Author Archives: njrudin

ICT4D Professional Profile: Daniel Duke Odongo

Daniel Duke Odongo got his start in the ICT4D field when he was an intern for Google between July and September of 2011. He was responsible for many initiatives within Uganda and had several lead roles on some projects. One of these activities was that he built the ground for relevant products to cater to local content and needs. Another project he worked on while with Google was that he engaged Uganda’s prospective users and supported the Google Uganda office in a number of tasks relevant to Google and its mission within Africa. He is a frequent user of twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ as well as several other sites which are moving Uganda towards the future of ICT4D capabilities.

After completing this internship, Odongo started working for Code Sync as a Strategic Partnerships Lead. He started working there in September 2011 and currently still holds this position. His main responsibilities are “identifying areas and priority business level interests that the team could venture and invest in mobile and web application development to satisfy user needs.” As he has been doing this for 8 months or so, he has definitely begun to gain some very valuable knowledge and experience in the field of ICT4D and technology know-how in general. Code Sync is a 5-man team of tech-savvy developers looking to revolutionize the mobile application industry in Uganda. While they may have a long way to go in order to accomplish all their lofty goals, the passion and commitment these 5 men, chiefly led by Odongo, have shown is the first and most important step towards changing the mobile phone world within Uganda.

In addition to this job at Code Sync, Odongo is also currently an intern for Google Africa and has been since January 2012. Before accomplishing all this, however, Odongo studied at Makerere University receiving a degree in Software Engineering. Makerere University is the oldest and one of the most prestigious universities in all of East Africa. Because of this experience, he is currently one of the leaders for something called Google Technology User Group (GTUG) Kampala Chapter. On the group’s website they describe themselves as “Google Technology User Groups (GTUGs) are user groups for people who  are interested in Google’s developer technology; everything from the Android and App Engine platforms, to product APIs like the YouTube API and the Google Calendar API, to initiatives like OpenSocial.” Odongo is the University Relations Lead on this particular project. Odongo brings a wealth of passion and knowledge to this team through his experience working with Google as an intern on two separate occasions. He provides strategy and developer support to a number of project teams.

The Problem with ICTs

This week, as most weeks thus far in this course, I came across something in the reading which was extremely discouraging. While Tongia and Subrahmanian were discussing in their article, “Information and Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D) – A Design Challenge?” about Incentive Structures, I realized there is a central problem in ICT4D which goes mostly unnoticed. Or if it is noticed, it is usually written in the potential problems section or something along those lines. This problem is that nothing in this modern society gets done without the aid of monetarily focused industries, whether those are business or governments, getting involved. With projects such as ICT distributions, such as one laptop per child or e-Governance programs and the like, there needs to be a constant source of revenue or else those positing to “help” will pull out because the incentive of morality or benefiting the less fortunate does not exist in the real world, especially for big time companies and governments which are uber sensitive to economic situations over almost anything else. Like Tongia et al claim, “ICT usage in development is a means, not an end. ICT may or may not be cost-effective on its own… but it may improve development outcomes in non-monetized forms.” This is a very worthwhile quote if not for the fact that nobody who is able to help in non-monetized forms would have the slightest interest in getting involved in a project which will ultimately lose them money.

As they go on to say, ICT projects “may fail in terms of opportunity cost”. This is basically a death sentence in most instances since the primary concern for everything which gets done these days is chiefly money. In addition, another concern I have with ICT projects is with the excessively quick turnover of obsolete electronic operations. As soon as something becomes economically feasible for someone like a third world country, wouldn’t the technology being utilized become no longer the best thing to be using? This seems like it would be the case in a variety of instances and as a result, it leaves ICT initiative workers at a loss for what to do to benefit society in a lengthy and sustainable arena. Easterly points out that “(lack of) incentives are a key reason for failure of development projects, and externally imposed solutions are predisposed to failure.” The key here is to note that there needs to be monetary incentive for these projects to succeed and furthermore, there needs to be a successful and sustainable gameplan to be implemented at the start of an ICT project. This is rarely the case because of the excessive cost of most implementation programs which will, in the end, be cost effective as over long periods of time, it could save money for the community, however, by that point there will most likely be a new technological innovation which could render the previous project obsolete.

The fact of the matter is that the ICT4D field is still very much developing and it is definitely a good thing that they are attempting to find solutions and use the technology they have so far, but all of the articles we read week after week indicate that there are a variety of pitfalls which prevent ICT projects from succeeding like they initially plan to. At a certain point, the technological advancements will catch up to the development workers in terms of accessibility to development plans, but at this point, I almost feel like ICT4D is a futile practice. Perhaps this is just a negative approach to the whole thing due to some specific instances of failure, while there are dozens of success stories which should sway my opinion towards the positive continuation of ICT4D projects, but at this point, there seem to be more failures than successes and more hurdles to get over than clear roads in the field. This will eventually lead to changes in the industry so that incentive structures, as they are called, will be implemented so that monetary value will be derived from the projects and the long term benefits will kick in before another better “plan” is developed. It is only a matter of time before the field of ICT4D becomes astronomically more effective, however, as a whole, they are not there yet and the result is a number of third world countries being led on by the outside world that they will improve their situation instead of being left alone in a way which could foster self-reliance and could lead to countries coming up with their own solutions based on products or industries which they are more familiar with than the ICTs which get inserted into their everyday lives with the expectation of success.

Joseph Kony

I know we are going to talk about this at a later point during the semester, but what is a blog for if not to rant about something you are very opinionated about? First, obviously many people know about this viral video which Invisible Children produced a few weeks ago. It clearly does some very positive things such as highlighting a travesty and getting widespread interest in an area which needs attention. However, the attention was needed 26 years ago when the LRA was first formed and when it had some legitimate power within Uganda. Then, like with most international war crimes, people were not willing to get behind a cause of helping an African nation in need like they claim to be interested in doing now.

After spending a semester in the Northern Ugandan city of Gulu, not far from Odek, the place of Joseph Kony’s birth, I have seen the progress the country has made since the civil strife came to a (relative) close in 2006. The problem has subsided so much that Lonely Planet, a reputable travel website, declared Uganda as the top place to visit for tourists in 2012. As the country moves further and further away from the tragedy which Joseph Kony and others brought to the country, there have been a few things to take note of. One, as a staunch problem of the video, in my eyes, the responsibility for capturing and arresting Joseph Kony is put in the hands of foreigners (celebrities and policy makers in the United States) where it should really be focusing on creating a better system for the International Criminal Courts (ICC) to issue legitimate arrest warrants which they could carry out. The ICC has found Kony as well as 5 of his top advisers guilty of crimes against humanity and if they are ever found outside of Uganda, they are going to be arrested. However, the ICC has some ridiculous rules about not being allowed to go into a country to arrest someone so, for example, when Gaddhafi was also found guilty by the ICC, there was a warrant for his arrest and they would try to lure him out of his country with invitations to certain conferences or events because that was the only way they could arrest him. The ICC could literally walk up to the house of prominent officers in the LRA, some of whom I lived not far from, and do nothing to them. Obviously this didn’t work and the ICC as a governing body for the carrying out of laws and criminal court sanctions is ineffective.

There are multiple problems which still exist in Northern Uganda such which led to the existence of the LRA in the first place, which the video glosses over claiming that the LRA is a purposeless organization which does nothing other than kidnapping children and terrorizing communities. The fact is, that this is the sole purpose of the LRA now but they had some very legitimate reasons for wanting to be heard some 25-30 years ago when they began. These issues have still yet to be addressed and have really gotten worse for the people of Northern Uganda. This main problem which led to the LRA’s existence was the rampant marginalization of the North from the rest of the country. Like many African countries, Uganda was split up by colonizers who combined multiple groups of people with different ethnic backgrounds into one country. Upon their first visit they decided that the people of the Southern Ugandan group referred to as the Bugandan Kingdom, were thought to be better for governing the country while the people of the North known as the Acholi were thought to be more like the soldiers because they were generally stronger, taller, and bigger than the other Ugandans. This led them to participate in wars and constantly be revolved around violence because of how they were typecasted by their English colonizers.

This has bled over into multiple areas in modern day Uganda as the South still controls much of the governing activities and chooses to keep the North of the country purposefully undeveloped so they will have to continue relying on the South instead of potentially joining with newly formed Southern Sudan who share their same Acholi ethnic background. This has led to terrible road management, widespread neglect, inconsistent power and clean water supply, as well as very legitimate rumors that Museveni personally assigns soldiers who are HIV-positive to be stationed in the North of the country so that they will spread the virus to others in the area. These are just some of the unaddressed issues within Uganda which are far more pressing than capturing Joseph Kony who has been defeated multiple times and is now on the outskirts of consciousness for most people within Uganda as he continues to putter along with only 100 or so followers.

The government of Uganda is worried about the negative exposure they are receiving from all this attention even though the Kony issue is not a factor for Uganda at this time. So despite being an up and coming developing country with lots of tourist attractions and some momentum gained by the Lonely Planet review, they are now left battling past demons which are coming up now that the outside world has gotten “involved”. Or as involved as buying some bracelets can get you as Invisible Children spends 2/3 of the donation money on staff salaries and movie making productions. The government of Uganda recently put out this video of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi in response to the Kony 2012 video trying to convince the outside world of the safety and security which is now present after so many years of its absence in Uganda, specifically in the North. While the Prime Minister’s video doesn’t have the same energy and media skill as the IC video, it is nevertheless important to realize how the people of the country where the problem really is feel about the situation. Otherwise, outside people like IC have no business dictating when attention is given to a situation and in what form. Furthermore, this claim that Invisible Children is responsible for getting the 100 American “advising” troops sent to Uganda in order to bring down Kony because “finally America cares about helping others in need” is a load of malarkey. The troops were only sent there once there was a recent large discovery of oil within Uganda which the United States would like nothing more than to get their hands on, at least partially. This leads them to have the desire to maintain good relationships with a country like Uganda and thus dictates their decision to send over the 100 troops. This is a very thinly veiled reason for their help and most newspapers in Uganda have touched on this fairly obvious reason for outside involvement which once again resembles neocolonialism.

In the end, however, nobody can deny that what Jason Russell and Invisible Children put together is an absolute marvel in the world of social media, non-profit collaborations, and anybody who has ever tried to get someone to care about a cause. It is amazing how many people can get involved in something like this in today’s day and age which is only enhanced through ICTs and other media outlets. And while it is great news that people seem to have a genuine desire to care and to help, this is only the first step in a very long process to get people of the world to really care about each other while atrocities are occurring not after they have mostly subsided. The next time a problem like this comes along in an African country where countless people are being killed, murdered, raped, kidnapped, etc. perhaps the world will be able to jump on it that much more quickly and stop it as soon as it becomes a problem instead of 25 years later. This is only possible because of people like Russell and Invisible Children making this type of outreach feasible in people’s eyes. While this wasn’t the best situation or application of finding widespread help, maybe, it will do marvelous things for the future of global security, human rights, and media’s ability to help the needy.

Telemedicine links between Canada, Kenya, and Uganda

In the article “Global Diffusion of the Internet X” he references another article which is titled “Into Africa: The Telemedicine Links Between Canada, Kenya, and Uganda” written in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. In it the author describes how the medical practices of physicians in rural Canada was really not that different from how it is in East Africa.This article, written in 1987, is certainly outdated and I’m sure many things have changed, but it is interesting to note that even then they were eagerly talking about their use of teleconferencing in order to advance development through the use of technology.

It appeared in the article that the key to making all of this possible, even in 1987 they struggled with the same things that make these projects difficult today, is whether or not it would make sense economically. Whenever you have a project where a developed country is working with an underdeveloped country, money will always be a deterrent to the progress which they wish to make. However, in this case, an organization called the International Satellite Organization (Intelsat) and the International Institute of Communications worked together to start a project called Project SHARE. This project has “made teleconference and telemedicine links between Canada and East Africa economically feasible.” This and other projects like it are probably more common now as technology advances as this was 25 years ago but it is interesting to note that these slight advancements in technology’s use in development have been ongoing and consistent.

The remainder of the article described how scholars at universities, medical schools mostly, are using the telemedicine technology to send information like EEG’s back and forth and how they send out images to get examined twice a week. The medical facilities at the University of Nairobi and Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda are the only medical schools in East Africa and are in desperate need for other scholars to be able to communicate with. This teleconferencing project has made them much more capable of treating patients and functioning as a medical organization with lives in their hands.

Evaluating Shared Access in Rural Uganda

One of the readings in the bibliography of the article “Mobile Phone Use in Rural Africa” by Wyche and Murphy was entitled, “Evaluating Shared Access: Social Equality and the Circulation of Mobile Phones in Rural Uganda” by Jenna Burrell. In this article, she describes how she and her team spent 9 weeks split up over two trips to several rural villages in Uganda in order to discover how the culture of sharing (specifically mobile phones) was established in these types of areas. She begins by refuting the claims made that, “the idea of a singular African ‘culture of sharing’ as shaping mobile phone access and use proved to be an inaccurate overgeneralization in relation to observed practices of mobile phone sharing in rural Uganda… Sharing depended upon the object in question and the relationship between potential sharers” (Burrell, 236). She examines multiple social interactions which were leading motivators determining whether or not someone was willing to share their phone with another person. Many of these social interactions were very visible to me during my study abroad in Uganda during the last semester.

One example which she mentions and I can relate to is the practice amongst those courting individuals to share airtime via text messages or the phone itself in “a process of cementing social relationships” (Burrell, 237). This happened often to most of the girls on my study abroad program as men with cell phones attempted to show off their status and to convince them to use that airtime to talk to them even when they are not around each other.

Another aspect she touches on in this article which I saw commonly is the usage of mobile phones to manipulate and manage the dependency of women upon men. Many women she interviewed had similar stories where their husbands would allow them to use the phone only in their presence or would even gift them a phone of their own only to go through the call log each night interrogating them about every call made. If the woman is single and attempting to borrow another man’s phone, however, they are often expected to return the favor which is such a common practice that there are billboards and street signs urging women not to be involved with “Sugar Daddies”. She went on to say, “The billboards show a mobile phone, perfume and other luxury items, gifts that an older man would give a younger women in the course of the developing relationship. The phone serves as a lure or enticement along with these other desirable items” (Burrell, 239). Although she claims that these billboards “dot the paved roads around Uganda” and I would be surprised if any of the rural villages she went to had any paved roads. But that’s beside the point. Basically, though, the article is saying that there are many reasons that sharing happens or doesn’t happen which has little to do with the technological capabilities of even the powerless rural villages of Uganda.

International Institute for Communication and Development

IICD (International Institute for Communication and Development) is a non-profit foundation established by the Ministry for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands in 1996. They work in several countries in Africa, South America, and the Caribbean. In these areas, they aim to support sustainable development through the use of ICTs, notably computers and the internet. They work in 9 countries supporting policies which include sectors such as health, education, livelihoods (mostly agriculture), and governance.

IICD’s mission statement on its website includes the quote: “Access to the right information is a potent tool in the fight against poverty”. One of their many projects which exemplifies this thought process is one in Uganda focusing on the education sector titled Content Development at National Teachers’ Colleges. This project started in May 2005. It’s central goal is to help incorporate the use of computers and internet in order to develop educational materials for secondary schools and National Teachers’ Colleges (NTCs). This is very important in a country like Uganda where only 9.8 out of 1000 people are internet users and only 29 out of 1000 are mobile subscribers (World Bank, Development Indicators 2009; ICT at a glance 2008).

One example of how IICD is working to help Uganda’s education ICTs is through this project where it aims to create over 20 modules for all ordinary level subjects and place them on CD-ROMs so that they can be used by other National Teachers’ Colleges and secondary schools. In addition, the sustainability of these projects is very important to IICD so they are having large numbers of staff at Kyambogo University (the participating institution in this given project) as well as staff from the NTCs train on how to work with computers and internet to look at, create, and share educational materials.

The content development program which started in 2005 has 2000 users and can potentially reach 40,000 students and teachers throughout Uganda.

IICD connects people and enables them to use ICTs effectively. This project in Uganda is just one example. The local people own each IICD project in order to maintain the sustainability. There are other projects throughout these 9 participating countries such as the agricultural project in Uganda to set the prices for farming commodities like maize which has benefited farmers greatly. In Mali, IICD helps utilize ICTs in health in order for doctors all over the country to be able to use the internet to download x-rays or other pictures and comment on them immediately.

Computer Science Taking Root in Uganda

When Venansius Baryamureeba came to the oldest university in East Africa, Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, he did not envision the type of success which he has seen thus far. Behind one of the world’s fastest growing populations and a 7% annual increase in agricultural economy recently leading to a larger upper middle class there has been more interest in the field of technology, science, and advanced training in these fields. Dr. Baryamureeba started schools of computer engineering and computer science and the classes have been so popular that professors have had to teach starting at midnight in order for the most students to attend.

Many of the young elite urban dwellers in Uganda are believed to be prime and ready for this type of technological direction for the country based on the rapid use of cell phones leading to a deeper appreciation for technology as a utilizable resource. This in turn has opened up many of these Ugandans’ eyes to the possible career path which science and technology can provide in a developing country.

Ernest Mwebaze, a doctoral student and lecturer, has pointed to the potential upside which exists in a country such as Uganda because, “Uganda offers several unique research challenges and problems whose solutions can actually have a greater marginal benefit than, say, solutions to problems in Europe.” However, some of these challenges and problems make the research on how to improve other problems inconvenient to say the least. One of these constant problems is the frequent power outages at any given time and the unreliable Internet service.

However, despite these challenges, Dr. Baryamureeba and his associate Dr. John Quinn have made some pretty huge advancements already. Some of these include a project to put tiny software programs in cell phones which have the ability through mathematical algorithms to identify diseases in crops or malaria in a person’s bloodstream. In addition, an artificial intelligence research group Dr. Quinn formed has received financing from Microsoft and Google in order to fund projects such as one where they have designed a code that turns a cellphone into a sophisticated microscope. While that may not be as beneficial to the regular everyday Ugandan like the crop disease and malaria detector technology, it is still pretty cool nonetheless. On a practical level, turning cellphones into cheap microscopes and pattern-recognition devices could help people in the developed world lower costs of instant diagnosis of minor medical problems which is a huge problem for most of the developing world in their struggle to improve their health sectors.