ICT, Uganda’s new gold mine of opportunity

The Daily Monitor, Uganda (Jan 7, 2009)

By JOHN K. ABIMANYI

The spin of Information and Communication Technology (ICT)’s wheel of luck has only just started in Uganda, as Wilson Kutegeka, 35, an ICT specialist, can testify. He is the proud winner of 2008’s prestigious Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award.

The first for a Ugandan. He ascended to the accolade on account of a software programme he designed for the Joint Clinical Research Centre. The Clinic Master software he designed monitors patients, especially those using Anti Retroviral drugs (ARVs) and is used in over 10 hospitals countrywide.

Kutegeka is an illustration of ICT’s growing fortunes in Uganda. He is an example of the uncountable opportunities hidden away and waiting to be tapped, in the ICT mines. Apart from the prestige that the software brought him, he bagged $2,500 for the award.

“I am now trying to create software that will be accepted by other hospitals. The market is still very virgin for software developers in Uganda and yet there are many opportunities for them to explore,” Kutegeka says.

It is this availability of opportunities for ICT developers in Uganda that has united software engineers into a group that will strive to take better advantage of the software market. The group, called the ICT Cluster Initiative, is a brainchild of Makerere University’s Faculty of Technology. Ms Gorretti Amuriat, one of its facilitators, says “The ICT cluster is a group of software development companies coming together to share knowledge and resources to improve their products.”

The cluster consequently held a discussion with young software workers, together with Ugandan software engineers working in foreign countries, to chart a way of improving software development in the country and to encourage the youth to seize ICT opportunities laid before them.

“There’s a future in ICT. This is where we ought to go. There’s a lot related to computers and software that you can do as the youth,” MTN’s chairman Charles says Mbire.

He notes that Uganda is ready to embrace ICT commodities. “There are currently eight million customers who get a phone, punch in a number and talk or send a message,” Mbire says.

He says Ugandans connected to mobile telecommunication networks are to some degree, ICT literate enough to operate a cellphone and would therefore welcome software products on the market.

“Many sectors in Uganda are in need of software products but waiting for local ICT specialists to provide them. There are so many ways through which software engineers can invest,” Mbire says.

Ms Amuriat from the ICT cluster says: “Software development is very profitable in Uganda because there are many chances of setting up ICT-related enterprises to make money.”

But as Charles Otine, another of the facilitators notes, Ugandan ICT workers miss out on great opportunities because they are disjointed. It’s for that reason that software engineers are uniting under the cluster.

“The biggest problem in Uganda is lack of capital, especially for starting software developers and this hinders them from getting the big jobs out there. But if we come together, there are so many jobs that we can source out for software engineers than when they are on their own,” Otine says.

He says joining the ICT cluster initiative is free to all software developers in Uganda and all they need to do is fill out a questionnaire to know what their strengths are. It is through this that you can know which types of jobs to source for them.

With the under-sea fibre optic cable expected to dock in Mombasa mid next year, the opportunities for software development in Uganda can only get better.

The connection will enable high speed Internet access such as has not been seen before in Uganda. Mr Mbire warns Ugandan youth not to wait for next year to plan for how they will take advantage of the high speed Internet connection.

The production of locally made software will in the end make development much cheaper for other sectors in Uganda, according to Batanga Nakisozi, a software engineer based in the United States of America.

“Uganda is bound to gain a lot if the youth take up the ICT industry. Many sectors like the police, education, and health facilities do have computerised ways of keeping their data.

There will be many organisations having access to cheaper software because it will be made in Uganda, instead of getting expensive software made from out,” Nakisozi says.