China’s Collaboration Propels Uganda’s Internet Revolution: A Tale of Technological Transformation

By Yasiri J. Kasango

In recent years, Uganda has embarked on a journey towards digital transformation, with a strategic partnership with China serving as a catalyst for revolutionising the nation’s internet landscape. This collaboration, driven by a vision to bridge the digital divide and foster inclusive growth, has become a beacon of connectivity, propelling Uganda towards a future defined by innovation and economic prosperity.

At the core of Uganda’s digital revolution lie the monumental National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure (NBI) and Electronic Government Infrastructure (EGI) projects, spearheaded by China’s Huawei Technologies. This transformative initiative has witnessed the laying of fiber optic cables across Uganda, connecting major towns and government entities into a cohesive digital network. Funded in part by a $106 million loan from the Export-Import Bank of China, this infrastructure backbone has laid the foundation for Uganda’s digital future, facilitating seamless connectivity and enabling access to vital online services.

Dr. Aminah Zawedde, the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, highlighted the significant progress made in Uganda’s telecommunications and ICT industries. In January 2024, Uganda boasted 13.3 million internet users, with an internet penetration rate of 27 percent. Dr. Zawedde emphasised that such advancements accelerate Uganda’s digital transformation agenda, improving communication and reducing the cost of doing business.

Moreover, the launch of Uganda’s Digital Transformation Roadmap in August 2023, anchored on the Uganda Vision 2040, underscores the country’s commitment to harnessing the abundant opportunities within the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. The roadmap aims to strengthen the implementation of enabling policies and laws to accelerate Uganda’s Digital Revolution, providing an overarching framework for a well-connected Uganda that leverages various technologies.

The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance’s implementation of the NBI/EGI project has been instrumental in connecting major towns and government departments to an optical fiber cable-based network. Dr. Zawedde noted that over 12,000 kilometers of optical fiber cable have been laid across the country, laying the groundwork for further expansion and connectivity.

“Through this project, the laying of over 12,000 km of optical fiber cable across the country has been achieved,” said Zawede.

China’s technical and financial support has been pivotal in accelerating Uganda’s ICT development, according to Ugandan experts and officials. Kwame Rugunda, chairman of the Blockchain Association of Uganda, highlighted the critical role played by Chinese companies in establishing the core infrastructure of ICT. He emphasised the importance of continued collaboration and support from China for Uganda’s technological advancement.

“The core infrastructure of ICT is where the Chinese play a critical role, the backbone upon which everything else is built,” said Kwame Rugunda, chairman of the Blockchain Association of Uganda, in a recent interview with Xinhua.

John Nasasira, head of a national task force advising the government on emerging technologies, stressed the importance of connectivity across the country for leveraging ICT as an enabler for economic development. Nasasira emphasised Uganda’s reliance on technical expertise from countries like China as it strives to develop its ICT infrastructure.

Robin Bai, Chief Technical Officer of ZTE Uganda, discussed Uganda’s progress in adopting 3G and 4G technologies, with plans underway to launch 5G technology trials. Bai highlighted the role of Chinese companies in advancing Uganda’s ICT capabilities and bridging the digital divide.

In rural Uganda, where internet penetration remains relatively low, initiatives like Huawei’s DigiTruck project are making significant strides in promoting digital inclusion and empowerment. The DigiTruck, a mobile training hub, travels across regions, training youth, women, and small business owners in e-commerce and online research. Sandra Apio, a young farmer in the Katakwi District, expressed optimism about accessing online markets for her produce, thanks to the digital skills she acquired through the DigiTruck program.

“I am proud to say that the Huawei DigiTruck project plans to benefit over 10,000 people in a span of three years,” Yi Junsong, subsidiary board director of Huawei Uganda, said. “We hope that those who have benefited from these skills in this cohort can use them to improve their livelihoods. Just keep in mind that these skills you have obtained are to open up your minds to understand the importance of ICT (information and communications technology) and what it can do to improve yourself and your surroundings.”

Robert Otuke, a small business owner, shared how the DigiTruck training transformed his bookshop business by enabling internet usage for commercial purposes. He emphasised the impact of acquiring digital skills on improving livelihoods and expanding business opportunities in rural communities.

“Initially, we never had internet in our bookshop, but when I learned about using the internet and how it can make you money, we had to buy a simple Wi-Fi device. That thing helped us to commercialise internet usage in our bookshop,” said Otuke.

Ugandan Vice President Jessica Alupo commended Huawei for empowering the country’s youth and entrepreneurs through initiatives like the DigiTruck project. She emphasised the government’s commitment to involving more stakeholders in promoting digital inclusion and fostering economic growth.

The impact of China’s contributions to Uganda’s internet growth is evident in the statistics. According to data from the Ugandan Ministry of Finance, the number of internet users surged by 45% to 18.8 million in 2017, with active telephone and mobile money subscribers witnessing significant growth. This exponential rise in internet penetration underscores the transformative influence of China’s technological expertise and investment in Uganda’s socio-economic landscape.

Looking ahead, the collaboration between Uganda and China is poised to scale new heights, with plans underway to expand internet accessibility further nationwide. Through recent funding secured from the World Bank, Uganda aims to ensure universal internet access, with a focus on reducing costs and enhancing affordability, particularly in rural communities.

Initiatives like MiOne’s launch of smartphones assembled in Uganda exemplify the tangible outcomes of this partnership, providing citizens with access to affordable and quality digital devices. As Uganda charts its path towards a digital future, China’s partnership remains indispensable, catalysing innovation, growth, and progress. With a shared commitment to harnessing the transformative power of technology, Uganda and China stand poised to write a new chapter in their collaboration, one defined by connectivity, opportunity, and prosperity for all.

The writer is a research fellow at the Sino-Uganda Research Centre

Huawei’s Global Partnerships can be Replicated in Uganda

By Ernest Jovan Talwana

On, 21st November, 2023, Huawei Technologies held its Huawei Sustainability Forum in which they showcased their global developments over the past two years as well their future developments and partnerships. This event marked an inflection point as it showcased the growing influence of Huawei in sustainable growth and development in the fields of healthcare, tourism, education, sustainable infrastructure and 5G coverage in the promotion of the development of the aforementioned sectors.

This is not the first time Huawei technologies is extending and sharing their technology experience with the world. In November 2022, the company signed a global international telecommunication union agreement to provide technological services to rural areas in 80 countries covering 120 million people.

South Africa and Nigeria are one of the major beneficiaries of this agreement which aims to provide internet connectivity to rural areas in an effort to fast-track health service provision and education via Huawei’s networks. This is part of Huawei’s agenda to promote digital integration and sustainable development as well as cultivating digital talent and enabling economies sophisticate in line with the desire to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and expand the middle class in various economies through digital inclusion.

This provides a ripe opportunity for Uganda to harness such digital technology and AI to promote innovation and sustainable development through digital inclusion by partaking in digitization to sophisticate her young population in a rapidly industrializing world that needs a highly trained working class who can meet the demands of today. Equally, with Huawei’s technology innovations, health care diagnostics can be availed in real time which can sharply reduce the infant mortality rate as well as fast tracking problem solving within shorter time frames. It should be acknowledged that Uganda and China have strong bilateral relations. Uganda cannot afford to be left behind in the digital revolution. This means that we should leverage our relationships to aide our growth and interaction with the wider world for the benefit of a younger, thirsty population who are eager to utilize the opportunities that are out there.

Digital technology can also rapidly boost productivity and efficiency. Huawei can aide this through partnerships which can rapidly increase our output. Huawei aims to promote digital inclusion through education which can increase the skillset of the youth in vulnerable and remote societies. In 2020, Huawei and UNICEF promoted Education for all in Ethiopia, Ethiopia and Ghana which aims to increase the skillset of students and teachers in remote areas. Huawei equally set up solar projects in these countries which aims to maintain connectivity in hard to reach areas. This helps to better serve humanity and maintain consistent supply of the internet for digital inclusion and education.

In the Yucatan Peninsula, Huawei uses technology to protect diversity and track rare species using AI and digital technology that carries out 24/7 tracking. This aims to protect such endangered species as well replicating such innovation in other countries to promote conservation efforts.

Huawei seeks to use her technology to promote “tech for good” to promote sustainable development across the globe.

A case study of Huawei’s work is in Heshun Town, Yunnan Province, China.  Huawei has managed to digitize the tourism, education and healthcare experience by providing consistent Wi-Fi network and charging stations which keeps the whole are connected to the internet. As announced during Huawei’s Sustainability Forum, 2023. It should be noted that all of this is achieved in harmony in nature by avoidance of harming the environment and promotion of eco-tourism and sustainable technology use by promoting smart travel and using transportation that does not increase the carbon footprint.

It should be noted that Uganda is seeking to promote sustainability through the Climate Change Act and reduce liability on imported electric vehicles.  Huawei is at the forefront of promoting rural development through smart infrastructure that has a limited impact on the environment. As stated in their 2023 Sustainability Forum. This can be reflected in Uganda where we seek to modernize without harming our flora and fauna.

Equally, companies like Huawei can increase our broadband services by widening our technological infrastructure so that internet reach in rural areas is as competent as that in urban areas. Or, in our instance, 5G infrastructure in regional cities is as competent as that in the capital, Kampala.

Huawei is equally at the forefront of technology that promotes the study of diversity. Huawei has partnered with the World Wildlife Fund in Italy to study rare species and foster research and education. This has been fostered through the provision of Huawei cutting edge hardware which makes research work seamless. As stated during the Huawei 2023 Sustainability Forum. This can equally be replicated in Uganda through partnerships with Huawei and the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and her subsidiary agencies like Uganda Wildlife Authority, and Uganda Wildlife Education Centre (UWEC) to study biodiversity and wildlife unique to Uganda.

Another case study of Huawei partnering in healthcare is through its partnerships in Pakistan (as stated during the Huawei Sustainability Forum, 2023) to promote digitalization in remote areas to fast-track diagnostics and providing storage for patient records and system information which aims to promote efficiency in health care provision as well as providing a database which can act as an inventory for medical records that are otherwise degradable in hard copy format.

It is should also be acknowledged that paper waste has a large harmful effect on the environment. This is because the process of creating paper demands cutting down of trees as a raw material for this paper. Digital storage therefore helps to reduce such storage by providing digital copies which help mitigate this waste.

In conclusion, Huawei Technologies’ recent forum provides an opportunity for African governments and Uganda in particular to partner with the tech firm to leverage the company’s know how to promote the country’s development in line with Vision 2040. However, it should go without saying that private actors can equally take this as an opportunity to court the Chinese tech firm to create partnerships for the benefit of their business as well as increasing their global footprint in line with their goals to promote rural development, interconnectivity and business across the globe.

Ernest Jovan Talwana is a Lawyer and Technology Research Fellow at Sino-Uganda Research Centre.

 

Revolutionizing Cancer Diagnostics with Urine and Blood: China’s Story

By Dr. Ham Wasswa M.

The world of cancer diagnosis has witnessed a paradigm shift in the way cancer is detected and diagnosed. Traditional methods such as biopsy of tissue and costly imaging have dominated the medical world for a longtime.

However, the emergence of innovative techniques and the integration of cutting-edge technology have redefined the field. One such game changer is Targene Biotech Company in Huangpu district, Guangzhou, China which I and a team of the Development Watch Centre researchers visited during a seminar on Chinese Modernization and China-Africa Joint Development which was organized by China-Africa Institute (CAI). Targene Biotech, a pioneering and budding Chinese company is at the forefront of cancer diagnosis using urine and blood.

Cancer is a global health concern ravaging millions of lives every year especially in Africa. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cancer is the second leading cause of death globally killing nearly 1 in 6 persons and approximately 70% of these deaths are from low- and middle-income countries.  The early detection therefore is very vital for successful treatment and outcome of the affected. The approach used by Targene is poised to transform the landscape of cancer diagnosis to make it more accessible, non-invasive and economical. Targene’s work holds a promise for the future where early cancer diagnosis is within reach for all. The incredible work at Targene Biotech is in tandem with WHO’s two components of early detection that is; early diagnosis and screening.

Targene Biotech Ltd., is the brainchild of Mr. Shao Jian Yong who is the current President and Chief Scientist of the company. He recognized the need for less invasive methods and cost-effective means of diagnosing cancer. He therefore set out with a team of researchers to explore the power of liquid biopsy especially urine and blood to detect cancer in its early stages. The concept of this biotech company is ingenious: cancer cells shed DNA fragments into bodily fluids carrying with them genetic information about the tumor. By analyzing these DNA fragments, scientists at Targene are able to identify specific cancer mutations and alterations associated with different cancer types including urinary bladder cancer, colorectal, cervical, liver, prostate and esophageal cancers. All that is needed is circa forty milliliters of urine sample to detect one of these cancers.

The advantages of targene’s approach includes but not limited to; First, non-invasive; traditionally, biopsies have been done and they are very painful. For example, the bone marrow biopsy. Targene’s method being entirely non-invasive, patient is free of pain requiring only a blood and or a urine sample. This without doubt, reduces patient discomfort and associated complications.

Secondly, early detection; targene’s tech is highly sensitive, capable of detecting cancer at its earliest stage when treatment can be most effective and survival rates higher. A 95% survival rate has been reported if detection is done early among the cancers mentioned.

Thirdly, by identifying specific genetic alterations, this allows for treatment to be tailored individually to their unique cancer profile; and the fifth is that the method being used by Targene is cost effective compared to the costly traditional imaging and invasive biopsy picking.

The clinical impact of Targene’s approach cannot be underestimated as the ability to diagnose cancer at an early stage is crucial since this often times leads to better treatment outcomes and for the most part, complete remission of the cancer. This minimally invasive approach makes it easily acceptable and accessible to a larger population. Early diagnosis is relevant in all settings and in its absence, patients are diagnosed late when curative options may not hold much water.

Targene’s technology has showed significant promise in detecting a wide range of cancers including breast cancer, cervical cancer, esophageal cancer, prostate cancer and liver cancer which are very common in our Motherland-Uganda. Cervical cancer is the leading cause of cancer in the African region accounting for 22% of all female cancers and 12% of all newly diagnosed cancers. This method is especially suitable for such cancers that are notorious and often asymptomatic in their early stages.

It goes without saying that Targene’s future is a bright one as well as other partners that will get on board to explore this game changer in the field of cancer diagnosis. Despite this, there are some hurdles that Targene has to jump to be able to achieve successful outcomes. As with any emerging technology, standardization and validation are crucial ensuring that the method is consistent and delivers accurate results. Technology must undergo rigorous regulatory approval processes in areas where it will be embraced and considered. Collaboration with health authorities comes in handy in this case. Affordability and accessibility for a wide range of patients remains a valid concern especially in Africa where economies are just developing. Achieving the highest level of sensitivity and specificity is essential to minimize false positives and false negatives. Amazingly, the chief researcher at Targene, Mr. Binjie Xu, reported that the sensitivity of this cancer diagnosis method is at 95% while the specificity at 89%. Despite these challenges, the future prospects are promising with potential for early diagnosis to become a standard of care in our oncological practice so as to have better outcomes. Since 2012, China set up policies on early cancer diagnosis and the goal was to reach about 60% early screening rate amongst its population. This was only slowed down by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, there is no turning back and Targene reports show that there is steady progress to achieve this target by 2035.

The clinical impact of Targene’s cutting edge technology is very vital for cancers like liver cancer, bladder cancer that are often diagnosed late and hence poorer outcomes. However, the field of cancer detection using non-invasive methods faces challenges as mentioned above. Nonetheless, Targene’s future is bright and will even be brighter if African nations partnered with her so as to have better clinical outcomes for its people. For Uganda, the journey could start with the Uganda Cancer Institute benchmarking at Targene Biotech in China so that together, we continue efforts of building a community of shared prosperity for future of mankind in the new era of cancer diagnostics.

Dr. Ham Wasswa M. is a medical doctor and a Research Fellow at the Development Watch Centre.

Email: hammatovu@hotmail.com

 

How U.S Tech Sanctions on China Present an opportunity for Africa

By Tarwana Ernest

As far back as 2019, the US placed sanctions on Chinese Tech Company, Huawei alleging spying and industrial espionage against US Tech companies. This led the Americans to place sanctions on Chinese Tech firms which subsequently led to subsequent Huawei mobile devices starting from their flagship P and Mate series being disabled from Google Android infrastructure. These events could be construed as a product of the US China Trade War.

Among others, the U.S has claims that the decision to sanction Chinese tech giant – Huawei is a result of the company’s tight collaboration with Chinese government and therefore cannot trust them in terms of security. Huawei strongly denies U.S’ accusation arguing that they are victims of America’s tech-nationalism which is meant to shield U.S tech firms from stiff competition Huawei is putting up using security concerns as a cover up. Beijing also accuses Washington of launching what they call unfair attacks against Chinese tech firms in what China sees as America’s efforts to contain China’s technology growth.

The U.S has also succeeded in convincing allies to isolate Huawei with the United Kingdom (UK) government blocking the tech giant from its G5 network rollout. While the U.S explicitly mentioned national security concerns as a reason for banning Huawei, in 2020, the UK’s security agencies concluded that any risk posed by Huawei was manageable. Indeed, while announcing the decision to side-line Huawei, then UK’s Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Oliver Dowden explained that London decided to lockout Huawei out of its market as a result of U.S’ sanctions against the firm which meant that Huawei could no longer use American chips in their kits.

However, China’s growth in the tech sector has hardly been impeded. Over the past few years, China has worked quietly to build internal capacity and wean itself off dependence to US firms. Huawei has been at the forefront of this progress.

Equally, Huawei infrastructure has aided most European countries in building their 5G networks. Some of these include Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland.

Due to the reputable nature of the Chinese firm and its infrastructure, this presents an opportunity for African nations to look aggressively towards China in building their data infrastructure and connectivity.

South Africa has been at that forefront after the recent BRICS Africa Summit, 2023. This including signing bilateral agreements with Huawei to build South Africa’s data infrastructure. If all goes according to plan, South Africa will be one of the few African nations with the most robust 5G networks on the continent.

The Chinese firm also partnered with Saudi Arabia to build cloud data centres serving the Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa. This presents a chance for African nations to liaise with Huawei in having their data held closer to the continent. In the near future, an African country with capacity could ewaully position itself to host data centres serving the continent or a particular region.

African nations can equally rely on Chinese Tech infrastructure to push for bilateral deals to encourage technology transfer which aides education and innovation on the continent. This can be through setting up innovation hubs and subsequent educational scholarships for students with interest and desire to harness their talents in a technologically advancing world. China presents itself as an opportunity for African youth to build indigenous expertise by learning from an advanced economy with historic links to the continent.

While U.S’ is still trying to convince more countries including in Africa to follow their suit and disengage from Chinese tech firms, African countries should not join this loosing battle. They should grab any opportunity should Chinese tech firms show readiness to work with them.

According to a paper published by Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, which is ranked as the world’s third most influential Think Tank, the formerly technological giants; “Japan and the United States have watched warily as China’s economic heft has grown and as the technological sophistication of its manufacturing base has increased” leaving the U.S worried that Beijing may soon overtake Washington in this important technological revolution. The paper concluded that presently, apart from China, no other country on its own can outcompete China’s determination in technology advancement and suggested that for the U.S to make it, they must form alliances with other like-minded countries as Japan and “update their decades old technological cooperation and deepen funding pools on certain shared strategic priorities, such as artificial intelligence and quantum computing”.

As James L. Schoff, a senior fellow in Carnegie observed; “fear of “losing” this competition (Technology) is fuelling an unprecedented scale of investment and a zero-sum mentality that could tempt countries to overreact in ways that would damage their national interests and broader global interests,” stressing that it is better to work with China than in technological advancement than attempting to isolate them.

To conclude, China’s trade conflict with the West presents a chance for Africa to develop her data and technological infrastructure with the aid of Chinese tech firms. This does not mean that if the West presents a fair proposal to support African countries technology adavancement support they should not take it. What must be avoided is U.S’ tendence of attempting to force other countries to deoulple from China’s techology.

Talwana is a Digital Research Fellow at the Deevelopment Watch centre.

 

 

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

 

 

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