Local Uganda apps developers shunned at home

Eight years ago, Wilson Kutegeka, an information and communications technology graduate from Makerere University, developed a mobile application dubbed Clinic Master to help health facilities digitise patient records while ensuring that billing, costs and expenses are effectively maintained.

The system was customised, and could be used on a standalone computer or on a network by any healthcare provider, but no one was willing to buy it because they did not believe a locally developed mobile application could work.

“I only got the first installation (client) in 2010, after receiving an award for innovativeness in science and technology from the Uganda Investment Authority,” Kutegeka said.

That first client was Case Medial Centre. Shortly after, Louise Medical Centre and Makerere University Walter Reed Project joined the list of his clients.

Mr Kutegeka said the award from the UIA acted as an endorsement for marketing, creating an enabling environment to break into the mobile applications market.
Since 2010, Clinic Master’s clients have risen to 40, with four from Kenya and two from South Sudan.

Kutegeka’s is a classic illustration of the struggle developers of mobile applications in Uganda are going through to sell their products.

According to IT gurus, Ugandan innovators develop 50-60 applications a year but few make it to commercialisation due to low levels of trust on their functionality and inadequate capital to market their products.

Michael Niyitegeka, an IT consultant and lecturer at Makerere University said whereas there’s potential for growth — what with the evolution of cheap smartphones and tablets — their adoption in any country is influenced by visibility.

“Unfortunately, most of our developers here do not have enough funds to intensively market their products, the way  big companies such as OLX do,” Mr Niyitegeka said.

OLX is a South African-based online classifieds market for used goods such as furniture, musical instruments, sporting goods, cars, motorcycles, cameras and mobile phones.

OLX is accessible through the Internet and applications on smartphones, currently accessible in 106 countries.

Mr Niyitegeka said the decision by Orange Uganda to support university students since 2011 through their annual community innovation awards has tried to bridge the information gap but a lot of marketing needs to be carried out for their growth.

Mr Niyitegeka’s sentiments were echoed by Lisa Katusiime, a co-founder at Likamis Software Ltd and developer of Agro-Market Day application. According to Katusiime, many developers of mobile apps are mainly students with limited capital to finance market their innovations.

Also, clients want to associate with products which have been referred to them by a confidant or a person who has seen it working elsewhere. This has further slowed commercialisation of the country’s applications.

Mr Kutegeka said that the development of innovations that relies only on smartphones has also contributed to their low adoption as majority of the population do not own gadgets that support the applications. As such, mobile applications including Agro-Market Day, Winsenga, and Matibabu have either not been commercialised or their adoption remains low almost two years since they were developed and achieved recognition from reputable organisations including US-based Microsoft Inc.

Agro-Market Day is a mobile application that features details of agricultural markets, market days, farmers and products sold in different markets in different parts of Uganda.

Winsenga is a miniature pregnancy scan machine that can monitor foetal movements and abnormal heart beats, supported by the Windows operating system of a smartphone whereas Matibabu is a mobile application that diagnoses malaria without pricking the body (not getting any blood sample from the body).

For that, experts said mobile apps developers need to integrate their systems with payment options to enable clients pay for their applications online as it is done in the developed countries to facilitate their growth.

The experts said there’s also need to establish an online portal that enables developers of mobile applications to post their innovations for easy access globally by the clients.