First impressions on ICT in Kampala

On: April 15, 2009
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About Guido van Diepen
Guido van Diepen is a freelance journalist and cultural anthropologist specialized in new media. He did empirical research in Uganda on internet usage. He is interested in the effects of new media practices on culture, focusing on the idea that different cultures react differently to - and make different uses of - new media.


On the plane from Cairo to Kampala I met a young Ugandan guy of 19 years old who just flew back from a tennis match in Egypt. He was a real cosmopolitan; he had traveled already all over the world for tennis matches, he studied as well in Uganda as in South Africa and he got a scholarship for next year to study in the USA. He told me laughing he might do some economic studies too, to help us in Europe with our crisis. He uses the laptop of his brother to surf on the Web for news and downloading music.

Since he was a nice guy I asked him if could do an interview with him later on in Kampala, and he gave me the phone number of his sister: ‘Ask for Duncan..’ He himself changed too often of simcard to be reachable.
Once in the country it is not only the humid air taking the attention of your senses. The country is filled with massive advertisement and billboards of telecom companies: ‘connect yourself’…

Everywhere houses are painted in he colours of the telecom companies. The companies see it as free advertisement; the residents see it as free paint. This makes for colourful spectacles, the colour of Zain for example really is as pink as it can get.

(There was supposed to be a nice picture here of a street full of pink houses, but after six hours of uploading without result I gave up…)

My first intention was to shine a light on the dark informal sphere of illegal economic activities conducted on the Internet. Scams, fraud, fake marriages and so on. My first encounter with a Ugandan blog taught me that the scams were typical Nigerian, not African. People in Uganda were warning each other for this foreign Nigerian fake mails. There went my first prejudice.

The Internet is not yet as well developed as the telecom technology is. This is especially experienced in the slow network connections. At some places it can take up to half an hour to open your email. There are a lot of Internet cafe’s in Kampala though, and surfing the Internet is a popular activity amongst the Ugandans. Downloading music is one of the activities. From tomorrow on, I will go into the field to find out what Internet activities more are conducted.

WiMax offers a fast connection, but is still far too expensive to be available for the Ugandan civilians. On the MUBS (Makerere University Business School) there is a large room with 250 computers waiting already a year for a good deal with an Internet provider. In the meantime the computer hall stays closed. It is too expensive for the university to obtain a proper connection. One of the ideas is to form a block with other educational institutions in East Africa in order to gain a stronger position in the negotiations with the providers. The government doesn’t subsidize Internet connections, because they don’t see it as a priority.

Also on the ground most people haven’t discovered yet the possibilities that the Internet offers. A student union of the MUBS did see some possibilities and was planning to held the elections and the voting on a website. Eventually they didn’t, due to the minimal connectivity offered on the university and due to their idea that people are not motivated or used to using the Internet.

One of the professors there thinks that the mindset of the people are a bigger challenge than the connectivity. ‘People still need to become aware of the possibilities it offers.’ On the question how fast this awareness is coming, he answers ‘…very…sloooow…’
‘No hurry in Africa!’

7 Responses to “First impressions on ICT in Kampala”
  • April 16, 2009 at 12:39 am

    […] Original post by Masters of Media, New Media MA Amsterdam […]

  • April 16, 2009 at 1:13 am

    very nice, your post really gives me a good impression of your first encounter with an african country and its media use. Two questions/curiosities popped up reading it; the tennis guys mentioned switching simcards a lot, which made me wonder wether this might be common practice, and if so, what this might say about mobile phone usage/culture in Uganda and how “alternative” usage and structures might have formed around it. Also, I wonder wether the governments’ lack of involvement concerning the improvement of internet capacity, especially in universities, might also be seen as a type of censorship. I know in countries like Iran, limiting bandwidth has been used as a type of censorship. I could imagine that a project like the one of the student union would perhaps not be in the interest of the ruling government and their current election tactics.

    Anyway, nice to hear from the uganda-team again!

  • April 16, 2009 at 1:36 am

    Indeed. Multiple sim cards is common. Each provider offers different pricing structures. So users are always looking for the best deal. One network might be cheaper in the evening than another. Also, calling between networks is really expensive. So mtn users connect on the mtn network. If you want to talk to your friends on zain then it is time to switch! Bandwidth is a problem. New cable is promised this summer and could greatly improve connectivity. This development will have considerable implications for the country and the government.

  • April 16, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Nice to read up on the experiences! I wonder, do telecom companies see market opportunities for providing internet connections? Are they anticipating internet connectivity? And to what degree is there a demand for (fast) internet and can this demand be mappable?
    “No hurry in Africa!”, sounds relaxing!!

  • April 21, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    The telecom companies absolutely see opportunities in providing internet connections. There is really a race going on between the different companies. Everybody interested in Internet is waiting for the broadband connection to be realized this summer i.e. schools, universities, internet cafe’s, hotels etc. are frustrated by slow connections. People don’t yet have computers at home here, though laptops among students gain popularity. Besides the fiber optic cable, wireless therefore is a huge sphere of investment. Some people don’t think the broadband will be finished in summer and expect the revolution to come some later…no hurry!

  • April 22, 2009 at 12:48 am

    I was wondering, are they moving towards a wireless solution?

  • April 25, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    In Kampala and other towns the cables are already there waiting to get connected. Especially in the rural areas wireless technologies like WiMax are needed to reach the end users.
    VSAT is criticized a lot, because it is unstable and too slow to compare itself with broadband. Other options are ADSL,3G,Edge and GPRS.
    In fact the ┬┤revolution’ is dependent on how properly the ‘last miles’ will be fixed and also on the ISP’s to lower their prices.

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