Can ICTs contribute enormously in the eradication of poverty in Uganda if considered major physical infrastructure?

ICTs cover a wide range of tools
and technologies that can be used to foster development. They are drivers for change and their impact in the economic, social,
cultural, political and individual spheres of life is widely accepted and
recognised world over. Information
and communication technology such as computers, mobile phones, projectors,
digital cameras, music players, and many others have found applications in
every conceivable area where people work and interact including businesses,
educational institutes, and research organizations among others.
And though much talked about, it
is hardly used in some of the most important sector in Uganda. Such sectors
include the Agricultural sector, a sector that dorminates Uganda’s economy and
accounts for 41.6%
of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), 85% of the export earnings and 80% of
employment opportunities.
The Ugandan Government is
increasingly adopting the internet for activities that have broader social
implications for grassroots communities. Efforts include laying a fibre-optic
backbone infrastructure; e-governance infrastructure in 27 ministries as well
as a universal fund as part of the Rural Communications Development fund
(RCDF).
A national ICT policy framework
was set up in 2002 to ensure the optimum utilization of information to foster
social economic development. The policy focuses on three areas: Information as a resource for development,Mechanisms for accessing informationand ICT as an industry. The policy
recognises that the three areas are not mutually exclusive.
While several policies and
legislations like “Uganda Access to information Act (2005)”,“Telecommunications
sector policy (1996)” and “The communications bill (2007)”have been put in
place, gaps exist when considering access to information broadly. For example,
the Rural Communications Development fund (RCDF) is not funding broadband
access and it has largely offered subsides for the establishment of services at
district headquarters which are mostly urban or semi-urban ignoring the needs
of the rural and underserved population who are its primary constituency.
Since the inception of the
Information and Communication Technology (ICT) ministry in 2006, Uganda has up
to date had three ministers: Dr. Ham Mulira, Mr. Aggrey Awori and now Dr.
Ruhakana Rugunda. However, even with an entire ministry in place, there is lot
more to be done in enabling access, use and application of ICTs to the rural
majority.
Photo: Khatukhira at 2011 Agriculture Fair in 2011
There is a great need to building
the capacity of people to enable their use of internet and basic ICTs such as
mobile phones whose benefits are amplified by the fact that the spread of
mobile technology in many rural areas has occurred much faster than with other
information & communication technologies (ICTs).
There is also a need develop
local content in local languages and applications in high utility value for the
community. Areas to look into include; health, education, market information,
agriculture and local administration.
The ministry in partnership with
stakeholders needs to device sustainable plans for RCDF grantees and align some
of its programs to the government‘s poverty reduction program. And finally to
enact cyber laws to curb malpractices and to increase confidence in electronic
transactions

Despite
these benefits and opportunities presented by ICTs in the eradication of
poverty, challenges like high costs of, limited network coverage and limited
usage capacity still exist.
The chances of success and sustainability of rural ICT funds like Rural
Communications Development Fund(RCDF) by Uganda Communications Commission are
greater when they do not duplicate services provided by existing information
sources such as the kiosks, telecentres and digital doorways among others.