May 1, 2019

Pursuing Uganda's Mobile-Enabled Digital Transformation

"As Uganda advances its efforts focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Uganda Vision 2040, harnessing the power of mobile technology will be critical to influencing progress across all development goals," explains a report published by the UK-based GSMA. The report, Uganda: Driving inclusive socio-economic progress through mobile-enabled digital transformation, further says, "Mobile is the first among all information and communication technologies to reach across geographies, income levels and cultures, enabling access to basic services where traditional means have often failed, including financial services, access to health information, education and clean energy. Mobile technology also enables the most widespread means of accessing the internet – the foundation for Uganda's digital future."

The report is correct to note that a "[d]igital transformation is underway in Uganda, as shown by the growing number of people accessing digital content and services. This is having a profound impact on the country's socio-economic development, with digital platforms beginning to provide access to life-enhancing services while improving productivity and efficiency across key sectors of the economy."

"In 2015," the report explains, "Uganda launched the second five-year National Development Plan (NDP II) 2015/16 – 2019/20. Its five priority areas – agriculture, human capital development, infrastructure, tourism, and minerals, oil and gas – prioritize action as part of a broader goal to transform the country from a low-income economy to a competitive and market-driven, lower middle-income economy by 2020, in line with the long-term vision of reaching upper middle-income status by 2040."

Moreover, "The government of Uganda also pledged to achieve the SDGs and other international commitments. Although government and its development partners have committed resources to the NDP II priority areas and other development goals, economic progress has been sluggish, constrained by productivity challenges, slow private-sector growth and funding deficits for key sectors."

Based on my visits to the country, the first of which occurred in 2004, I support the following assertion: "With more people using mobile services today in Uganda than ever before, the technology is having a direct impact on social and economic activities and, by extension, supporting progress with the national and global development goals."

The report highlights five broad areas where the use of mobile technology is having a notable impact in Uganda:
  • Productivity and efficiency – mobile connectivity lowers the cost of accessing and disseminating vital information, allowing private businesses and public institutions to be more productive;
  • Service delivery – mobile platforms enable innovative solutions that leapfrog infrastructure and funding challenges across key sectors of the economy, notably health, education and utilities;
  • Good governance and social justice – mobile-enabled digitization of government tax receipts and social security disbursements has increased transparency and accountability in those processes;
  • Climate change and the environment – mobile technology helps with disaster preparedness and response by raising public awareness and reaching out to vulnerable populations on disaster risks; and
  • Digital entrepreneurship and emerging technologies – Around 4 in 5 tech start-ups use one or more mobile platforms in their solution, while mobile connectivity is enabling the development of blockchain and other emerging technologies in Uganda.
"We are at a key point in Uganda's history," the report concludes. "Mobile is powering the most widespread and inclusive means of accessing the internet and digital technologies, which are vital to the growth of the Ugandan economy in an increasingly digital world. Stakeholders need to act collaboratively now to ensure that Uganda's digital future is an inclusive one that leaves no one behind."

What role are you playing in supporting Uganda's digital future?

Aaron Rose is a board member, corporate advisor, and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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