Uganda's Digital Transformation Journey
May 23, 2023
Uganda's Digital Transformation Roadmap is anchored in the Uganda Vision 2040, conceptualized to strengthen the fundamentals of the economy by harnessing the abundant opportunities around the country, including opportunities within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. Uganda's current National Development Plan (NDP III) is heavily focussed on increasing investment in ICT as one of the productive sectors able to enhance livelihoods, generate employment and produce goods for export and import substitution. To drive this further within the ICT sector, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance developed the Digital Uganda Vision outlining the commitments to accelerate digital transformation and provide support to all sectors of the economy.
The Digital Transformation Roadmap builds on commitments set under the Digital Uganda Vision by focusing on imperatives to achieve operational momentum and make great strides that translate from paper to action. The UNDP Uganda Accelerator Lab team is confident that implementation of this Roadmap will over the next five years set a strong foundation upon which digital transformation will accelerate for both public and private sectors.
Why the Digital Transformation Roadmap?
This may have already been explained in a previous Accelerator Lab Blog, but we would like to expound on it further. The Global ICT Development Index rates Uganda as below the general average of nationwide telephone penetration in Africa of 74.60 per 100 inhabitants, while on the Global Connectivity Index the country is rated at position 77 out of 79 profiled countries. Even though the country’s internet penetration rate is at an average of 43% due to limited infrastructure, the number of registered internet users has steadily grown over the years to over 20 million. This shows that internet usage in Uganda has gradually increased year after year.
On the Global Innovation Index, Uganda ranks at position 114 globally and is also ranked amongst the top 10 in the category of least developed countries. This is another positive indicator showing an increase in the development and consumption of ICT services in the country.
When it comes to network readiness, Uganda ranks 116th on the Networked Readiness Index. This Index consists of four pillars which include technology, people, governance and impact (growth and well-being in society and the economy). Uganda’s main strength in this index relates to governance. This index also ranks Uganda as 16th in Africa in the group of low-income countries.
As per the World Bank’s GovTech Maturity Index, Uganda’s index value increased from 0.639 in 2020 to 0.858 in 2022 and as such moved from Group B to Group A of GovTech leaders. This shows that Uganda has improved across all the four core areas considered in the GovTech Maturity Index. These four core areas cover government systems, public service delivery, digital citizen engagement and govtech enablers.
Uganda is also one of the four countries that have been assessed using the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES). The IDES identifies catalyst areas that spur the growth of an inclusive digital economy. A country that undertakes the assessment can further identify priority interventions to accelerate a robust digital economy over the domains of policy and regulation, infrastructure, innovation, as well as skills. To date, 24 countries have been assessed using the IDES. The latest assessment for Uganda shows that is rated at 33% under the skills domain, 77% under the policy and regulation domain, 42% under the innovation domain and 51% under the infrastructure domain.
The overall findings indicate that Uganda scores highly on digital policy and regulation and lower across skills, innovation and inclusiveness as well as infrastructure. Hence, a Digital Transformation Roadmap has been identified to guide the implementation of national policies.
Digital Transformation Roadmap Pillars
As we write, even before the launch of the final Digital Transformation Roadmap, many stakeholders have already idntified their areas of interest. We take this positively since it will support implementation of the Roadmap. Below are five key intervention areas as per the Digital Uganda Vision:
Digital Infrastructure and Connectivity
The National Broadband Baseline Survey (2022) identified gaps for improvement of the broadband value chain in Uganda. The key issues identified correlate with the performance of the country in the various indexes related to ICT infrastructure. These issues cut across three stages of the broadband value chain as noted below:
The first focusing on the first mile shows that international connectivity to neighbouring countries is adequate. However, the study identified room for growth given the landlocked nature of the country and the opportunity to act as a hub for neighbouring countries on connectivity.
The second focusing on the middle mile shows a lot of limitations. The middle mile includes national backbone, data centres, internet exchange points, content distribution networks which are important components for driving increased usage of internet-based services and applications. As such, access to fiber nodes (where users can be connected) is limited with only 29% of the population living within 10km of such nodes.
The third focusing on the last mile shows significant challenges. Broadband adoption is low despite good broadband coverage and relatively fast speeds. Whereas over time, the cost of data for end users and organizations has reduced, affordability was identified as a challenge. The survey reported that mobile broadband is cheap in absolute terms but not affordable in relative terms for the masses. In addition, smart phone penetration is still low with over 70% of connected phones categorized as feature/basic phones. Another aspect of last mile is the current limitations in the use of traditional postal addresses which creates challenges in delivery of physical goods and e-trade logistics.
In addition, the survey identified limitations that cut across broadband policies, legal and regulatory overlaps and complexity, spectrum licensing as well as investments in Radio Access Networks and Fiber. More specifics are in the Digital Transformation Roadmap.
Cybersecurity, Data Protection and Privacy
Uganda has performed fairly and has been consistently rated in the top percentile of indexes on the continent and in the region. However, the cyber threat landscape keeps on evolving. In addition, the increase in use of digital services across both public and private sector increases the cyber risk and exposure of the country. The potential for the total transformation of the economy and the attendant social impact is best demonstrated by the pervasive expansion and use of mobile money services in Uganda. Also, to note, the Digital Uganda Vision focuses on building a digitally enabled society that is agile and able to adapt to emerging technologies and trends. Cybersecurity continues to be a challenge in Uganda and the share of cyber related (computer) crimes in total economic crimes is on the rise. Therefore, it is important to have in place a robust and solid cybersecurity approach that establishes measures to ensure security of digitalization process and help to protect Uganda and her citizens in cyberspace. It’s based on this, that the current National Cybersecurity Strategy (2022) adopted the whole-of nation principle where reduction of overall national cyber risk is a shared responsibility. In addition, Uganda has a robust legal and regulatory framework for data protection and privacy with an operationalized Personal Data Protection Office.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution in which we now live require citizens to have basic digital literacy in order to interact, navigate and make use of digital content and services. In addition, the workplace is changing across Government and private sector through the fast adoption of ICT. This change is increasingly affecting all sectors and professionals. Job creators will also require digital literacy skills. The present way of work and life is fast getting digital. The implication of this change is that we must be forward looking and integrate digital skills within our education system as early as the entry level of primary school. This will require retooling for the teachers as well as education for the students. The primary and tertiary uptake of ICT is still limited due to a mix of factors that involve funding, infrastructure, teaching skills gaps and electricity challenges. Overall, digital skilling is still laced with challenges to achieve the desired critical mass of students that have been readied for the fourth industrial revolution.
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
To a large extent, the ICT products and services used across public and private have been developed elsewhere. The local innovation and startup landscape is still nascent and therefore we have imitated local commercialized ICT products. The local startup ecosystem involves a few innovation hubs and Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) with most of them concentrated within Kampala Capital City and limited areas out of Kampala. There are still operational challenges related to providing support on quality and lobbying support Government MDAs to accept use of products and services developed by Ugandan startups and also drive utility value as well as commercialization.
Coordination of the Roadmap for Effective Implementation
Given the Digital Transformation Roadmap has key strategic interventions, it is very critical to ensure that it is implemented effectively.
While at the coordination dialogue with various national and international digital stakeholders, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of ICT and National Guidance Dr. Aminah Zawedde said that “Our aspiration is nothing short of transformative: to create a more open, transparent, and accessible Uganda that leaves no one behind. We believe that digital technology can play a pivotal role in achieving this goal, by empowering individuals and communities, enhancing transparency and accountability, and fostering inclusive economic growth. This can only be achieved through proper coordination”
While at the same event, the UNDP’s Partnerships, Innovation and Development Solutions Specialist Mr. Innocent Fred Ejolu agreed with the Permanent Secretary on the strategic coordination of the Roadmap. He called upon stakeholders to under the leadership of the Ministry, to create working groups which will keep monitoring the implementation of the roadmap.
Having listened to various stakeholders, we learned that the roadmap itself is not an end, but requires, a systemic digital tool, plus committed stakeholders who will work with the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance to make sure that the interventions, are well implemented. This will help Uganda achieve her Digital Vision 2040 without leaving anyone behind. Be expectant for the launch of Uganda's Digital Transformation Roadmap coming soon.
By Hadijah Nabbale, Head of Solutions Mapping; Nathan Tumuhamye, Head of Exploration; Berna Mugema, Head of Experimentation; and Ashley Prigent, Communications and Partnerships Specialist