earth. Interventions will be supported through focusing on provision of inputs, targeting the needy and graduates, focusing on enterprises that provide high returns to small holder farmers and encouraging value addition for those in large scale production.

The efforts to refurbish and construct new referral hospitals in Kampala and around the country is a welcome call towards addressing the dire situation faced by the Health sector. Until one travels to the country side and visits some of these health centers, you will never believe that God exists.

As a service provide to Government, I do appreciate the proposed accountability measures aimed at effectively and efficiently utilising public resources. These are;

  1. Strict enforcement of the Commitment Control System which bars any Accounting officer from over committing Government beyond the available resources. Accounting officers will be required to honour payments to contractors and service providers within 14 days from receipt of invoices (If you have spent 6 months and more without receiving a payment from Government for work already delivered, am sure you feel me on this).
  2. Decentralisation of the payroll management from the Ministry of Finance to the Accounting Officers is likely to deal with the ‘Ghost’ workers while interlinking the Integrated Personnel and Payroll System (IPPS) run by the Ministry of Public Service with the Integrated Financial Management System (IFMS) shall enhance efficiency of operation.
  3. Budget Transparency and Accountability. Did you know that there is a Budget information website that provides all budget related data? It provides performance of Government programmes by locality and serves as a platform for the public to provide feedback and report any information related to implementation of the national budget. This gives us an opportunity to debate with facts on issues of National Governance.

One will ask but how sincere is Government when they talk of promoting Agriculture and ICT while at the same time levying more taxes on the sectors? The budget proposal is to levy 18% VAT on;

  • Supply of New Computers, Desktop Printers, Computer parts and Accessories and Computer Software Licenses
  • Supply of feeds for Poultry and Livestock
  • Supply of Agriculture and Dairy Machinery
  • Supply of Salt
  • Supply of Cereals gown, milled or produced in Uganda
  • Supply of processed milk and milk products
  • Supply of machinery and tools for Agriculture
  • Supply of seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and hoes

If we put aside man’s inherent laxity towards paying tax, I must say that this move is counterproductive to what the Minister told the nation about promoting ICT, Agriculture and Agribusiness. The Agricultural producer is likely to experience an increase in costs of doing business and so we should expect a corresponding increase in product prices or less private sector led investment in the sector or both.

However, when you analyse this move from a holistic perspective, you realise that VAT is a tax that is transferable and thus doesn’t have to be swallowed up by the producer. Even when the consumer eventually pays higher prices for the product, Agriculture being what it is, no one can avoid food so the consumption is not likely to cease though it may slow down. What producers need to do is come up with new ways of availing their products in a manner that allows the consumer to continue with their current consumption patterns.

By raising tax money from this very sector, it will also help fortify the overarching theme of this budget. I mentioned earlier that the infrastructure development priorities can’t achieve their goals in isolation. So, because of the need to raise money locally having experienced a big drop in the donors supporting the national budget, its the time to sacrifice. Over 60% of Ugandans are in the category that can best be defined as ‘hard to tax’ with those in White Collar jobs bearing the brunt of taxation. In the short term, this leaves Government with Value Added Tax (VAT) as the soft spot for spreading the tax net further.

As we brace ourselves for a potential increase in service and product prices, I am a lot happier because more Ugandans are now going to be co-opted into the tax brackets hence reducing the burden on the few that have been bearing the brunt.

Secondly, with more Ugandans paying tax, this will increase civic responsibility in the lowest levels of society where people have been accustomed to making decisions without thinking them through. Case in point, many voters who tend to be in the informal economic sector do not care much about pursuing accountability issues from the Public Servants as they are under the impression that after all money comes from somewhere else. By paying taxes and feeling the pinch, they will abandon their laissez faire attitudes and exercise their civic duties.

Thirdly, corrupt Government officials will soon be faced with more than just mere jail terms. An angry tax paying population is unlikely to tolerate theft of its resources as opposed to the current status-quo where the adage “babba za bazungu” (They are stealing foreigners’ money) is common.

Bye Bye Dependence, Welcome Independence. Independence comes with Responsibility. Lets brace ourselves.

@wirejames