How Can Oil Money Promote ICT Use in Uganda?
“A Primer of Oil Well drilling” by Ron Baker, screamed the headline of the book that a middle aged man was reading on a flight from Johannesburgh to Entebbe. Right behind him was another equally middle aged man reading another book on Oil. A chat with them revealed that they were Ugandans working for one of the oil prospecting companies.
My mind raced and I quickly began asking myself how Oil can help promote the growth and use of ICT in Uganda. Off the cuff, the two seem unconnected. On pondering further, I realised that actually the exploitation of oil in Uganda can have a very positive impact on ICT. How?
Our president has repeatedly said that Oil revenues will not be used for consumption expenditure but instead to develop our infrastructure. For the layman, infrastructure may be limited to roads, rail and buildings. However, ICT Infrastructure too has a place here. While we are currently struggling to build a national fibre data backbone with the help of a Chinese grant, once we start earning petro dollars, the country can setup a more detailed fault tolerant ICT infrastructure that can allow for continued communication even under the most challenging conditions like war. We can borrow a leaf from the likes of Great Britain that had to quickly setup a secure fault tolerant communication network during World War II when the German military arsenal targeted whatever infrastructure that was available especially in London.
The current design of the national fibre backbone for example is devoid of failover mechanisms and its implementation too leaves a lot to be desired. The shallowness of the trenches can even allow for village thieves armed with mere hoes to disrupt such a critical national resource.
Apart from the much needed improvements in the hardware infrastructure, there is also need to improve on the soft infrastructure. E-Government is critical if as a nation we are going to be comptitive in the region and also reduce on the pains our populace goes through when obtaining services from the Government.
For long the Government has been using the grants received to improve on ICT by acquiring solutions from abroad. Sometimes they are not to blame due to the pre-conditions some donors give. As of today, Uganda is endowed with highly skilled ICT professionals who can form the bedrock of the ICT revolution. From software programmers to website and database designers, not forgetting the solution implementers. With our own funding, the Government can take a pro-active step towards developing solutions that are ideal to our local situation.
This Oil money is likely to attract more investors into this economy in various fields and these same investors will certainly need more efficient communication systems to transact well internationally.
Uganda could also lead the way in pioneering the launch of a regional communications satellite in cohort with other East African countries. If one analyses the money spent as a region on International satellite based communication, then it starts making sense to keep this money from going to foreign capitals. Our regional based private companies can also use this very infrastructure for service provision.
I can see someone thinking aloud about the rationale of Uganda investing in satellite technology when infant mortality, malaria, HIV/AIDS are yet to be effectively addressed. For an answer, I refer you to my father. Ask him where his rationale was when he chose to pay for his children to study in top notch expensive schools like St. Mary's College Kisubi, Mt. St. Mary's Namagunga and Namilyango College School yet he was having a hard time dressing himself let alone feeding us at home.
As I join others in welcoming the oil boom to Uganda, I urge the next president not to overlook ICT Infrastructure Investment.
This post was originally published as Will Oil Help Improve ICT in Uganda?