Uganda Should Book a Front Seat in China’s Africa Digital Drive

By Moshi Israel

While addressing China-Africa Internet Development Forum, Deng Li, China’s Assistant Foreign Affairs Minister, reassured representatives of African and Chinese internet firms, government officials responsible for internet development, scholars, and technology experts of China’s commitment to creating a digital Africa.

Li’s comments, emphasizes a collaborative effort between Africa and China to transition Africa to a digital economy, and serves as a reminder to all that China is committed to Africa’s long-term development agenda. China has been promoting the concept of a digital Africa to African leaders, and it appears that some of them are taking notice. Uganda cannot afford to fall behind, and our government must increase investments in the information technology industry at a 5G-like pace.

The state of the future will be a digital state, a technologically advanced country that runs smartly on the internet of things (IOT), or simply put, computing devices connected to every object, from smart home security systems to connected appliances, ultra-high-speed internet, autonomous farming equipment, biometric cyber security scanners, wearable health monitors, and wireless inventory trackers. IOT is the future that China is selling to Africa, and Uganda must invest in it if it is to rise above poverty and even go beyond a middle-income country.

The remarks of Assistant Foreign Minister Deng li follow President Xi Jinping’s assurances that China and Africa will collaborate in new business forms such as digital economy, smart city, and 5G. President Xi made these remarks last year in his address to Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) where he stressed China’s vision of a Digital Africa a move that is already taking shape in some African countries.

South Africa has responded to this trend by establishing Africa’s first standalone 5G commercial network. The project is collaboration between Huawei of China and Rain (South Africa’s data-only network). Senegal has also established its National Data Centre, which has been aided by Chinese funding and technology. China has also introduced e-based platforms such as the Electronic World Trade Platform (eWPT), which is a framework aimed at making cross-border e-commerce more accessible to small and medium-sized enterprises, according to the Alibaba group (SMEs). Deng Li, Assistant Foreign Minister, also mentioned how the trade platform has brought African products to Chinese consumers.

China’s fingerprints can be found all over Africa’s digital future if one looks closely. For example, Huawei and Alibaba have launched programs such as “seeds for the future” and “Africa’s Business Heroes Competition,” which have aided in the training of young African internet experts.

Already, China’s Huawei has committed about $150million to support Uganda’s Huawei Seeds for the future programme. Through the program, Ugandan’s youth will be trained digital skills.

Uganda should be a keen observer to these trends and be ready to jump on board because by all indicators, the technology train is warming up to leave the station. As per the remarks of Mr. Deng Li, China is wasting no time and has announced that the country is ready to work with Africa to ‘formulate and implement a China-Africa Partnership Plan on Digital Innovation.’  This plan involves six important areas of focus as laid out in Mr. Deng Li’s remarks.

To summarize, the partnership will focus on growing the digital economy, strengthening digital infrastructure, promoting digital education and digital inclusion, jointly maintaining digital security and enhancing digital governance capacity, and finally developing cooperation platforms to promote digital progress through exchanges.

On the continent, Africa as a whole is already benefiting from China’s technology advancement and cooperation. In December 2000, Ethiopia launched her second satellite (ET-SMART-RSS) which was built and launched with assistance of China. Such innovations and support coupled with other plans such as China’s announced China-Africa Internet Development and Cooperation Forum.

As Bill Gates famously stated, ‘the internet is becoming the town square for tomorrow’s global village.’ As a result, Uganda’s National Development Strategy should be built on a Digital Transformation Framework, with the goal of building a digital economy that will ease and improve transportation, manufacturing, education, and provide jobs for many young people.

The writer is a junior research fellow at Development Watch Centre, a Foreign Policy Think Tank and a graduate of International Relations and Diplomacy



China’s contribution in Digitalization of Uganda’s Television services: What is the reap of the common man

By Alan Collins Mpewo

Not so long ago, the Republic of Uganda through its Ministry of ICT, announced that Uganda was finally cutting ties with the analog television system. The Uganda Communications Commission then announced deadline for all television to go digital. Countrywide, for those that had enjoyed watching satellite free channels, would later have to forge a new relationship with digital television. The migration from analog television to digital television had finally set foundation. Looking back at the time, digitalization has indeed been appreciated by many Ugandans.

However, it’s worthy to note, that this announcement left a large fraction of television users (ardent and occasional) wondering on what capacity it would require one to join the new wave of migration. For some without the wherewithal, disinterest would seem likely for an option. To them, the I’s remained undotted, and the T’s not crossed. It meant something. It meant finding some more money to buy a Free-to-Air STB/decoder. Or buying an Integrated Digital Television set. Or buying a Pay TV STB/decoder.

It meant waking up to a new world of paying subscription fees to access their favorite television shows and their preferred programs. The exception of payment by Free to Air set top box owners (however these not being allowed to view Pay TV channels. It also raised concerns of maintenance, sustainability and affordability. It is fair they thought so because some of the widely known digital television service providers charged fees for access. But times have changed. The world has evolved. The Uganda television arena is widely digital.

There are numerous key players engaged with providing such services and enabling more Ugandans realize the magnificence of digitalization. The involvement of the People’s Republic of China cannot be over emphasized. The shifts continue to sound a message that technology is the future.

While in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 2015 Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, China promised to have 10,000 African villages connected to satellite Television. In Uganda, the project has been on since 2018 and this has been through the connectivity of numerous places in Uganda (accessible and remote) with Startimes Television. It’s a tested digital television provider, efficient and affordable. For the common man, that’s celebratory in its core. The world brought closer. Digitalization. A pool by the People’s Republic of China. Such a splendid project has untold pros in it, but importantly is the access to information. No wonder access to information is a right embodied in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, because the architects knew its importance. Ignorance like many others, is a demon not worth keeping company. An informed society, is an empowered society. Indeed, knowledge is power.

The project by China to have households in the global south sparkling with digital television has greatly empowered most communities in the Republic of Uganda. A citizen in Rakai can easily follow what’s happening Kenya, and the rest of the world. Compared to the long gone analog television system, the present digitalization has a packed module of television channels. China through its digitalization project has presented a new ray of empowerment to many citizens of Uganda. For what’s worth, information and misinformation are more or less twins but with distinct characters. Being informed enhances proper decision making. Say on ongoing politics. Health maintenance through a health tip. Studying of unknown educative formulae through distance television learning. Keeping up to speed with entertainment blitz. The advantages can’t be exhausted. As society increases its media literacy, it lessens the likelihood of persons or groups that would tempt it by mediocrity or treachery. In the widely known skills pursuit it persists, like ever before, that knowledge – not simply information – is the foundation of power and full citizenship. China is not reinventing the wheel, but it is shaping the pathways to establish a fair ground for most people. The ability to be informed. To access knowledge.

It’s a mixture of circumstances especially in rural areas. Electricity access still retains its spot on the leading problems. So digitalization can’t be a realization on an individual basis. A television is imperative, and so do the bills. But in the grand scheme of things, China through the community digitalization model of rural areas, has levelled this ground. Installations of Startimes satellite Television in public arenas such as Health Centers and Community Resource Centers enables persons of all mould to have uninterrupted access. Overly idle children in many areas have now put to task in their pursuit for education through the proverbial distance learning on television. For a considerate number, a single television system would accommodate. Empowerment. China has enabled many of these unprivileged young citizens to fairly match the pomp of their privileged counterparts.

It is therefore fitting to say that China’s digitalization program of villages in Uganda has enhanced the general access of information in many of the areas currently identifiable as beneficiaries. On the education sector scoreboard, it has eased access to learning for the pupils and students in this COVID-19 era. The rural farmers in the benefitting villages can now ascertain future weather throw weather forecasts. Rural traders are able to know the shifting economic trends. Politics as an ancient tool of governance continues to be clearly understood by the masses. International environment conservation standards sensitized to the ordinary village settler in the current wake of climate change. The benefits keep coming. Thanks to China.

Alan Collins Mpewo is a Research Fellow, with Development Watch Center, a foreign policy think tank, a fourth-year law student at IUIU.



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