Keeping Pace with Technology

Through Business Process Outsourcing and Innovation the country aims to increase penetration and widen access of ICT, one of the fastest growing sectors in Uganda

By Shilpa Chandran and Dr Aminah Zawedde

Published: Sun 3 Oct 2021, 12:13 PM

As any steadily progressive nation aspires, Uganda is building a reliable and efficient Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector to remain at par with the global digital transformation.

Keeping up with these aspirations, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Innovation have carved out a niche amongst the many treasures that are resident in this nation. In fact, the Uganda Vision 2040 identifies ICT among the key fundamentals as well as opportunity to prompt the nation’s transformation into a modern and prosperous country.

Labour availability, internet connectivity, affordable access to the internet, digitally-enabled environments, well-equipped and innovative ecosystems are driving factors of the ICT sector, one of the most competitive and fastest growing sectors in the country. ICT services alone contribute 2.5% of Uganda’s GDP, seeing steady yearly growth.

Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Dr Aminah Zawedde, says, “The sector’s growth and competitiveness has attracted global players to explore the Ugandan market and support its innovation ecosystem. There is also a growing number of local enterprises with notable international experience.”

Dr Aminah further explains that ICT has been embedded in most of the country’s future visions and development plans, also inculcating the United Nations’ call-for-action, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). “The aspiration of Agenda 2030 under the SDG 9 is to significantly increase access to information and communications technology and provide universal and affordable access to the internet,” she says.

“In addition, SDG 17 seeks to enhance the usage of enabling technology, specifically information and communications technology. Similarly, Agenda 2063, (Goal 10) aspiration is to double ICT penetration and contribution to the country’s GDP. Further to this, the aspiration of East African Community (EAC) Vision 2050 is to build ICT capacities to encourage innovation and increase competitiveness.

“The government has embraced ICT as one of the tools to spur socio-economic transformation of the country as a way of improving efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of services to the citizens. This is well enshrined in the National Policy and Planning Frameworks such as the Uganda Vision 2040, the National Development Plan (NDP) III (FY2020/21 – FY2024/25), the National Resistance Movement (NRM) Manifesto 2021 – 2026 and the Digital Uganda Vision (DUV).”

High Quality and Employability of Workforce

According to the World Economic Forum 2018 Global Competitiveness Index, on a scale of one to seven (7 excellent), Uganda reaches 4.4 for its ease of finding skilled workers (on sourcing talent with digital skills).

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in Africa, with 69% of the population under the age of 24. There are more than 30,000 youth leaving universities each year in the country, those who are fluent and well literate in both English as well as ICT.

Additionally, Uganda is ranked in the top percentile among African countries linked to and soaring in digital potential in line with Business Process Outsourcing.

Recently, the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) ranked Uganda 12th in Africa, with a score above the regional average in technology and governance. UNCDF indicated that the performance of Uganda’s policy and regulatory environment as assessed by the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES), a strategic performance tool, is consistent with other global comparative sources.

“As a government, we continue to ensure that all cyberlaws and related regulations are efficiently administered so as to improve businesses and industries, and importantly spur the growth of the innovation industry.

“Furthermore, Uganda has set up an ICT assembling factory that provides low cost, high quality mobile phones and laptops. This factory produces 1,300,000 devices annually. This has enabled the entry into BPO by our young people on account of the low cost of entry,” adds Dr Aminah.


Innovation Building Infrastructure

The country has also achieved a lot in terms of connectivity. Coverage is predominantly provided through wireless networks – especially mobile platforms. Internet subscriptions in Uganda have crossed the 20 million mark, suggesting that nearly one in every two Ugandans have internet access.

Mobile broadband subscriptions grew by 1.2 million from 18.9 million at the end of June 2020 to 20.12 million in September and there were 30,486 fixed internet subscriptions. There is significant coverage of 4G and 3G across the nation.

The government, through the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance has over the years invested in establishing secure infrastructure and information systems through the National Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) fibre cable. The Ministry has created a secure high-speed network that connects most of Uganda.

Dr Aminah says, “So far, we have built 4,000km of fibre and in the next three years, we plan on connecting the entire nation with more optic fibre.”

The NBI and e-Government Infrastructure Project (EGI) are providing network connectivity across 53 districts to 1,353 government sites that include offices, schools, hospitals, courts, universities, police, local governments which are now able to utilise high speed connectivity and access over 333 e-government services.

The NBI/EGI has facilitated regional connectivity across 10 border points via Entebbe, Vurra, Oraba, Goli, Mpondwe, Malaba, Busia, Mutukula, Katuna, and Elegu thus fostering trade and cross border relations. By creating this nation-wide network and spurring the development of e-government services, the Government through the NBI/EGI has contributed to the ease of doing business across the region

In order to reduce on what would be considered impediments to setting up BPO or innovation, the government has lowered the cost of internet. “In this financial year 2021/2022, the government shall reduce the cost to $25 for every 1Mbps of dedicated internet. The government’s target for BPO/Innovation is to buy internet at $5 for every 1Mbps of dedicated internet,” says Dr Aminah.

Well Equipped Data Centres and Digital Ecosystems

With the growth in data usage and storage and the broader digital transformation of businesses and the public sector in Uganda, the government has also set up the first tier three data centre and data recovery site supporting the growth and digitalisation of the Ugandan economy. The buck doesn’t stop there, however. The government plans on building more data centres across the country, with regional points of presence to enhance the internet service experience.

“For innovation, regulation can be catalytic—or a hindrance. In Uganda, we have ensured that the regulation we have implemented is catalytic. Our laws and regulations are agile, iterative, and collaborative,” says Dr Aminah.

Innovation hubs are connecting young entrepreneurs, programmers, designers, and investors and facilitating growth and collaborations across the innovation ecosystem. Many hubs in Uganda focus on technical innovation support, such as co-working spaces, product labs, hackathons, boot camps, design sprints, and Human (User) Centred Design to support innovators and entrepreneurs to reach their markets.

“These innovation hubs offer a cluster of services from eCommerce to eHealth to fintech, artificial intelligence, machine learning – whatever the technology, its being using and applied in Uganda.

“Innovation is an accelerator, amplifier, and augmenter of change. It has a huge potential to improve national productivity by making government and business enterprises more efficient, effective and globally competitive,” says Dr Aminah.

“Uganda is open for business – let’s talk. We are certain that no matter the technology business aspiration, we are the right partner for you.”

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