The Internet Forum/Public Dialogue was held on 2nd May 2017 at Makerere University, Prof. Buyinza (Director, DRGT) welcomed everyone to the event in particular the Chief Guest, the Honorable State Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze and the Ambassador of Sweden to Uganda, H.E Per Lindgarde.
The theme for the public dialogue was “Internet Access and Power: The Case for Uganda” and in his speech, he mentioned how the internet is undoubtedly a powerful technology that has had a tremendous impact on billions of people’s lives by giving access to uncompromised source of information, possibility of communicating directly to individuals all over the globe as well as to millions of people at the same time. He also talked about Uganda being one of the first countries in sub-Saharan Africa to gain full internet connectivity in 1995 and how the current internet connection rate in Uganda stands at 7% out of 38 million Ugandans.
The key objective of the dialogue organized in partnership with the Swedish Embassy, Kampala (U), Hivos Foundation, Unwanted Witness, and College of Computing and IS was to discuss the relevance of internet to the ordinary Ugandan, how they perceive internet as an empowering tool and share their experiences of their interaction with internet and power. Other issues discussed in the forum were how low and middle-income citizens can increase access to internet, how efforts to promote both internet freedom and human rights can be made less dangerous, and issues to do with internet access restrictions in Uganda.
The panel to discuss and engage with Makerere University staff, students and the general public was represented by Dr. Aminah Zawedde (Lecturer, Makerere University) who was present to address the academia perspective, Mr. James Byaruhanga (COO, RokeTelkom) representing the service providers perspective, Mr. Osbert Osamai (Systems Analyst, NITA, Uganda) representing government perspective and Miss. Prudence Nyamushana (Blogger) representing the user’s perspective. Moderating the dialogue was Dr. Evelyn Kahiigi but before deliberations could begin a position paper on “The State of Internet Access and Power in Uganda” was presented by Ms. Dorothy Mukasa, (Unwanted Witness).
Key points mentioned during the dialogue were;
“Internet is not only about infrastructure but people should also put into perspective the need for sensitization about the internet as well as train people on the proper use of it.” (Osbert Osamai)
"Telecoms cannot provide universal (wide coverage) internet to also include all rural areas due to the business model adopted by the Telecoms, lack of funding by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), lack of knowledge about the services provided by the Telecoms, lack of access to smartphones etc.” (James Byaruhanga)
"Government may want to control the demand for internet yet the users are requesting the service providers (telecoms) for more. Because of this the service providers are caught in between and so both sides should learn to co-exist” (James Byaruhanga)
"Government has policy, rules and regulations for internet use in Uganda and these are the regulations that all citizens should abide to but also take into consideration that the policies, rules and regulations of internet use vary from country to country." (Dr. Aminah Zawedde)
The moderator and participants also applauded all the women that attended the public dialogue and encouraged everyone to do their part in decreasing the gender digital gap because the internet too is equally an important tool for women’s empowerment.
In closing Deus Mukalazi (Project Lead, Hivos Foundation) was grateful to all the participants the Swedish Embassy Kampala, Makerere University (College of Computing and Information Sciences), and Unwanted Witness for providing and organizing this multi-stakeholder’s platform and looked forward to the next one.