Tuesday, August 23, 2016

FREE PUBLIC INTERNET IS LONG OVER DUE

It seems like another lifetime ago.

In my initial days as a Reuters correspondent I had to file stories to our Nairobi office via fax machine (who remembers what that is?) On week days I would do this from the general post office, but on the weekend a company, Starcom, had bureaus in town from which I could send my stories.

So I would either type out the story or write it long hand, go to one or the other to fax my story. And when I was done I would wait by a phone there for a call in which Nairobi would confirm receipt of the story. The confirmation notification was not often enough. And if service was not good that day I would literally read the story down the line.

By the time I left Reuters seven years later I had a lap top and a modem, which I could jack into a telephone port and send stories down the line. Our phones were still the 2G variety so there was no internet. I might have texted a story to Nairobi during my time. This was before the dongle era – which has come and gone.

But even with the limited capability my productivity, judging by story output, was several fold higher than my early days. Other factors like experience played into this but the improvements in technology were key.

So last week when the government announced that there will soon be free public internet in Kampala, initially confined to certain hotspots but, which it can be expected with time will be rolled out to the whole city, I could immediately appreciate the benefits that will come with it for the general population. The free service will be from 6 pm to 6 am.

"A person, people or country is as rich as how accessible information is to the people. A qualification would then be that wealth comes to the extent that this information is put to use....

Put even more simply you are richer or poorer than the next person by virtue of what you know or don’t know.

Given the odds that only a small percentage of the population will utilise this information effectively, society should be better off having vast amounts of information available, so the small percentage can lift themselves up and hopefully carry everyone else along.

The World Economic Forum estimates that a 10 percent increase in broadband penetration leads to a 1.4 percent increase in GDP and that a doubling of mobile data can lead to 0.5 percent increase in per capita GDP. They say most of this comes from e-commerce and online advertising, it also comes from the savings that come with not making unnecessary movement or fewer phone calls or more efficient decision making.

It is preaching to the converted to enumerate the benefits that have come with greater connectivity, but we need to do much much more.

In western economies data bases are integrated so all my records – birth dates, parentage, career path etc are linked, this alone does away with a lot of bureaucratic red tape needed to open a bank account or travel or even shop.

With improvements in communications technologies payments too have been made much faster and credit more accessible.

"In his seminal book the “Origins of Wealth “, author Eric Beinhocker  deconstructed the concept of the wealth, going back to first principles before revealing that the source of all wealth is knowledge. The people who are more efficient in generating, storing, transmitting and analysing knowledge will be the wealthiest....

That is why to try and catch up to the west’s level of development is a pipe dream without tackling the basis of that wealth – communication systems, be they the traditional road, rail and air to the more current ICT networks.

While we are moving, there is evidence there is a narrowing of the digital divide in terms of devices used between the developed and underdeveloped world, the divide is widening, since the west is not standing still in not only consuming more bandwith but in finding ever newer applications for the information while we are behind the curve on the uptake of the latest technologies.

It is good though that government is beginning to put ICT nearer the front of its thinking on where this country is going and what will be the key drivers. Although I remember a presentation b y a UNDP consultant around the beginning of this century which identified ICT development as one of seven competitive advantages this country can develop. But then again government works in mysterious ways.

"An embracing of ICT can bring quantum leaps in efficiency and productivity in every avenue of life you apply it to. Given the need for urgency in raising the productivity of the economy, it is a moot point that ICT issues need to be taken more seriously than we have been doing so far....


Personally I would rather have government subsidise the private sector to perform the service, just so we benefit from private sector efficiency, but the government initiative is a good start and may very well open the door for private players to take it over and run with it.

Monday, August 22, 2016

OUR ACTIONS, NOT CONSTITUTION UPHOLD THE RULE OF LAW

In recent weeks the police and the judiciary have found themselves in a near death clench as each tries to assert its authority.

In one incident it is alleged the police is shielding one of their own, former Central Police Station commander Aaron Baguma from prosecution for his alleged role in the torture and eventual murder of businesswoman Dona Katushabe last year.

The police this week said Baguma would appear in court but this is only after Buganda Road Chief Magistrate issued criminal summons for him to appear before his court.

As if that is not enough, the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura is involved in a case where he along with several other police officers are being prosecuted by private lawyers for their role in the beating of members of the public, during the return home of opposition leader Kizza Besigye last month.

Besigye had been detained in prison on various charges since May and was released on bail in July.
On the day, last week, that Kayihura was supposed to appear before the Makindye courts, mobs in support of him disrupted proceedings.

The High Court ruled on Wednesday that the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) should take over the case from the private lawyers.

"The happenings have larger implications for the nation and speak directly to the two principles, that no one is above the law and the separation of powers of government...

From a lay man’s perspective, for this country or any country to work there has to be an impartial adherence to laws on which the citizens have agreed and are willing to subject themselves to. The only way this will happen is if there is universal observance of the law.

A steep slippery slope is begun if discretion is seen to be shown to one group or another in regard to who follows the rules or not.

The police who operate under the cloak of the law, to enforce the very law should appreciate this more than anyone else. Without a law their legitimacy is called into question.

To the general public a perceived favouritism or breakdown in enforcement of the law can lead to mobs taking the law into their own hands leading to anarchy.

The recent events in the US serve as a good illustration of what happens when the police lose their legitimacy in the eyes of the public they serve.

This year 676 people have been killed by the police in the US according to a tally kept by The Guardian website. The backlash has been that more than 60 police officers have been killed during the same duration.

This is a situation that is not only unsustainable but is in danger of spiralling badly out of control.
That a country with more robust institutions as the US can be on the perceived brink of disaster should be a pointer for us here in Uganda.

Our constitution, which forms the basis of all our laws is barely 20 years old and has already suffered some stern tests. Which is as it should be, because its potential will not be fulfilled unless it’s tested.

"That being said it is not the constitution that is the guarantor of peace, but more our inherent good will. There are not enough law enforcement agents to peer around every corner of our lives to ensure we are towing the line. We are a peaceful society because we choose to observe the law. That however is not a permanent situation, especially when the new normal slides towards lawlessness...

In school they told us that the school rules are made for the “bad” kids, as the “good” kids don’t need to refer to them since they can tell good from bad behaviour.

The overwhelming consensus should be in that direction.

Good behaviour, with the law as a pointer, should be observed by everybody, especially those we look to for example.