Uganda to provide refugee camps with internet connectivity

Michael Akuchie
Uganda refugee surfing the internet

Refugee camps in Uganda are set to receive internet connectivity thanks to a partnership with the Ugandan government and the World Bank. The project hopes to equip refugees with essential digital skills and new language proficiency which will increase their employability. 

The internet connectivity initiative is part of a larger agenda called the Universal Digital Acceleration Program. It’s scheduled to commence in Uganda’s 2023/2024 Financial Year and will last for five years.  The country’s Permanent Secretary of ICT and National Guidance – Amina Zawedde – expressed optimism on the program, saying that last-mile communities like refugee camps will greatly benefit from having access to the internet. 

She stated this at an event jointly organized by MTN Uganda, Uganda Small Scale Industries Association, and Centenary Industries Limited. The above groups collaborated to help a refugee home in Kampala called ‘Refugee and Hope’ to raise Sh15 million for its computer laboratory expansion. 

Aside from accommodating asylum seekers, the home offers entrepreneurial skills, language learning opportunities, and counselling for those dealing with traumatic stress from their home country’s crisis. Refugee and Hope also got amenities like five computers with a year’s access to free internet, vinyl billboard material, and fabrics. 

Woman holding a phone

The East African nation accommodates 1.5 million asylum seekers from countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Saudi Arabia. This makes it one of Africa’s largest hosts of refugees. While Uganda registers the refugees, most of the humanitarian aid comes from the UN and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). 

This isn’t the first time that Ugandan refugee communities will benefit from digital upskilling initiatives. Last week, Hello World – a charity organization – in conjunction with other groups like Imagine Her and Roke Telkom, built a digital hub that runs on solar energy. Constructed in Yumbe District, Hello Hub’s construction will enable refugees and their host communities to access digital skills and learn about technology-driven concepts like e-commerce and digital finance. 

Read also: Nigerians still overpay for sub-standard internet service in 2023

Uganda’s path to digital transformation 

Aside from providing refugees with internet access, Uganda is prioritizing digital transformation on a larger scale. The country’s digital transformation program forms part of its Vision 2040, a roadmap that seeks to optimize Uganda’s capabilities in every sector including ICT. However, certain factors prevent the nation from harnessing its ICT potential. 

According to the Ugandan Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, some of these challenges are limited network coverage, poor quality services, and the high cost of smartphones. To tackle these issues, Uganda’s Digital Transformation Program will aim to expand the country’s ICT infrastructure and encourage ICT adoption among other things.  

A family with a laptop

The roadmap is founded on five pillars which are digital infrastructure and connectivity, boosting cyber security, improving citizens’ digital skills, promoting innovation among people, and digital services promotion. For the first pillar, the 2022 National Broadband Survey recommended that smartphone import duties and other associated taxes be lowered to increase smartphone penetration. Other proposed solutions for internet connectivity include reduced cost of data and increased fibre rollout.

For the cybersecurity pillar, Uganda will attempt to develop a wholesome approach that will protect citizens from emerging threats on the internet. Regarding digital skilling, the country will strive to churn out more digitally literate students regularly. As such, teachers will undergo retraining to equip them with the relevant digital skills to pass on to students. 

Unlike Kenya, Uganda’s startup scene is more miniature with hubs found mainly in the capital, Kampala. To help the tech sector grow, the country will promote innovation and help stakeholders commercialize their products. Government ministries, departments, and agencies (MDAs) will also be encouraged to patronize products and services developed by Ugandan innovators. 

Regarding the last pillar, efforts will be made to ensure digital services are accessed not only by MDAs but by citizens, especially those in the vulnerable category (the elderly, people living with disabilities, etc).   

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