By Mugabi Samuel
“Harnessing Internet development in Uganda: Connecting the last mile” was the theme of the 6th Uganda Internet Governance Forum (UIGF) which took place on September 18, 2013. During the event, stakeholder representatives from academia, government, civil society, private sector and telecommunications discussed the emerging opportunities in availability and access, as well as challenges to the Internet in Uganda.
In his keynote address, Dr. David Turahi the Director for Information Technology and Information Management Services in the Ministry of ICT stated that initiatives were underway to harness Internet connectivity and access within government agencies. According to Dr. Turahi, up to 27 government ministries and entities are currently managed under the DOTug domain in a drive to promote and manage Uganda’s ICT and e-governance policy. The Government has also put in place a strategy for the IPv6 upgrade from IPv4 for better connectivity, increased number of connections and also for providing a solution to IPv4 roaming issues especially in mobile networks.
He also said that a Data Protection and Privacy Act aimed at protecting the privacy of online users in Uganda was being drafted. “The increasing participation of citizens online means that we need to look at issues such as open data and cyber security to ensure an effective online community,” said Dr. Turahi. Dr. Turahi was speaking at the forum on behalf of the Ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Dr. Jimmy Pat Sammanya.
Presenting the UIGF online discussions report, Daniel Nanghaka of Internet Society Uganda Chapter stated that whereas connectivity and accessibility to the internet have improved over the years (from Cafes and a few elite establishments in the 1990s to wireless modems and Internet enabled phones today) slow speeds and prohibitive costs were still affecting its use especially in the rural areas. The urban-rural divide was being further enhanced by limited infrastructure set up in the rural areas due to the areas lack of economic viability for service providers. In addition to the above, the findings of a research study by Joseph Munuulo indicated, that limited local content and illiteracy were further barriers to Internet access at the rural level.
The issue of infrastructure sharing was central to the discussions. It was pointed out that infrastructure sharing was key to improving and lowering costs of connectivity. Vivian Ddambya of the National Information Technology Authority (NITA) – Uganda proposed that physical infrastructure providers for roads, power and rail should be required to make provisions for future installation of ICT facilitates. “Currently, Uganda National Roads Authority pays for repair to any damaged optical fibre cables during road repairs and maintenance”, she said that this should not be the case.
Mike Barnard from the Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP) stated that as a means of reducing costs and increasing speeds, UIXP has improved local traffic exchange of ISPs in Uganda. He encouraged ISPs to peer through UIXP in order to offer a better internet experience to Ugandan citizens. With support from Google, Orange Uganda and the Internet Society, UIXP has recently upgraded its switches, servers and power back up systems. It has also acquired an IPv6 assignment from AfriNIC and addresses have been issued to all its member networks.
Access, affordability and capacity to use the internet are not the only challenges to its proliferation in Uganda. Peter Kahiigi the director of Information Security NITA Uganda citied cyber security threats. According to Mr. Kahiigi, the increased uptake of internet services in Uganda, had also seen an increase in cases of child pornography, cyber bullying, identity theft, financial crimes, distributed denial of service attacks and cyber terrorism among others. He stated that on-going projects to address these issues included the setting up of an advisory group on information security to liase between government and the private sector. Furthermore, that government was developing a classification framework for information aimed at promoting open data and better e-governance as well as improved information security management. Mr. Kahiigi stressed the importance of having a national information security framework to protect citizens online and also noted that the currently available cyber laws were helping but needed better enforcement.
He also spoke about the national Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT) centre an initiative of the Ministry of ICT, NITA Uganda and Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). Launched in June 2013, the CERT will equip and organize Uganda to respond to cyber threats, ensure better protection of Uganda’s ICT infrastructure and the availability of dependent services provided to government agencies, citizens and businesses.
From civil society, Ashnah kalemera of the OpenNet Africa initiative urged ICT sector stakeholders to be advocates of online freedoms by seeking to “educate citizens on responsible behavior and promoting liberal regimes of online rights.” This was in light of recent developments including the set-up of a government social media monitoring Centre, a request to Facebook for user account information and prohibitive legislation such as the Interception of Communications Act.
Her remarks were echoed by Dr. Peter Mwesigye from the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) who pointed at numerous legislations that provide for freedom of expression in Uganda through any media including the internet. He also pointed out that Uganda, as a signatory to the International convention on civil and political rights should ensure adherence to freedoms of expressions. He called for the independence of oversight bodies such as Uganda Communications Commission and NITA-U in addressing issues related to press and online media freedoms.
“In addition to the curtailing of civil liberties, government policies and practices with regard to online freedoms pose a threat to democracy by stifling critical debate, civic participation and demand for transparency and accountability through platforms like social media,” said Ms. Kalemera.
Overall, participants called for more research to inform government in planning efforts to extend internet access and internet-based services to citizens. Partnerships between civil society, private sector, academia and government were also encouraged.
The Uganda Internet Governance Forum 2013 was organised by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the Internet Society Uganda Chapter and the ICT Association of Uganda.
Since its inauguration in 2006, the UIGF has continued to discuss and address internet policy issues in Uganda and East Africa. The proceedings of this year’s Forum were presented at the Second African Internet Governance Forum which was held in Nairobi, Kenya September 24-26, 2013. They will also be presented at the global Internet Governance Forum in Bali, Indonesia October 22-25, 2013.