An African Pioneer Comes of Age: Evolution of Information and Communication Technologies in Uganda

By Akpan-Obong, Patience; Samake, Kibily D. et al. | Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

An African Pioneer Comes of Age: Evolution of Information and Communication Technologies in Uganda


Akpan-Obong, Patience, Samake, Kibily D., Thomas, Carlos A., Mbarika, Victor W., Niwe, Moses, Journal of Information, Information Technology, and Organizations


Introduction

A specific international discourse dominated development theory and practice in much of the 1990s. The issues were framed around the utility of information and communication technologies (ICTs) for socioeconomic development. This attracted the attention of many developing countries especially in Africa still reeling from the effects of the "lost decade" of the 1980s and structural adjustment programs. Also, there was continental interest in the prospects of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D). This was expressed by organizations such as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Unlike many countries in Africa, Uganda responded to the ICT4D debates early on. However, while it was a pioneer by getting a head start through its various initiatives and programs, it was not until 2005 that it finally articulated a systematic policy on ICTs as fundamental tools for socioeconomic development. The country began with the Ugandan Communication Act, enacted in 1997. It was a response to the 1996 mandate of the UNECA-sponsored African Information Society Initiatives (AISI) for African countries to formulate policies that would accelerate their advancement toward the global information society. For many countries, the interest in creating an information society immediately led to the deregulation of the telecommunication sector. Policies on the telecommunication also provided oversight to the Internet sector at the initial stage. The creation of an appropriate policy framework for both the telecommunication and Internet sectors was the central purpose of the Ugandan Communication Act. The Act was itself implemented through the highly influential Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC).

Uganda presents an interesting case for an examination of the application of ICTs for development in an African country for two major reasons. First, the country was one of the earliest to respond to the discourse that made the connection between ICTs and socioeconomic development. While some countries were still trying to understand the substance of the debates, the Ugandan government had already enacted the Communication Act to provide "a framework for the development of a telecommunication sector in the country" (UNECA, 2009). That act unwittingly set a model for ICT policymaking in other African countries where telecommunication policies became the proxies of state interventions in the sector.

An important part of the Communication Act was the role that it assigned to the Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC) The UCC implements the provisions of the Ugandan Communication Act by controlling and promoting developments in the partially deregulated telecommunication sector (broadly defined to include all ICTs). The Commission's major mandate was the integration of universal access provisions in the delivery of communication and information services in the country. The Commission works to "improve communication services generally and to ensure equitable distribution of services throughout the country" (Ugandan Communications Commission [UCC], 2008, p. 10). Another aspect of its mandate was the establishment of the Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF) which was expected to prevail on telecommunication operators to provide 2.5% of their growth revenues for rural communication services.

The evolution of ICTs in Uganda and the gradual journey toward an information society--at least going by the standards of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU)--raise important issues for research, some of which we explore in this article. Arguably, there is nothing significantly remarkable about the growth of ICTs in Uganda. Yet there is a sense of measured and progressive steps toward the future as the different technologies continue to diffuse widely over the years. Our study examines this spread of ICTs in Uganda with an emphasis on Internet connectivity and the manner in which access to the Internet has become a coping mechanism, if not conflict resolution strategy, in war-torn Northern Uganda. …

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