Author Archives: nslondon

Uganda National ICT Resources

National ICT Policy

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology: Draft Telecommunications Policy

  • Date: January 2011
  • Creator: Ugandan Ministry of Information and Communications Technology
  • Language: English
  • Note: This is the best policy to use for the purpose of the Short Paper. It was a bit confusing to find the most recent ICT-related policy, especially considering that many of the policy documents had not actually been enacted. Based my research and discussions with Jessica, we concluded that the Draft Telecommunications Policy was the most appropriate choice for the paper. In addition to information about the Draft Policy, this document includes a detailed situation analysis, which I found to be extremely helpful.

Government Websites

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology: Policy Documents

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology: The National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U)

Ministry of Information and Communications Technology: NITA-U Policies

External Resources

World Summit on the Information Society: Uganda’s Working Document

  • Date: February 2003
  • Creator: World Summit on the Information Society
  • Language: English

“Uganda: Nation Approves Four New ICT Policies”

  • Date: March 2012
  • Creator: Paul Tentena, East African Business Week
  • Distributor: AllAfrica Global Media
  • Language: English
  • Note: New policies are National Information Technology Policy, E-Government Policy Framework, Postal Policy, and Analogue to Digital Migration Policy.

ICT and Development: Inextricably Linked

I remember buying the ICT4D textbook by Unwin before classes started in August and thinking, “what on earth is ICT4D?” Once I pieced together the term’s meaning, I was more confused than ever – I couldn’t imagine why one of just three required IDEV courses would focus solely on modern technology.  I didn’t see why it was so important, why it was essential that we learn an entire semester’s worth of information about technology in development. But it quickly became clear to me that this requirement had an important purpose – it made a whole lot more sense than I thought.

Modern technology, or ICT to be specific, is not some entity that exists separately from development, nor is it just one isolated sector of development – it is inextricably linked to everything we do as part of development. We live in a modern world, where innovation and evolving technology is everywhere. It is at the center of our reality and it will continue to help define our future.

What I found to be particularly interesting and important was the lesson on why ICT projects fail.  IEG conducted a study of World Bank support of ICT projects between 2003 and 2010 and recorded a 70% failure rate in efforts to promote universal access to ICTs. Is that staggeringly high rate due to unsustainable funding, a one-size-fits-all approach, the gap between design and reality? Maybe it’s because projects are not suitable to the local context or because projects are implemented by foreigners without local involvement? Failure can result from each and all of these factors. But what is most interesting to me, and an especially salient issue when it comes to technology, is the idea of introducing ICTs as part of development efforts with the introduction of the ICTs being an end in itself.

Actual technologies aren’t necessarily the things that have the greatest impact – what’s most important is how ICTs are used, who they are used by, and for what purpose. Outcomes are what’s important; sparkly, new technology should be the means, not the end. This lesson is essential in today’s world, where we are easily caught up in the frenzy that surrounds each and every release of a new iPhone model, where we consider social media an integral part of our social experience, where we depend on technology for everyday functions from banking to learning in school.  ICTs do serve a purpose and they can and should be used to advance development, but only in a way that reflects the local context and needs. It shouldn’t be something that we, the developed world, throw at them, the developing world, and expect the recipients to find a way to use it to improve their lives. ICT4D can have significant benefits, but only if it’s done right.

Since technology and development are inextricably connected, it would be a mistake to send international development students out into the world without a thorough understanding of the multifaceted relationship between the two. We have seen countless case studies illustrating how ICTs can be used to make a difference, but we have been cautioned to think critically about its applicability and use. The kind of reasoning and analysis we learned throughout this course can be applied to anything we do in development in the future and will benefit us, and the people we are trying to help, in profound ways. For these reasons, I think Tulane is wise to require all international development students to take this course.

Software as a Service and ICT4D

In class this week, we discussed important emerging ICT’s, one of which is Software as a Service (SaaS).  SaaS describes software and associated data that are hosted on the cloud and accessible to users through a network, usually a web browser – examples include Google Docs and Kickstarter.

In his blog post on ZD Net, titled “More that software, as a service,” Phil Wainewright explains why he doesn’t like the term “Software as a Service”: he believes that it inadequately describes the real purpose of cloud services. He says, “No one (except for a few code-crazed developers) actually wants software, either as a product or as a service. It’s a means to an end. What people actually want are answers, results and outcomes. Therefore, what they want delivered from the cloud is rarely software on its own, but software in combination with other non-software components that add up to a useful outcome.” What the cloud does best, Wainewright later claims, is granting users “access to a pooled, specialist resource that would be hugely more costly to implement separately for each individual business.”  Wainewright’s point is that positive business outcomes are the ultimate benefits of these technologies, not the technology in itself. When SaaS providers simply offer software and leave users to manipulate it themselves in order to experience positive outcomes, they are failing to utilize the real competitive advantage of the cloud.

A parallel can be drawn between Wainewright’s argument about the goals of SaaS technologies and some of the issues we’ve discussed about ICT4D projects. Wainewright says, “Instead of thinking about software when designing a service, cloud providers would do better to think first about the business outcomes they aim to deliver… True innovators see software as just one part of the means to an end.” As with ICT projects in the developing world, Wainewright believes that it’s essential to use technology, SaaS in this case, to achieve a  specific end; what’s important is not the introduction of the technology, but the improvement that can be achieved through using that technology. Technology is one piece of the puzzle; it should be used in conjunction with other efforts to achieve a certain goal, whether for positive business outcomes in Europe or increased development in developing countries.

The ICT4D Jester: The Conflict Between Profit and Development

In our discussion of the ICT4D debate (and important actors engaging in it), my group read “ICT *or* Development, Part 3: The Jester Meets the White African,” which is Kentaro Toyama’s blog post in response to Erik Herman’s “The Subtle Condescension of ‘ICT4D.’’ Referring to himself in the third person as “The ICT4D Jester,” which is also the name of Toyama’s blog, he agreed with Hersman that the term “ICT4D” is indeed condescending and began discussing the role of both capitalism and progressive activity in the context of development.

The Jester’s post that we read for class is the third in a series he calls “ICT *or* Development.” Since I was intrigued both by his argument and his writing style, I decided to back-track and read “Part Deux” of this series. In this post, the Jester explains why “It is very difficult to make a lot of money by selling goods or services to poor people in a way that has meaningful, positive impact on their lives, particularly with ICT.” He provides six principle explanations, as follows:

1. The “Two Birds” Problem: It is more challenging to achieve two goals than it is one. Making money can be difficult to begin with, as is fostering meaningful development. Doing both together is obviously harder than doing each separately.

2. The Ethics Problem: Selling products or services to poor customers makes the selection of a price an ethical dilemma – losing money or breaking even on a business venture is obviously not optimal, but if one makes a large profit, the Jester wonders, “Are they laying the conditions for commercial investment, or profiting off the backs of the poor?”

3. The Cost-of-Business Problem: While potable drinking water, for example, is considered “free” in the United States, obtaining clean water can be pricey or laborious in certain developing areas. The Jester assures his readers that this is not an opportunity to make money. The “poverty premium,” as the Jester calls it, “exists exactly because poor communities are harder to serve (e.g. bumpy roads to rural villages), riskier (e.g. no credit history), and more likely to buy in small quantities (e.g. sachets).” These conditions make the cost of doing business higher.

4. The Competitive Pressure Problem: The Jester warns that social entrepreneurs willing to take a hit in profits so they can have a meaningful impact on development will not be able to beat out “not-so-social entrepreneurs” who are “ruthlessly chasing higher margins and greater share.”

5. The Branding Problem: Entrepreneurs must often choose between marketing a good or service to either the rich or the poor – rich customers will find products associated with the poor less desirable and poor customers will be intimidated by fancier products that seem beyond their reach.

6. The “It’s Good for You” Problem: The Jester argues that most people (rich and poor alike) choose not to buy things that are “good for them.” He says, “Normally, human beings are precariously perched between self-improvement and sloth. Then, when you have to pay for it, sloth looks pretty good.”

The Jester finishes his post by dispelling the idea that poverty can be reduced through consumption: “Consumption is the result of having the ability to consume, not the primary cause of that capacity. What matters in development is increasing that capacity, not selling people stuff.” What do you all think: Does the ICT4D Jester make convincing points about the conflict between making a profit by selling goods and services to the poor in developing countries and contributing meaningfully to development?

The “Gap Generation” and the Future of Social Media

My boss at Katerva, Terry Waghorn, has a blog on His latest post is an interview with Jack Myers, a media ecologist who has taken a special interest in what he calls the “gap generation” – those who are currently older teens and young adults and have never lived in a world without internet. As 18-22 year old college students in the year 2012, we are all members of this gap generation, which is evident considering the looks on many of our faces when someone recalled using a wind-up radio instead of a smart phone to get news during a recent hurricane.

What makes us “special” as a generation? Myers says, “People growing up with the Internet are growing up with a fundamentally different DNA, a different inbred sense of who they are and how to connect with the world.” He describes the gap generation as social and collaborative. We have matured in an environment in which human equality, diversity, and human rights are assumed birthrights – they are our standard, our norm. Myers believes that the gap generation is the next “great generation,” because we have grown up using the internet to educate ourselves about the world around us. He says, “As pioneers they’re leaders. As leaders they’re builders, and their focus is on building a more stable future and a more tolerant society, doing social good, using online tools to bring people together, creating more balance and equality in their lives.” He believes that there is a great deal of hope in our generation.

When asked about the impact the gap generation will have on mainstream media going forward, Myers responded, “The Internet pioneer will embrace interactivity. They’ll be much more engaged online with all media, less engaged with traditional media. They’ll migrate toward programs that embrace equality and tolerance.” Today we discussed some of the changes and evolutions in technology used during disasters that we would like to see in years to come. If Myers is correct, if the gap generation really does bring with it hope for changing the world, maybe a lot of these needed innovations will come to fruition. Maybe our generation will be able to use ICT’s to address development problems that have persisted over time.

He says about the gap generation, “They’re not activists, but they are online spreading the word. They’re incredibly sophisticated in their ability to use online social media to achieve their ends.” This is something that we have seen very clearly even over the course of the semester. We have used social media to learn and spread information about different development topics. We have used social media to communicate with our families and friends and access real-time updates during two different hurricanes. We have used social media to express our opinions on America’s political climate and Presidential election. It will be interesting to see how the prevalence and use of ICTs change as the gap generation grows older and enters the spheres of business, politics, health, and so on. How do you think we will use social media tools in the future? Will we use them as end-all be-all solutions, or treat them as supplementary to the more traditional media systems already in place? How will social media continue to evolve to help us achieve our goals?

Hurricane Sandy- Vulnerability of the Power Grid

As we all know, Hurricane Sandy wreaked havoc across the east coast this week, leaving over 7.5 million without power in 15 states. In her blog post, “The case for a distributed, smarter, cleaner power grid post Hurricane Sandy,” posted on GigaOM, Katie Fehrenbacher argues that we need to make changes to the setup of America’s power grids in order to make them less vulnerable during disasters.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg declared on Tuesday that restoring power to the city will be one of the “biggest challenges” in the aftermath of the storm. Fehrenbacher says,  “The stark contrasts between the resiliency of our data communication networks and our power grid in these situations is unnerving. The power grid is highly vulnerable — it’s still largely a centralized system, with little energy storage capacity at the edges of the network, and it still lacks a lot of the intelligence that Internet architecture has that can deliver self-healing and re-route around damaged systems. And that’s a problem.”

Just how vulnerable is the power grid? Nicholas Abi-Samra, chair of the IEEE Power & Energy Society’s San Diego chapter, explained that protecting the power grid from extreme flooding, winds, rain, downed trees, and flying debris is nearly impossible. In many areas, even the process of identifying outages is difficult – with only partly automated systems, some utilities companies still need phone calls from customers to identify power outages! For example, the Long Island Power Authority is working on installing a new automatic outage detection computer system, but it will not be up and running until next year…too little, too late in this case.

Fehrenbacher suggests moving toward a more distributed and decentralized power grid in order to improve resiliency. Investments should be made in power generation, transmission, distribution, smart grid software, and energy storage. She says,  “It’s not as weird as it sounds to move to a more distributed power grid. Large companies in India are so used to rolling blackouts there that many of the largest have their own storage and backup systems and the biggest weren’t effected by the massive blackouts in India earlier this year.” Yet, this move won’t be possible until distributed power systems and energy storage units become less expensive. In addition, Fehrenbacher warns that Hurricane Sandy is a prime example of unusual and extreme weather patterns emerging as a result of climate change. As such, it is important that we try to reduce carbon emissions by employing next-generation energy technologies that reduce energy consumption and provide clean power.

It will be interesting to follow the challenges and successes of restoring power to millions of people on the east coast in the coming days. Maybe Hurricane Sandy will attract attention to the vulnerability of our current power grids and inspire new investments in improving the technology? What do you think? : ICT Aid Coordination After Disasters

The video featured here is from a TEDxLuxembourgCity event.  The speaker is Marc Bichler, who calls himself a “developmat,” since most of his work with the Luxembourg diplomatic service has involved development and humanitarian issues. As the Director of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Development and Humanitarian Affairs Department, Bichler has partnered with several private-sector companies to design, develop, and deploy “,” a platform intended to enable telecommunication after humanitarian and natural disasters.

Bichler references a well-known photo of then Haitian President Preval standing in the ravaged streets of Port-au-Prince immediately after the January 2010 earthquake, holding his cell phone, which he was unable to use to call for help. The next morning, Luxembourg sent two search and rescue teams to Haiti to help save lives during the first 72 crucial hours, only to find that the lack of coordination at the airport prevented them doing so.  The management that would have allowed for effective aid deployment was impossible because all telecommunications were down. Luxembourg’s government understood that telecommunications would need to be restored within several hours of a major disaster in order to improve aid coordination and effectiveness, and thus save lives. “It is a matter of life and death,” Bichler said. So Bichler’s team joined with several international companies to create “”

“” is a satellite-based system that enables high speed internet connectivity immediately after a disaster – it can be air-borne within two hours notification, and takes just one hour to setup once it reaches its destination. Aid workers can register their phones and laptops with “,” allowing them to better communicate and improve the delivery of critical services. “” is completely paid for by Luxembourg’s government and is offered as a free global public good to the international community. Its potential to make a difference was seen in January 2012 in South Sudan, where it was used to help humanitarian aid workers helping refugees and internally displaced persons.

This technology has the capacity to change the way aid is coordinated in the wake of disasters. But its design is geared toward international aid workers, not locals trying to find missing persons or search for vital information. Do you think that it could be adapted to benefit the communication and information needs of locals impacted by disasters?

Startup Companies in India Breaking the Language Barrier

In class we have been talking about the design of user interfaces in ICT4D projects; when creating a new ICT, or adapting an existing product to meet the needs of a population in a developing area, there are a number of challenges facing those actually designing the user interface. One such challenge is the language barrier – much of today’s technology requires an understanding of English, not to mention familiarity with technological jargon and even just digital technology itself.

With 1.2 billion people, there are over 1,500 languages spoken in India, 30 of which are spoken by more than a million people! Hindi is India’s official language, though English has come to dominate business in urban areas. With the number of Indians connecting to the internet rising quickly, the issue of ICT’s and the language barrier is becoming extremely important. An article written by Jubin Mehta on Your Story India looks into different local companies that are helping to break down the language barrier by creating innovative technological programs and products in native Indian languages.

Some of companies featured are:

Hazel Media: Hazel Media is a technology and research company that focus on vernacular language interaction on mass-market mobile devices. Their MobQuery platform technology can be used to conduct digital surveys in rural areas.

Reverie Language Technologies: With the goal to “make language irrelevant in digital text communication,” Reverie helps manufacturers, application developers, and content providers reach new users through localization of content and by allowing people to read and type in numerous languages.

Madrat Games: This company was the first to develop word game in Hindi. Madrat’s Wordmatki is a popular facebook game for women over 35. It also produces iPad apps in Hindi that improve learning for autistic children.

These kinds of companies can help to bridge the digital divide and make existing technology more usable by people in India. Their successes can serve as models for similar efforts around India and in other developing areas. Reverie’s founder,  Arvind Pani, said the following about his company’s achievements: The vision of breaking the language barrier is a mighty one that needs to address not just the diversity in languages, but also the diversity in literacy. We have a very long journey to cover before we can conclusively measure our success. However, in the short time period of our effort, we have been reasonably successful in breaking the technology barrier for text communication on digital platforms. We are now focused on proliferating our technologies through as many channels as possible to ensure they touch the masses.”

Musekeweya: Using Radio to Encourage Trauma Recovery in Rwanda

Every Wednesday, 85% of those with access to the radio in Rwanda tune in to the “Musekeweya” radio soap opera. On the air since 2003, the radio program, which translates to “New Dawn” in English, is produced by the Dutch NGO Radio La Benevolencija Humanitarian Tools Foundation. La Benevolencija creates radio shows and educational programs with the goal of “providing citizens in vulnerable societies with the knowledge on how to recognize and resist manipulation to violence and how to heal trauma, encouraging them to be active bystanders against incitement and violence.” Using a traditional and very basic technology – the radio – in a non-traditional way allows La Benevolencija  to reach a diverse audience and communicate the benefits of non-violent attitudes and reconciliation.

Musekeweya features two fictional rival villages, Bumanzi and Muhumuro, that are experiencing a conflict similar to the one that preceded the 1994 Rwandan genocide. The characters struggle with hate, revenge, jealousy, murder, greed, and love. Their problems are further exacerbated by the differing ethnic identities of the two villages. The plot communicates specific messages selected by a diverse group of stakeholders, including script writers, academics, representatives from the Rwandan Ministry of Justice and Bureau of Information and Broadcasting, and La Benevolencija’s grassroots associations. The scripts are also reviewed by psychologists before they air on the radio.

In Unwin’s ICT4D, he states, “Local and community radio can be used highly effectively not only to convey particular information messages but also to engage and involve people in beneficial development practices. In developing such programmes, it is crucial for script writers and producers to draw upon the advantages of radio as a medium, such as its basis in oral tradition, its appeal to the imaginations of listeners, and its ability to be heard en masse and individually at the same time” (112). Musekeweya is one example of how this basic technology can be used in an innovative way to combat a specific development issue.  According to La Benevolencija, “A Yale University study conducted found regular listeners [of Musekeweya] are more likely than other Rwandans to report increased trust in their communities and are more likely to believe their mental health would improve by talking about their traumatic experiences during the genocide.” In this case, La Benevolencija is fulfilling Unwin’s prescriptions for a successful radio-based development project and the positive impacts of doing so have been clearly demonstrated.

Check out the video below to learn more!


Cartoon: A Critique of ICTs in the Developing World

The above cartoon depicts one of the main problems surrounding ICT4D projects – there are critics of these efforts who feel that ICT4D is not important when there are “more pressing” issues to be addressed. Who needs a computer when they can’t feed their family? But I think by now we’ve learned that the case is not that simple…

Last class, we talked about an IEG study from World Bank that supported ICT projects between 2003 and 2010. This study that found that there was a 70% failure rate in efforts to promote universal access to ICT’s. Reasons for such widespread failure are diverse – some projects are driven more by supply than demand. Others use a cookie-cutter approach that isn’t suitable for the local environment, or did not expect the gap between the project design and the realities of implementation, or funds ran out and the project was unsustainable, and so on.

So yes, many of ICT projects fail. And yes, combating hunger would seem more important than providing impoverished or marginalized populations with cell phones. But the distinction isn’t that simple. The video clip we watched identified a major explanation for ICT project failure to be that information or end results of the projects are not directly tied to improving economic conditions. While some ICT projects aim to increase universal access to ICT’s, there are also many projects that use ICT’s to address a specific condition that is of importance to local populations and can encourage other kinds of meaningful development. Take LifeLines India for example – as discussed in Unwin’s ICT4D, this organization provides a phone line that rural farmers can call (for a small fee) to have their specific agricultural questions answered. This service was used by over 100,000 farmers and caused between 25 and 150 % profit growth (as of 2009) for those who used it.

When we discussed the role of ICT’s in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals, it is obvious that designing proper development strategy should be the first priority – there needs to be a reason for applying an ITC to a problem. Those developing new projects need to think about what information or communication need is present in a specific community and apply the appropriate ICT, if that is deemed to be a viable and effective solution. Though the message in this cartoon is a huge generalization, it is a helpful reminder about how we should and should not be using ICT’s to pursue development agendas.