With a tax on social media, Uganda’s open data journey could be un-defined

Photo credit: photopin.com

Uganda embarked on the process of  having an open data policy in  May 2017. The initiative spearheaded by  Ministry Of ICT and National Guidance was celebrated by the public and interpreted as a move to  openness by Uganda’s government. Having a policy in place meant that certain data held by the government shall be made publicly available, with few restrictions on access. To the citizens and civil society enthusiasts, Uganda was finally becoming responsive to citizens demands on access to data.

On 29th May 2018, before passing of the policy ,  Uganda’s open data graph was slapped by the legislatures’ action of  approving a law that imposes new taxes on social media services and mobile money. In defense of the unpopular legislation, the  State Finance Minister in-charge of  planning  highlighted that such taxes will be invested in the country’s social sectors like health, education, amongst others. But let’s not forget that health and education sectors have been named amongst the most corrupt institutions in the nation; hopefully the taxes  could redeem them from the corruption curve.

Is Taxing social media the right move?

Uganda has 31.3%  internet users making it the 15th country with internet penetration in Africa, and  75% of these users are on social media. In Uganda, social media has increased  information access, flow  and has also enhanced collaborative e-governance for the country.

With social media channels like Facebook, twitter and WhatsApp, Ugandan citizens have increasingly demanded for accountability from government without hindrance from physical, technical and financial barriers. On the other hand, we have  often seen government agencies responding to citizens queries and demands just on time. citizens’ increased participation in decision making processes and governance responsiveness on citizens queries has been made easier with the power of social media.

Civil Society Organisations like Evidence and Methods Lab  have also used the opportunity  of internet penetration and social media growth to disseminate graphics  on Uganda’s budgeting process to the common man. This approach has contributed to enhancing citizens understanding of the budget and increased youth participation in the budgeting processes.

Social Media is an enemy to dictators, Martha Leah Nangalama

However, with the introduction of the tax on social media, exacerbated by the expensive data bundles, citizens may be left in the dark on what transpires in their country as well as government processes.   According to the new legislation,  200 shillings  approximately $0.0531 will be charged for users of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

Implication of the social media  tax legislation to Uganda

Social media  provides opportunity to receive or create and share public messages at low costs and ubiquitously. The enormous growth of social media usage has led to an increasing accumulation of data, which has been termed Social Media Big Data. Social media platforms offer many possibilities of data formats, including textual data, pictures, videos, sounds, and geolocations.

Uganda’s  social media tax takes  the country two steps backwards into a closed society where there is a limit  to questioning on whatever transpires in Uganda. At the end of it all, Citizens trust in government  process could be slowed down as some may interpret the taxes as a strategy of hindering inter and intra communication as well as the right to know.

Uganda could do better

Just like Iran Open Data,  Uganda’s open data enthusiasts ought to create  spaces for  themselves to talk about their practices, their achievements, and the challenges they’ve had to overcome in challenging environments. Activists have to work  collaboratively with government officials and ensure some sort of buy-in into their projects. They can as well support government through making the information user friendly and also disseminate it to communities since they have easier contact with them.




How can we increase the impact of civic technology in Uganda?

Photo credit: Digital Society Forum

For those following events on the civic technology revolution in Uganda, lots have been done in designing tech driven solutions, for increased citizen participation and government responsiveness. The growth in civic tech can be explained by technological advances enabling universal computing  and drivers for open data, greater democratic transparency and accountability. Civic tech helps citizens to actively participate in democratic society, including: data access, visualization, resident feedback, public decision-making, amongst other uses. While I can evidently celebrate the existence of hundreds civic tech solutions in the country, I will take a pulse, and focus on the achievements attained through the tech solutions, their sustainability and citizen’s behavior towards them.

While civic tech accelerates citizens’ participation and government responsiveness, we should all agree that it is not an end in itself. In the beginning, we could have painted a picture of using tech to change the world! Perfect picture! However, this picture could be overly optimistic.  First, we sometimes never involve citizens in contribution towards designing the tech solutions intended to solve their actual problems; but, we often focus on mobilizing them on using the tech solutions. Second, we sometimes never think of the terrain difference and adaption variations per country. The adaption of tech in USA or Kenya could be  so different from that of Uganda hence affecting its utilization.

Over time we have become technocrats who think for the users—on what they want and which solutions would be suitable to overcome their challenges. This is equivalent to thinking for someone on what s/he will order for lunch. Sometimes  you could get it right, hence some tech solutions flourishing, but, most times you get it wrong—thus most tech solutions in Uganda failing and closing up.

Why some civic tech solutions work and others fail.

While conducting a tool audit on 9 (nine) of the tech solutions in Uganda,  some were  found non functional. The reasons for the non functionality range from projects lifetime, users not utilizing the systems, maintenance costs, etc.  It was also noticed that when some tech solutions are born, they are supported by development partners for the public’s’ good. However, we  at times forget that it’s the communities that must utilize the tech solutions through participation, and its government to do the responsiveness gymnastics. 

When these two important ingredients (citizens and government)  are passive in the entire process, re-attracting them to actively use the  tech solutions and information therewith is equivalent to hitting rock bottom. Further, some of the tech solutions are copied from elsewhere, with  assumptions that, “ if they worked in a certain contexts, they  could just fit in well in Uganda”. This assumption is misplaced since users and responders are quite different in every context.

It’s also been observed that tools copied  elsewhere and re-introduced in Uganda sometimes ignore the design research; an important component in understanding users capacities and capabilities.  The tech solutions are introduced as a full complete packages with little or no chances of modification. One thing we often forget  is that users and/or responders are never migrated as the tools, nor fit-well in the full packaged systems, thus affecting tech usability  for public good.

Duplication? Same data, different tools!

Investigations into civic tech tend to focus on data quality, rather than the human component within the system, or a broader view on the impact and added value of the civic tech solution.

In Uganda, I have realized that many of the tech solutions are within same implementation areas, targeting same people and producing similar data. In my opinion, this is unhealthy competition which could as well be interpreted to mean that, we the  civic tech developers, implementers, managers etc are competing on grounds of who has the best tool or receives the most complaints, but not , how we can effectively leverage tech and contribute to increased citizen participation and governments responsiveness.

In Uganda today, we have over 20 civic tech solutions for reporting corruption and almost in similar implementation areas. While some of them have exited the stage, I highly doubt if those existing are really serving their goals especially if the nation is amongst the corruption celebrities according to the Corruption Perception Index 2017. This  could be solved by civic technologists coming together to re-strategise and network on how to move forward.

 How is tech data utilized

The fact that civic tech platforms provide new and easier ways for citizens to voice their concerns to government does not necessarily mean that citizens actually take advantage of them. With numerous tools in place, one wonders how tech data is used. To some of the people living in areas where civic tech solutions are implemented, tech solutions are never utilized because they got tired of reporting and never receive feedback!.

When the responsiveness is weak and data advocacy is also low, it could  imply that we use tech data for our own good. For a few organizations using the tech data,  it’s used selectively to serve their goals and purpose. But it’s important to remember that this data is traceable to individuals who made time to report while expecting feedback at the same time.

The missing-link in most of the tech  driven solutions is advocacy. Advocacy is one of the best middle men on how tech data could be used to drive policy decisions, improve public service delivery and social accountability.  With tech data, an individual could either report a single issue, or start a campaign, or look for others having already reported the same or similar issues. Data availability coupled with evidence based advocacy and storytelling could effectively contribute to governments’ responsiveness. With  government’s responsiveness, citizens will feel the impact of their reports, hence boosting their participation in governance processes.

How can we improve the civic tech  experience in Uganda for improved participation and more responsiveness?

Collaboration:  Uganda’s civic tech fraternity  must depend on greater collaboration and coordination. Civic tech, on its own does not  enhance citizen- government relationships. These kinds of relationships flourish through  advocacy, offline engagements like lobby meetings, board room meetings , dialogues etc. With collaboration, together we can leverage data and technology to enable civic leaders to make better decisions, have a platform for sharing the successes and challenges with  each other.

If you have any thoughts on bettering Uganda’s civic technology experience, feel free to share in the comments!

For God and My Country

Uganda maintains the same Corruption Perception Index (CPI) Spot! What Uganda designs and what she reaps!  

Photo credit: Anti Corruption Coalition Uganda

Over the last two weeks, I interested myself in reading some of the best research papers, approaches and strategies on tackling corruption in Uganda and Africa at large. On the contrary, the approaches and solutions look smooth in design,  are desirable, achievable and, could as well qualify to be SMART.  However, why haven’t our best solutions taken Uganda out of the corruption vicious circle?

In the recently published 2017  Corruption Perception Index, Uganda ranked 151 out of the 180 countries. Unfortunately,  this poor performance is nothing new as the country has enjoyed the same SPOT  for the last four  CPI years.

As a country, we approximately have 10 agencies mandated to tackle corruption , but their contribution towards fighting graft  is not solid  since some of them could be duplicating each other’s work. These include: the Inspectorate of Government (IG), the Directorate of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Auditor General (AG) etc. A number of other bodies have functions closely related to anti-corruption action but hold mandates where corruption is but one element ,include the Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP), Criminal Investigation Directorate (CID) and the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA). The Directorate of Ethics and Integrity (DEI) coordinates anti-corruption policy and provides political leadership. All these bodies are in membership of the Inter Agency Forum (IAF) which provides a coordinating mechanism.

Despite the availability of institutions,  a legal framework , and policy measures, Uganda’s performance remains dismal.  Uganda has subscribed to a number of international treaties and regional organisations whose operations have direct relevance for the manner in which accountability issues are addressed. These include: the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organised Crime 2000 (The Palermo Convention); United Nations Convention on the suppression of the financing of terrorism (1999); United Nations Convention against Corruption, the African Union Convention on Preventing and Combating Corruption, (2003)  and the East and Southern African Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG).

Notwithstanding subscription to all the above mentioned international treaties, regional organisations and laws, the Global Integrity report 2011 highlighted that Uganda has a high implementation gap, in which it scored very highly (98%) on having a very good legal framework but was awarded 52% for having weak implementation record. This gave the country an implementation gap of 46% in a study that covered 31 countries.

 What could be going wrong?

As a  citizen, I applaud the generals in the accountability Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the anti corruption fraternity for their efforts towards tackling corruption in Uganda! Kudos for the good work—But something is not right somewhere!!  The work am referring to at this particular moment are the best researches,  well designed boardroom approaches and solutions as well as cosmetic appearances before the public to preach the anti corruption gospel.

Ladies and gentlemen, its time for  all stakeholders contributing to the anti corruption fight to slow down in regards to whatever they are implementing and re-strategize on how to make it happen.  Uganda is  poorly performing not because  of laws, manpower and institutions, but, because we are  too rigid to change our ways of work.  This could as well justify as to why the country is not shifting spots amongst the corruption celebrities. It could as well highlight  that the corrupt (read thieves) are too flexible in regards to strategy, to beat the activists and institutions at their game.

 In Uganda today, citizens are empowered about corruption and, have also done their role to report the vice, but where is the actual problem?  For the few citizens I talked to, they highlighted that the few people charged to tackle corruption  in the nation are also corrupt!  Their assertions could be justified by a recent report by the Inspectorate of Government naming the 80 most corrupt government agencies; where some agencies mandated to tackle corruption are famed and shamed.  Citizens perception on these agencies manifest that people no longer trust government when it comes to fighting corruption.

 Therefore a shift from old school approaches in tackling the vice should be made. Board solutions work for board room people but not for the common man.  Let’s be flexible enough to come up with solutions matching with technological and development trends. The common man should be also consulted on what they feel could be best done, since the elites are scoring negatives in that arena.

 What can be done differently?

Instead of borrowing  ideas, solutions and approaches from elsewhere and  redesign them in our boardrooms, it’s high time we ask the common man who is more affected by corruption on what S/he thinks could best be done to tackle the vice. Do not be surprised that they will come up with enriching ideas and  working solutions.  That could shift Uganda from the same CPI Spot to a slightly higher bar.

And for whoever is reading this, what have you done in your capacity to contribute towards the Anti Corruption Fight. Do you have a strategy that  has worked in Africa and could be rolled out to some of us from countries occupying the same spot in corruption indices? Feel free to share your story.

 Until next time!

 For God and My Country.

Open Education: How open data could improve Uganda’s education system

Open education
Photo credit: Center for Education Innovations


As the sun rises on such a beautiful Wednesday morning, my thoughts cannot be separated from what has happened in Uganda for the last three months.

But, as of today, let’s talk about one of the country’s key sectors–the Education sector.

I acknowledge that Uganda’s education sector has gone through a serious trajectory,  but it’s important to focus on the now and the future. We are certain that Uganda’s Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) released the Primary Leaving Examinations (PLE) on the January 12th, 2018. On a positive note,  i applaud the institution for the timely release; for it has provided parents with enough time to make decisions on their children’s next chapter. Kudos!

 However, at the just concluded PLE release, the MOES  that out of the 646,190 candidates who sat the exams, 57,198 passed in first grade, 293,977 in Second, 128,573 in Third, 91,504 in Fourth while 57,354 completely failed the exams.as highlighted below.

Education data
Data source: Daily Monitor

Whereas the MoES highlighted an improvement in pupil’s performance as compared to 2016, a number of pupils and parents were disgruntled and never satisfied with the results.

Let’s also acknowledge that parents and pupils also have a right to an opinion, but, how do their opinions affect the education system and the future PLE candidates?

 Where is the problem

While making a press briefing on the PLE results, the MoES officials noted that pupils failed in subjects which required applying knowledge in problem-solving situations or freely express themselves. To them candidates were more comfortable with questions that are direct and based on recall.  

However, as a parent and well wisher, i am interested in the data on what translates to scoring a 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc grade! Is it academic excellence, marks, handwriting  or favoritism of certain schools against others?  When i dug deeper into the PLE website, such important information is also missing on the website yet it qualifies to be public information.

For preparation of future candidates, such information should be in the open and accessed by all parents and citizens. This is not a matter of national security, but integrity of the esteemed institutions responsible for setting, marking  and supervising the exams. With no data to answer people’s questions to understand the system better, this has reduced Ugandans to social media news! —false or right will be tackled next time!

Furthermore, the MoES  is cognizant of the fact that 13,023,114 Ugandans i.e 31.3% have access to  internet and could use social media to get heard. And if the MoES  and UNEB pays a blind eye, the system will be deemed opaque, biased and of course discriminatory. Using social media escapades, alternative data (since we don’t have official data) has been spreading from  one social media site to another; with information on how the grading for private schools differed from governments’ Universal Primary Education schools.

According to the alternative data, a pupil in a public school only needs a 75% to get a distinction and one in a private school needs 94%! If this is right, I presume that the esteemed ministry would openly inform the public on its decisions, as well as justifications. Further Still, how does the MoES expect dubbed performers to participate in their next leg? Will they  excel or  expelled upon mediocre performance in the senior schools!.

Well, in case its false news, we still expect the MoES to  openly deny the claims for the sanity of the institution. With such information unattended to, some parents will be biased against the educated seniors who have their children’s future in thy hands. In a nutshell, we won’t need to take our children to private schools, and they won’t need to hustle that hard to pass, after all, a distinction is just next door.

How  the situation affects the Ugandan economy?

With a non transparent system for grading pupils, the MoES and UNEB  could be indirectly impeding the performance and excellence of the future workers, innovators and employees. If someone is used to getting things done on a silver platter, at such a tender age, this will be his or her attitude once faced with challenges, ultimately contributing to economic slowdown.

Ministry of Education and Uganda National Examinations Board—  could do better

To improve on the openness and transparency of the grading system; which are key ingredients of a good democracy, we should have the same grading for private and public schools in Uganda. This will not only restore trust in Uganda’s education system but also produce the best future employees for the nation.

The Ministry can do better if only grading parameters are  displayed on their website. A publicized memo could do a lot of transparency instead of making decisions in boardrooms and implementing them on the entire population.This could save Uganda from the premier of the education transparency theater which is threatening to happen.

One thing for sure, the government should invest in the UPE schools as private school owners do. Can we first rethink of the tutors salary, followed by collaborative efforts between parents and government to jointly contribute to the scholastic materials, food etc? This will not only improve the environment of  the learners but also their performance.


Lets focus on the pupil-teacher environment to improve Uganda’s public education system,  disclose the grading parameters to citizens for better preparation of candidates  for such important exams and  bring parents on board by reminding them on their role in pupils performance. This will not only contribute to effective information flow and transparency, but will produce academic giants ready to take the nation to the next level.

For God and my country.

Continue reading "Open Education: How open data could improve Uganda’s education system"

Can Data about police practice improve citizen people relations with Uganda’s Police?



Image credit : GCN

For those following developments about police practice in Uganda, less surprising the few months into 2017 have not been the best  of moments for  Uganda’s national force.

Painting the Picture: What could the police be doing wrong?

In the concluded  procurement and disposal audit on Uganda’s national force conducted by the Public Procurement and Disposal of Public Assets Authority (PPDA), the custodians of law and order were qualified  for Issuance of local purchase orders (LPOs) and contracts on expired bids,  failure to state procurement timelines on the entity’s procurement plan amongst other opinions.

This could be a result of internal data management systems gone wrong! We can as well call it  a data manipulation because, a well-managed data system promotes an integrated view of any institutions operations and a clearer view of the big picture. It becomes much easier to see how actions in one segment of the  entity affects others. If only Uganda’s national force had one, probably LPOs would not be issued on expired bids. Despite the flows, the police budget has been steadily increasing over years, thanks to the Inspector General of Police. However,  its un-justifiable if the budget increment is felt by the ordinary police officers since subject data is limited and/or un-found .

Contemplating about open data and data practice in the Uganda’s national force, the Inspector General of Police, General Kayihura in his foreword to Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) Sector Strategic Plan for Statistics for Uganda Police Force (2006/07 – 2010/11),  highlighted that the statistical process in the Uganda Police is poor, inaccurate, uncoordinated and not time-sensitive.  Ten years down  his reign,  the force is still experiencing the same data management theater.

Without good data management, exacerbated with increased opacity in the force’s operations, citizens could simply misinterpret and misunderstand Uganda’s police decisions and work ethics. Why? Because they will have  ample time to stereotype and perceive. No wonder,  our force is continuously ranking as one of the most corrupt institutions in Uganda, and  the most corrupt East African Region institution according to the Transparency International East Africa Bribery Index.  This is not because they are so badly off in that sphere, but  could be because they do not adhere to open data, transparency and accountability  practices by being closed-off from the  public.

A glimpse  into the force’s budget discipline depicts Fy 2017/2018  as  one of their good years but, teargas tops priority on their budget with 44 billion Uganda shillings earmarked for the purchase of teargas to control crowds and  UGX 51.1 bil­lion for handling post-election violence.

The time to find good solutions to these problems is now.

Uganda’s national force could do better only if it prioritizes data management, access to information and increased focus on transparency. In a transparent institution, data availability, combined with the tools that transform data into usable information, empowers end users to make quick, informed decisions that can make the difference between success and failure.

As custodians of law and order, the Uganda’s Police  should invest in increasing access to information about their work, initiate mechanisms to increase the flow of public information on  what police officers are doing in their official roles, how they are doing it, and how they are fulfilling their responsibility to ensure public safety. This will not only restore public trust and confidence in Uganda’s police but push them steps ahead into the transparency curve.



SIM card registration in Uganda: When Data management and transparency is tested

Photo credit: Infrastructure magazine

In April 2017, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered a 7 days ultimatum demanding Ugandan citizens to register their SIM cards with local service providers using their national identity cards or risk deactivation. The move by government is defended on grounds of safeguarding national security and curbing crime in Uganda.

While the decision behind the initiative may qualify to be positive, the requirements asked of citizens to register their SIM cards is problematic. SIM cards belong to individuals who purchase them for personal use. However, the deactivation and registration deadline was agreed upon by selected committee comprised of the Police Chief,  UCC officials and service providers from different Telecom companies.  This seemed like a transparency trap since decisions affecting the wider public were discussed by few stakeholders without the involvement of the user department i.e the citizens.

In a transparent environment, sharing information with all stakeholders is very important. Ugandan citizens deserve better  transparency through sharing information and sensitization from UCC as to why SIM card registration is important, and  reasons for the preference of the national ID unlike other nationally issued identifications.This will result into good cooperation from the wider public, less speculation and rumors.

Being open and honest about all aspects in a given environment is advantageous, because it positions you in such a way that you can quickly and efficiently respond to problems and controversy if it arises.

Data management theater

Uganda has other agencies like the Ministry of Internal affairs where the national passport issuance agency i.e the Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration is housed. Before obtaining a Uganda passport, verification and recommendation from local leaders, birth certificates, recommendation from Ugandan passport holders etc are required.

In fact, the data requested for by the Passport issuance agency is substantial and good enough for National Identification and Registration Authority-NIRA to update their systems. Further still, we also have Face technology which issues out computerized national driving permits and without it, one can never traverse Ugandan roads. Obtaining this too requires verification from police, doctors during eye check amongst others.

Despite having citizen’s bio-data with different agencies in addition to the growth of the ICT sector in Uganda, there is a missing link regards to the data harmonization and management framework between the data based agencies. This automatically brings us to the data-management theater Uganda is facing now!

Where is the problem

Uganda does not have a harmonized data management portal where key citizen information is securely posted, kept and updated. In fact the SIM card registration ultimatum exposed a lot of data management loopholes within the government agencies.

If Uganda had just one institution responsible for data management and safety, information from the Face technology, Directorate of Citizenship and Immigration, National Social Security Fund, police etc would be  easily harmonized. In any case of loopholes, citizens would be informed to update their information.

Without a harmonized system, a person can easily use a deceased’s details to register his/her SIM simply because the system tracking death and birth is independent of one issuing national IDs.

The SIM registration exercise itself has exposed the poor cooperation between some government agencies in Uganda. For instance, if UCC could only cooperate with ICT agency and others having citizen’s data, it would be simpler to access information required of citizens.

Therefore, the government could consider doing the following to improve its data management and handling practice.

  • Harmonizing all registration data bases with NIRA to avoid duplication of services and wastage of taxpayers’ money.
  • Sensitize masses on the need for registration instead of ordering ultimatums backed with justifications not easily understood by the common man.
  • Do not align the national ID to only SIM card registration. People will easily interpret it as a SIM ID.