Recently I have had the opportunity to attend two interesting events. In early October it was the launch of the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure, what is otherwise called the e-government. And earlier this week it was the launch of the UNCTAD Information Economy Report 2011.On both occasions, I have heard the same comment made by two experts in ICT.
At the launch of the e-government, I had a sidelines interview with Peter Kahiigi, the Director for Technical Services at NITA-Uganda. He carried out a demo at the data centre, which was a tele-conference with the local government officials in Nakasongola district. But when I asked him about the practicality of interconnecting government departments to avail digital information both among themselves and to the public, he made one comment;
“We now have the infrastructure, but most of the data that we should avail to each other and to the public is still in filing cabinets. So it’s like building a super highway, when you have only two cars to use the road,” he said.
Michael Niyitegeka of the College of CIT at Makerere University made that very comment to me at the launch of the Information Economy Report. Except his was better. “It’s like building a 6-lane highway when you have only bicycles to ride!”
I want to believe that the two gentlemen perhaps know each other professionally. But I also want to believe that none of them stole either gentleman’s line. In line of work, you can go to jail for that.
But more seriously, this I guess reflects on Uganda’s approach to availing digital content that’s of use to both the government and its citizens.
At the report launch, the discussion revolved around content. Many seemed to be of the view that the country has done well to create internet access and build the infrastructure, but we, sadly, have no cars on our cyber highway. Which reminded me of a certain incident.
Early 2011, I visited the Ministry of Agriculture website, looking for information I wanted to use in an article. I found three things on the site; a picture of a cow, a picture of coffee cherries, and a picture of a bundle of fish. Months later I check back and found the same items. It’s only a few weeks back that I checked again and found the website up and running.
So Kahiigi is able to tele-conference with people in Nakasongola, but if I was researching on local government spending and I wanted to access that district’s financial report of 2010, I would have to travel 100kms from Kampala to find it.
The e-government project is a US$107 million contract to Huawei. But what no body is telling us is whether the Chinese firm is going to also assist with digging up our rotting and rotten files from the Land Registry, the Uganda Registration Services Bureau, and the National Archive which I recently visited, and digitalize them. Otherwise, I don’t much point in us have the interconnecting infrastructure.
An executive from Orange Uganda raised the point that the private sector has also not played the role of availing digital content to the public
On PC Tech Dot Geeks, a Facebook group, we had a discussion about the new New Vision website. The Vision Group is a leading media corporation in Uganda, partly owned by the government, and it runs newspapers, radio and TV stations. So I visited their new website during the discussion with The Geeks and being in this industry, I went straight to the multimedia section, and found it empty. With all the digital media material Vision Group has copyright to, this was quite surprising.
There have been quite some developments in the private sector and the civil society. Several m-health applications that help people to share health information are now quite common especially with NGO networks. But in a country, just like with money, most information really trickles down from government. Like I said before on PC Tech Dot Geeks, in some parts of these departments, you would think computers have never existed.Hits:2588