What are you main policy priorities as Minister of Information & Communications Technology (ICT)?
NASASIRA: Our main policy priorities we can summarize in about three areas. The first is to ensure that the policies and the regulations we have is an enabling combination to ensure that we move and develop the ICTs and the ICT sector. The second major area is to ensure that we develop the infrastructure that we require that allows access and connectivity in an affordable manner. The third priority, when we have done those, is to ensure that we use that infrastructure with those regulations and policies that were put in place to attract the private sector and, where it’s necessary, some public-private partnerships.
To what extent does ICT directly contribute to GDP in Uganda today?
NASASIRA: At the moment, the ICT contribution to GDP is about 6.5%. Uganda has a population of about 34 million people, but already ICT is going to employ over 1 million people, directly and indirectly.
There are currently many different opportunities for investment in ICT in Africa. What makes Uganda attractive to investors? What particular areas of ICT are most attractive?
NASASIRA: Investors always go where there is demand. Given our level of development of ICT, there is not only demand, but there is need. We must penetrate the countryside and ensure that infrastructure is complete and ensure that these services are available. We still have to develop infrastructure, especially with broadband infrastructure. We still have to develop our e-government services. We still have to develop IT services and related areas. We still need to invest in BPOs. We need to invest in innovation and technological pacts. So, there is a whole range of areas where we can invest. Fortunately, we have enabling policies, both economic and regulatory, that attract investors.
How do you keep plans and policies relevant in a field such as ICT?
NASASIRA: Technology changes fast. As I talk now, we are reviewing our strategic plans and our investment plans for the next five years, taking into account new changes in technologies and taking into account how we can adjust our regulatory framework, and even our legal framework, to ensure that we move with change. I think what is important in ICT is to see that you have the correct strategic plan for your model, because countries differ. You need your own model to suit your country. You use the same technologies, but you use them appropriately to suit your country. We must be spot on with change and prepare to take advantage of that change.
In our experience so far, in the time we have been working with these existing policies, the biggest challenge has been the attraction of the private sector. There are quite a number of areas where the private sector is not very good. We need to establish a universal access fund to support the areas where the private sector does not go.
We think that the future of ICT is with our young people, so you see us supporting innovation. I was happy at the ITU Telecom World, one of our young girls won the award from the ITU on innovation. At our stand, there were two or three young people involved in innovation; how of to use ICT for agricultural extension and ICT for tourism promotion. So we are going into innovation and supporting innovation.
Within Uganda 2040, what provisions have specifically been made for ICT?
NASASIRA: We have seven foundation sectors that are meant to be the transformation sectors. Among them are energy, road transport, agriculture, and ICT is one of them as well. Basically the idea is to develop ICT so that Uganda will use ICT in all areas of our transformation, whether it’s in government, whether it’s in preparing it for business, whether it’s even in rural transformation. We want to use new technologies and we want to take advantage of them. For example, when we moved from analog to digital, it had quite a lot to do with dividend. Why do we want to use it? It is a cheaper spectrum to roll out and penetrate our areas because Uganda is basically rural and agricultural. So see that we reach our people and we use it to transform Uganda into an information society that we want, which will tie in with our own vision for 2040, where Uganda will hope to be a transformed modern society.
What do you see as the biggest ICT-related challenges for Uganda?
NASASIRA: In our experience so far, in the time we have been working with these existing policies, the biggest challenge has been the attraction of the private sector. There are quite a number of areas where the private sector is not very good. We need to establish a universal access fund to support the areas where the private sector does not go. Uganda, being mainly rural, 80% of operation is still rural, that’s a big challenge because it needs expensive infrastructure to get to the rural communities. That’s one challenge. The other challenge is developing our human resources.