Ask any Ugandan and you’ll find that one of their most prized possessions is a gadget; usually a phone, a tab, an Ipad or a laptop; the smarter, the better. It seems to have become some sort of rite of passage among the urban youth mostly. With the government paying more attention to the development of ICT in the recent past, and Telecom companies using this as one of their major avenues of competition, more and more Ugandans are becoming tech savvy.
One of the biggest trends in the tech industry world over is social media. Social media usage in Uganda is something that has been steadily growing in over the past five years or so, with internet usage becoming more common amongst the masses. Telecommunication companies have often used it as a hook to attract more people with internet packages that promise free social media access or cheaper bundles. On average, most people are signed up to at least two social media sites which they mainly use for recreational purposes. With over 100,000 Ugandans on twitter and 550,000 on Facebook, many advertisers and small business owners have taken this as an opportunity to tap into that audience. Many entrepreneurs are opting to operate social media accounts as opposed to building websites or investing in expensive advertising mediums like billboards. Terms like social media management and social marketing are becoming more and more common.
With features like the hash tag, many corporate bodies are using twitter to grow and develop their brand presence and loyalty. This is as well true for event’s organizers ranging from concerts to charity fundraising runs who can engage their target audience by asking them what they’d like to see at said events or to raise money. Due to the smart phone era, it is easier to get a person’s attention online than on TV or radio.
“There are more corporate companies and professional individuals on twitter than there are on Facebook” Says Herbert Musoke, a Social Media enthusiast who is currently the most followed Ugandan on Twitter.
A one Esther Kalenzi has used the influence of social media to help children through offering support to orphanages by forming an organization called 40 days…40 Smiles. The organization however works as an umbrella group constantly developing new fundraising campaigns to either build a dormitory for an orphanage school or provide medical assistance to an orphanage. The team has managed to get over 1500 members on the face book group and about 300 followers on twitter; with its most recent event raising over UGX 8,044,200 in one day. The 40/40 team, as they are more commonly known, use mainly the Facebook and twitter platforms to raise awareness about their cause and also to get participants to these events. Their most recent event being the #BeSanta campaign, a fundraising drive to finish a dormitory for the children at Happy Times in Luweero.
One of the main reasons the internet was invented was to ease communication which in turn eases the way of life. More people have email addresses than box office numbers. In fact, there are many people who have never posted mail through the post office and wouldn’t even know where to start. In a bid to encourage computer usage amongst most universities and some lower level schools, teachers provide assignments and lecture notes to their students via email eliminating the need for paper based notes. Many organizations are replacing their old filing systems with computerized ones to make transaction processes faster. Online banking is something that many service providers and individuals are continually embracing especially since one does not necessarily have to pay their utility bills like water and electricity in person anymore. The introduction of the online tax system by URA has as well made it easier for businesses and individuals who do not have much time to spare to beat their statutory return filling deadlines. Our very own Members of Parliament are getting Ipads in a bid to reduce paper usage. Whether this is a smart move given that there is a school shutting down because government says it has no money to rehabilitate its structures is a discussion for another day.
However, this is all mostly among the mid to high income earners in the urban centers. A large part of the Ugandan populace still does not see the value of ICT. While it is commendable that a lot has been invested in the integration of ICT in education in Uganda, a lot more has to be done to translate this investment into results that will benefit more than one sect of the population. Granted, not everyone may be able to access internet or even own a smart phone, but almost everyone has a phone. The use of text message systems to run campaigns like U-Report where individuals are able to text about illegal activities in their neighborhoods to help curb these vices is one of many things that could be done for social benefit.
As important as it is for an individual to learn to use a computer because it might in the long run increase efficiency, what is a greater need in Uganda today is for the ICT experts and lovers to push themselves and create problem specific solutions. It might be through the development of an app that will improve systems in hospitals and make it easier to access doctors and medication, or a system to help small business owners keep their heads above water and/ or access the funding that is available. For ICT to be viewed as a worthy investment by the entire nation, it has to address issues that directly affect a big part of the population like poverty, sickness and hunger. Otherwise, it will be just another resource whose full value was not harnessed.
I leave you with a question. What are you doing with all the ICT knowledge at your disposal?