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Uganda and Sweden have been exploring initiatives to strengthen collaboration in ICT developments through investments and joint ventures in order to take advantage of potential within the sector

At a one-day ICT conference hosted in Kampala last month, representatives of both governments spoke about the potential for joint collaboration and invited the private sector to take advantage of the opportunities available.

In a keynote address at Kampala’s Serena Conference Centre, Uganda’s Minister of ICT, Eng. John Nasasira, welcomed the Swedish business and government delegation with a promise that Uganda’s ICT development needs presented potential for high returns on investment.

"Sweden’s ICT development index has been between one and two in the world, and today you are meeting Uganda which is ranked 22nd in Africa and 130th in the world. In 2012 Sweden scored 8.75 out of 10 while Uganda scored 1.71 out of 10 in ICT development ratings," Nasasira said. That shows that there is a lot of investment required here, and have good ground for growth. Also, whatever investment you make in Uganda will immediately go regional because of our positioning as East Africa."

Nasasira outlined various achievements in ICT development in Uganda, which provided a good premise for foreign private investments into the sector, including nationwide access to the internet through a national fibre optic cable project, and the employment of one million people in the sector.

"The optic fibre cable we have laid connects to Rwanda and Tanzania, and will also lower our costs of connectivity to the sea cable at Dar es Salaam when complete, which will also increase access further in upcountry Uganda," Nasasira said.

Nasasira said the government was also implementing universal access programme using a specially-created fund called the Rural Communication Development Fund, which draws from levies charged to telecommunication companies operating in Uganda.

"The RCDF provides access to basic ICT services for rural and other communities. The programme includes building labs in schools and health centres, and by the end of this financial year all 1,200 government schools will be covered under this programme," he said.

The conference was attended by a Swedish ICT delegation consisting of leading global companies seeking to find a foothold in African countries, as well as contribute towards development.

Sweden’s Ambassador to Uganda, Urban Andersson, and the Swedish Head of Delegation and Senior Advisor to the Minister for Trade, Jonas Hafstrom, said the Scandinavian country had sent a delegation to learn more about current business opportunities and introduce themselves and their solutions to their East African counterparts.

Conference participants heard that after Israel, Sweden is the world’s leading spender on research and development on ICT in relation to GDP, and the country enjoys some of the worlds highest ICT penetration figures - with 50 per cent of four-year olds using the Internet, more than 90 per cent of the population using LTE (4G) technologies, 50 per cent of households with access to fibre and only 500 households and business lacking broadband access.

Michael Niyitegeka, Vice Chairman of the ICT Association of Uganda (pictured) said the conference presented some eye-opening realities especially for the Ugandan participants.

Niyitegeka remarked, "This conference is a great opportunity for Uganda to learn, but this calls for honesty on our part. We definitely can not replicate the Sweden story, however we can build our own story.

"Our mindset ought to change; for example we have seen in Sweden communities building their own fibre - in Uganda, that would be a miracle! We are paid to have public infrastructure on our property like road networks. Just imagine how much would be saved if we became partners in our own national development.

"Of course, the government must demonstrate responsibility and accountability for this to happen," he added.

Sweden has a population of just nine million people with a sparsely populated rural area and heavy population concentration in the south, which helps Internet penetration per capita, because 85 per cent of the population lives in the south of the country.

Among Swedish companies and organisations at the conference were Ericsson, Transmode, SwedFund, ICT Networks, Greenlight Project Management, Flexenclosure, Eltel Networks, and EKN. Ugandan organisations, meanwhile, include the ICT Association of Uganda and the Uganda Business Process Outsourcing Association.

By Simon Kaheru

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