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World Telecommunication & Information Society Day: What are the Priorities?

Today is World Telecommunication & Information Society Day with the theme “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”. Globally, the event is being celebrated in Geneva from 16th – 20 May 2011 with some of the several WSIS 2011 forum stakeholders and organizers being ITU, UNESCO, UNCTAD and UNDP and locally in Uganda, The 2011 World Telecommunications and Information Society day ICT Youth forum is being held at Ndejje University today 17th May 2011 and this initiative is led by Uganda Communications commission (UCC). 
Given the 2011 theme, “Better life in rural communities with ICTs” it’s important to enable access to appropriate information to rural communities through increasing access to ICTs/tools, making content of information and communication relevant,  tailoring programs to different audiences, strengthening & increasing links with new technologies and finally  exchanging information through a stronger and broader network.
What’s its purpose?
The purpose of World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of the Internet and other information and communication technologies (ICT) can bring to societies and economies, as well as of ways to bridge the digital divide.
17 May marks the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union.” 
What does ICT mean?
There is a misconception that ICTs mean “Computer” and or “Internet”. However, ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) cover a wide range of tools that enable information Sharing and Networking. These are categorized into: Traditional, Modern and Social/new Networks.  
The traditional ICTs include notice boards, drums, public address systems, posters, newsletters and the modern ones are made of radio, camera, phones, ipods and televisions. The social/New ICTs include networking sites like facebook, twitter, skype, ping etc. All these tools can act as platforms for advocacy and for facilitating networking activities.
Can we adapt traditional & New ICTs to rural Communities’ Actual Needs?
In an attempt to maximise the impact and potential of ICTs for rural communities, appropriate strategies must help integrate them into ongoing activities and programmes like setting up community radio stations in rural areas, exploring the potential of mobile phones and community multimedia/Telecentres to contribute to development action and training members of rural communities on the use of ICTs in addition to sharing best practices. We can adopt both traditional and modern ICTs to the actual needs of rural communities if they are put to best use.
What are the priorities this year’s World Telecommunication & Information Society Day?
Follow the event on tweeter @#WTISD
Read more details here:
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Can AFRICANS tell their own story through Social Media?

Highlights of a brief conversation:
Nova Scotian: Hello, Where do you come from? Or Hello, Are you from Africa?
Me: Africa/ yes
Nova Scotian: Oh, which part of Africa
Me: East Africa
Nova Scotian: Which Country
Me: Uganda
Nova Scotian: UGANDA!!!(With a smile)…….Idi Amin and LRA. That’s what it’s known for. Right?
Me: Because that’s what the media portrays. Right?
Nova Scotian: But that’s what we all we know about Uganda.
Me: Really? Never heard of the Rwenzori Mountains or Inzikuru in the Olympics?
Nova Scotian: No
And the conversation goes on and on and on depending on how much the individual knows or is willing to know about Uganda!!
Not one, not two and not even three but many people have asked me that question(Where do you come from/ Are you from Africa?) for the 3 months I have so far spent in Nova Scotia, Canada.  It’s amazing that they ask with lots of enthusiasm and when you mention that you come from Africa, they are quick to ask which part/Country.  I used to take this so lightly but after I noticed a similar response from all those I interacted with and talked to about Africa, I began noticing something funny.
Thirty two (32) years after Idi Amin stopped ruling Uganda, and about seven (7) years after his death, he is remembered and known more than all the presidents who ruled after him. The funniest thing is that he is known for the Tyranny and bloodshed. Second to Idi Amin is the Lord’s Resistance Army (a.k.a LRA) known for abduction, rape as well as cutting off lips and Noses of their victims? When I ask a question like; Is there anything good and positive that you know of, or have ever heard about Uganda? They innocently say no. Some are even quick to add that another bad thing they have heard that is so recent, is that Uganda is a homophobic country. 
The Media: They have the Power to influence and change perception.
I usually get so inquisitive and ask; How do you get to know all these details about Idi Amin, LRA etc yet you have never been to Uganda?, most people say through News. What do you mean by news? I ask. “We watch all that stuff on CNN and BBC is the response I get. Of course they are right and it’s true but what keeps me wondering, is that even after all this time with no Amin and LRA in Uganda, people think that it’s still the case even in 2011. Why is too much emphasis put on such issues? Can’t the news be balanced such that equal emphasis is put on both the good and bad? Just a handful of people know about our beautiful Muchision falls, our conducive weather, our Olympics heros and the fact that we are the ‘pearl of Africa’.  What exactly do professional journalists report about? Or what are they supposed to report? Are there journalists who write positive stories? I would love to meet them.
Can Africans tell their story though social Media to change negative perception?
Ivorycoast, then Tunisia, followed by Egypt then Libya took  over the news headlines despite the fact that Yemen, and Morrocco were in similar situations, A week later Japan  made news headlines with the earthquake that has claimed approximately 10,000 lives…..and the stories go on to celebrities like Lady Gaga visiting Google offices and Taylor Elizabeth passing on. That is main stream media for you! So what am I supposed to watch or listen to and follow with all this news coming up?
And who alerts the media houses about the situation? It’s the citizen Journalists through social sites like twitter, youtube and facebook which are now accessible on many mobile phones.  With more citizens owning phones and accessing internet, can Africans now tell their own story to the world? Can we have more African Journalists (both professional and citizen) reporting good things about Africa like the Americans and Europeans do about America and Europe? Can African Journalist produce documentaries featuring African Icons and heros that we can watch and feel proud of?  What about Africans in the diaspora who are contributing so much to these already developed countries socially, economically and politically, what are their stories?  I seem to have more questions. What do you think?
AFRICA= POVERTY? HUNGER? DISEASE?(Watch this!)

DISABILITY is not INABILITY: Women,ICTs and Disability in Northern Uganda

“I am not good at videography especially editing but I believe you will all get the message clearly.”
The convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPF) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 13 December 2006. A major milestone for all persons living with disabilities around the world, it is the 8th Universal Convention on Human Rights of  which majority of International Telecommunication Union (ITU) member States are signatories to the convention.
Article 9 of the CRPD defines ICT accessibility as an integral part of accessibility rights on par with transportation and physical environment for PWDs. There are indeed so many challenges for PWDs to realize their fundamental Human Right of access to information especially in the developing countries
These challenges include but are not limited to;
  • · Low education levels of  PWDs especially in the developing countries,
  • Absence of assistive technologies to help even the educated PWDs,
  • The absence of clear intervention strategies by governments, local disability leadership and other    stakeholders to save the situation,
  • The fact that majority PWDs live in the most rural parts of Africa and therefore can’t be covered by the available ICTs.
And although the Mobile telephone technology is greatly improving accessibility to information in Africa, its applicability for use by people with disabilities is still highly wanting. There are barriers to accessibility mainly because of the different designs of  ICT tools used by people in the mainstream which are not adaptable for use by the PWDs.
In one of the resent trainings for PWDs in Gulu which was organized by Women of Uganda Network with an aim to increase civil society organisations’ use of  and interaction with various forms of media especially PWDs who since time immemorial have been left out of ICT related programs and projects, I was privileged to facilitate a number of session on how ICTs can be used by and for PWDs. The training took place at Gulu Union of Persons with Disability on December 2010 and it was specifically offered to Gulu Landmine Survivors, A local Women’s group in Gulu. The level of enthusiasm and zeal portrayed by the woman was overwhelming. They were eager to learn, listen, implement and share. They wanted to share their stories with the entire world and be heard.
I was drawn to two particular participants, Ms. Adong Lucy a blind Woman and Ms. Jenifer Arach a deaf and dumb Youth. For Lucy, being disabled was not the issue, her issues was about the unfriendliness of ICT tools towards the PWDs especially the blind. She cited an example of airtime cards which are very user unfriendly to the blind. She said that Telecommunication Companies should be sensitive to the PWDs and produce airtime cards with the digits written in braille. In this way, even a blind person would be in position to load credit to their phone without being manipulated. In this video, Lucy shared with me why ICTs have to be user friendly to PWDs.

Jenifer Arach a youth from Gulu on the other hand said that despite the fact that she is a school dropout dumb and deaf, she is very interested in learning especially typing. She said that she wants to own a phone to ease her communication (Mainly SMS) and to increase on her networking opportunities. She shared her story with me.

Why the need to improve web/ICT accessibility for PWDs
Since time immemorial, PWDs all over the word are faced with the problem of exclusion and Isolation. This has contributed to their low levels of education therefore exclusion from majority of social services. During this training, it was noted that there is need to improve ICT accessibility for PWDs and this could be done through the following suggested ways:
·   Easy access to the web which can be used for news, information, commerce & entertainment among others though aiding devices like the Braile for the blind and speech software.
·       Adopting new technologies like real time captioning which is very relevant for the deaf.
·        Using other assistive technologies like mobile phones which are speech and visual aided. 
Proposals and plans of actions Identified at an ITU/UCC workshop held in 2010 in Kampala to address these challenges;
a) As a means of inclusion of persons with disabilities in the development of infrastructure; it was proposed that a universal access fund for Infrastructure especially geared to underprivileged areas, and disadvantaged groups including women, youth and persons with disabilities be established;
b) Governments in partnership with civil society should  increase opportunities for training of women and persons with disabilities through education, training and human resource development taking into account special consideration of underprivileged areas;
c) As part of policy development process, the participation of women and other disadvantaged groups should be facilitated and encouraged in the ICT policy development and implementation process.

I weep for my nation Uganda: Our Education system is failing us.

I only heard, learned and studied about them in high school back in Africa; The Atlantic Ocean, the snow, the Hudson bay, Appalachians …….. e.t.c and now  am right here seeing them with my very own eyes and having the actual picture of what I only had an opportunity, to see in text books and on Television some years ago. Yes, I am writing this from Nova Scotia Canada.
When I left Uganda on 1st January 2011 for North America, in pursuit of a Masters’ degree, all I could think about was, what lay ahead of me and how I would cope with the new education system which I believed was so different from that in Africa, specifically Uganda.

Just one week and a half into the semester at St. Mary’s University Halifax, http://www.smu.ca/ My thoughts are turning into reality. The education system, the style of lecturing and the reading culture are not only different from those in Uganda but far way advanced.  On the first day of my class, I missed two lectures because I was not up to speed. I was still figuring out how to register myself online for the courses I was supposed to take, which I did not complete in time to attend both lectures. When I finally got registered and started attending my very first class (Human and Computer interaction), I was impressed by the method of teaching, it was so inclusive, participatory and practical (though with gender issues in terms of students taking on the course). It even involved live streaming of vidoes on Youtube  about the importance of  observing human behavior when planning to design a system . See highlight of Vidoes 

Lots of interesting sessions followed.
But the only thing that came to my mind was Uganda’s education system. It’s true that it  experienced a major expansion when it started implementing the Universal Primary Education programme in 1997. Enrollment figures increased enormously and there are now about 8 million children enrolled in Primary schools but quality didn’t improve at the same speed. Current characteristics of education in Uganda include high absenteeism rates for pupils and teachers (up to 20%), low completion rate (54%) especially for girls, prevalent violence against children in schools and lack of sanitation (1 latrine for 66 pupils)-UNICEF, Kampala. I just had to lament to myself.
Until now, even as I write this short blog, I can’t help but weep for a nation full of young energetic and brilliant citizens whose energy is wasted as a result of unemployment that stems from the poor education system (FYI, I have been through the whole system) and who are being slowly but surely weakened and killed by the AIDS epidemic.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic in Uganda: 1.2 million HIV-positive adults, 150,000 HIV-positive children, 120,000 new infections per year, 64,000 deaths per year, 6-7% of adults HIV-positive, 350,000 in need of antiretroviral drugs and 1.2 million Orphans due to AIDS”
As a young woman, I will devote my time and energy to try and help fellow young people in my country change the future of our nation. FOR GOD AND MY COUNTRY!

MY FIRST AWARD EVER: EAST AFRICA REGIONAL WINNER.

Having been the very first of its kind; The ARDYIS Youth essay Contest focused on Youth, ICT in Agriculture and Rural Development aimed at identifying innovative solutions to challenges faced by youth in agriculture and rural areas using Information and Communication Technologies.
The essay contest which was open to young people, aged 18 – 25 years old, from urban or rural areas of Africa, Caribbean and the Pacific countries attracted 184 youth applications and only 12 finalists from the six regions were shortlisted. I was among the Young women/professionals who applied and I answered the question on “How young people are using ICTs innovetatively in Agriculture” with a case of a young fruit grower Mr. Gilbert Egwel from Northern Uganda in Apac district.

On 13th October 2010, 12 Finalists with two from each of the six regions of the African, Caribean and Pacific regions (ACP) were announced. After the evaluation of oral presentations of the selected essay took place in South Africa on 22 and 23 November 2010, as part of the CTA/NPCA Week events organized by CTA and the NPCA (NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency) from 22 to 26 November 2010. The 6 winners of the contest were to be announced on 24 November 2010. One winner per ACP region, and an overall winner. However, 7 winners emerged with 2 coming from East Africa as opposed to one. And the winners were:

West Africa:
– Itodo Samuel Anthony (Nigeria)
Central Africa :
– Gabriel Dacko Goudjo (Cameroon)
East Africa
– Maureen Agena (Uganda)
– Chris Ngige Mwangi (Kenya)
Southern Africa
– Gerald Musakaruka Mangena (Zimbabwe)
Caribbean
– Tyrone Christopher Hall (Jamaica)
Pacific
– Riten Gosai Chand (Fiji)
With Caribbean regional winner Tyrone Christopher Hall from Jamaica emerging as the overall Eassy Contest winners.

To all the winners and finalists, WELL DONE and WELL WON and to The centre for Agriculture and Technical rural development(CTA) thanks for looking at the youth as potential players in bridging the Agricultural divide through the use and application of ICTs.

And who said that Gender does not matter in social Change?

“We are tired of hearing about Gender, What’s wrong with you Women?”

These are some of the words that many people echo when you mention GENDER. As if gender means WOMEN!

As I attend the Digital Natives: My bubbles, My space and My Voice workshop at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, I cannot stop thinking about yesterday’s morning session on “Keyword paring”. This was an exercise that required each participant to describe their practices, policies and ideologies in one word which would be paired up with another participant’s one word description to form a topic of discussion.
Thinking about what describes me best and my ideologies was very easy, however, I had one problem; I came up with two words instead of the required one word. The words were GENDER + COMMUNITY
The first participant I attracted was Mr. James Mlambo the founder of Cyber Gateway in Zimbabwe who had the word INCLUSION, he was interested in pairing it up with my word COMMUNITY. We both agreed on having the words merged to come up with “COMMUNITY INCLUSION”. Our focus of discussion, in relation to our subject then centered on the marginalized and disadvantaged members of the community who are many, a times ignored in projects meant to benefit communities. These are; Youth, Children and Women. It was surprising that, this group of people make up the biggest percentage of many communities yet they are the most marginalized. We asked ourselves how to make sure that there is total inclusion and participation from all the members of the community without discrimination based on age, gender or political ideologies. And the answer was in linking technology to development.
Next was a participant with the word EQUALITY, Manal Hassan from the Arab Techie Network wanted her word EQUALITY merged with My GENDER to make GENDER EQUALITY. To many people, this does not sound new but as a team we looked at it from a technology perspective. We realized that Gender influences the dynamics of any society and that there is a digital divide when it comes to technology. One Gender (Male) is more dominant over another Gender (Female) in terms of Access, use and application of Technology. Of course several factors like perception, negative cultural practices and social cultural effects are responsible for this but our interest was in directing technology for younger generations not to use it just for the sake of it but rather relating it to development.
And finally Mr. Piadamoyo Muzulu from Padare/Men’s forum on Gender and the commercial Farmers Union(CFU) came in with REVOLUTIONARY and wanted it merged with my GENDER. We focused on ‘Deconstructing Masculinity’ and why the work of women as a gender is not quantified. According to him, the only way to empower women is through liberating their minds. The underlying questions is:
Does gender really matter when creating social change?
For more about Digital Natives

Proud to take the 6th Place in the e-learning Photo competition

Dissemination to Rural Communities through Radio (Uganda)
Owing to a lack of skills, high costs and limited access to ICTs, staff at Kubere Information Centre in Apac district, Northern Uganda, were holding face-to-face meetings (while listening to recorded speeches/ideas over the radio) with rural community members who do not have an opportunity to listen to live radio talk shows broadcast on “Radio Apac”, a local community radio.

Top ten photos

Citizen Journalists: The “Watchdogs” during the 2010 FIFA World cup.

Technological innovation is taking place at a breath-taking pace. Simple, open source internet-based applications and services designed to enhance on-line collaboration are now available to the wider public at little or no cost at all. These new online services known as Web 2.0 applications have enabled people, especially citizen Journalists to collaborate remotely in creating, sharing, networking, lobbying and publishing information about the FIFA 2010 worldcup . The 2010 FIFA world cup which is currently taking place in South Africa comes at a point when the use and application of web 2.0 tools has been adapted by many African people.
Globally, technological development has taken the place of face-to-face interaction; with an increasing range of devices for communicating and disseminating information. It is evident that the world is changing rapidly and African Media needs to catch up with the technological revolution. Africa cannot oppose the rise of this technology and the investment in “new and digital media”. But because of the low literacy levels, limited skills and high costs, it seems to be a fantasy than a reality to promote a larger use of online media in Africa. Never the less, this has not kept those who can access and use the technologies/web applications from making the best use of them during this 2010 FIFA worldcup.
Twitter an interactive micro blogging platform based on open publication of 140 character messages is one of the most popular web 2.0 tool being used to share information across the globe about the world cup. Being the largest sporting event in the world, twitter introduced the idea of having a picture of a ball after every tweet that bears the hush tag for the worldcup (#worldcup).
Facebook a privately owned social online networking website having users who can request for or add friends and send them messages as well as update their personal profiles in a chronological order to notify friends about themselves is another powerful tool being used by thousands of both soccer and non-soccer lovers during this 2010 FIFA world cup . It’s on these platforms that you find the latest updates about the different games in terms of the fixture, the winning teams, the “avoidable mistakes ” made during the different games, the online links to follow and watch the games, the vuvuzela discussions and people’s personal opinion about game.
We cannot ignore the blog, a type of website usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Many bloggers worldwide are having their blogs populated with the world cup event from all spheres; socially, politically and from an economic point of view.
A number of other tools like Youtube for sharing videos, flickr for photos and RSS for syndication are also being used. However, how are Africans benefiting from this worldcup and the various technologies?
The need to invest in citizen journalism and involve citizens in policies that affect them is now evident with the ongoing 2010 FIFA worldcup. The use of web 2.0 tools has enhanced real time communication, improved information sharing and networking. It is very important for different African governments to take advantage of these platforms to improve on key sectors electronically like health, education, governance and business. Each one of us can be a watch dog in our own societies or localities by reporting and sharing information on issues that affect us but have been left out by mainstream media. We are all citizen Journalist in one way or another.

The writer is a trained Citizen journalist

AFRICAN NETWORKS AT THE ART and SCIENCE INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL (TREFFPUNKT AFRIKA)

The cultural organization STADTWERKSTATT Linz arranged together with partners from development cooperations, art and science, the international festival TREFFPUNKT AFRIKA. The 2010 Festival which took place from 20th to 22nd May 2010 in Linz Austria, was partly held at a ship (the MS Negrelli) on the bank of the river Danube and focused on a two-day symposium with topics on „African-European developments“ and „African Networks“ .
The first chapter of the symposium was intended to give an update on relevant topics as: media, technology in daily life, raw materials and social matters. The lectures were accompanied by filmscreenings, a DJ and concert nightline with musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Germany and Austria and a soccer tournament.
Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) was privileged to be part of this festive and made a lecture presentation entitled “Digital Media: The Future of Rural Communities in Uganda” which mainly focused on the social aspect of the digital citizen, how specific technologies are being implemented in rural areas of Uganda and how web2.0 tools are being used by WOUGNET in bridging the digital divide between rural and urban communities.
The main purpose of the symposium was to bring together partners from development cooperations, art and science to discuss topics and experiences on topics of “African-European developments“ and “African Networks“. It is believed that digital media fills a media void on issues in rural communities that, as mainstream media may be unable to, owing to censorship. Often, the main stream media agenda is very narrow so a range of issues in mainly rural areas do not get attention.
Africa, particularly Uganda cannot oppose the rise of technology, and the investment in digital media from various media intuitions needs to be considered. It is therefore important to acknowledge the role Citizen journalists who have become central to exposing the ‘underdevelopment’ in many countries; often giving a voice to rural communities that would otherwise not be heard.
The Symposium enabled sharing of WOUGNET’s experience on how she has trained rural communities on the need to practice citizen journalism and on the various web 2.0 tools she uses to share information and network. A number of Network organizations presented on their various activities(http://www.servus.at/stwst/ta/index.php?l=en&s=0)

Maureen Agena represented WOUGNET to this conference.

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The Digital Doorway: A solution to Rural Communities.

The Digital Doorway is a very robust computer kiosk. It was developed so that it could be put in rural areas among communities and school areas so that the communities can just use it to equip themselves with ICT skills and retrieve local content relevant to their needs. It is also good for school children to teach themselves how to use the computer.
The Digital Doorway is a hardy, weatherproof internet kiosk with three computer terminals, vandal-proof keyboards, reinforced screens, speakers, and webcams within a rugged steel enclosure. Deployable in cities and remote areas through satellite internet, the Digital Doorway provides internet access to children and communities that are otherwise unreachable by computer labs or internet cafes. In the absence of internet connectivity, the Digital Doorway offers interactive educational software, reference materials, game and tutorials.
Digital door way, a company in South Africa is working with UNICEF to reach out to a number of schools and communities in Uganda by deploying the digital door way in rural area. According to Jeff Benson a consultant with UNICEF in Uganda, Over 100 of these Digital Doorways are to be deployed in rural areas in Uganda said. The Digital doorways operate on purely Open source (BUNTU operating system).
For more information and Details oon the Digitaldoor way please visit: http://www.digitaldoorway.org.za