Why Tech has Never Gained a Firm Footing in Uganda

Now that the dust from last week’s unprecedented total internet shutdown is settling, it is in order that we critically examine the role government plays in the science, innovation and technology in the country. Ever since the path-breaking research of Robert Solow in 1956, economists have known that a country’s long-term economic growth stems mostly from technological development rather than traditional inputs such as capital and labor. Innovations and research are the backbone of any nation aspiring to ranked among the developed nations in this 21st century.

Innovation in Uganda has been largely private sector led with minimal government contribution.  The lack of systematic support and a nationalinnovation strategy has negatively affected the ability of innovators to go beyond prototypes that is, commercialize their products both locally and internationally thus frustrating them. Many of the countries performing better than Uganda ininnovations like the Rwanda, India, Kenya, Mozambique, Singapore, USA and South Korea have seen their governments deliberately and consistently providing support for research and innovation in this sector.

Inadequate funding regimes remain a major challenge to the development of a more vibrantresearch and innovation infrastructure in Uganda.  In the absence of privatesector funding and competitive grants, public and private universities and research institutes predominantly depend on dwindling public subsidies as well as unpredictable international donor support. This narrow funding base suggests that research andinnovation systems   face severe financial deficits and lack the capacity to formulate and drive their own domestic research agendas. Innovation processes do not realize immediate returns.  A successful innovation goes through numerousstages that last a minimum of one year.  During this period, the innovators require support to navigate through these stages of innovation.  

The government has to pool resources to fundresearch and innovations in universities. Although there is some form of financial assistance towardsresearch at public universities, nothing goes to private institutions. Collaboration betweennational policymakers and the universitiesleadership is of value in the process of prioritizing the strategic importance of research and innovation in national economic growth and competitiveness. The government is supposed to invest more significantly in strengthening research capacity, infrastructure, and research opportunities in universities to enhance science and technology led growth.  

Failure for Government to consume locally developed ICT products and services is a challenge that urgently needs a solution.  Where local innovators have been successful and their products are tried and tested, resilient enough for consumption by the market, preference for international or imported solutions takes precedence.  In addition, expertise and thought process to develop a system is ditched for international solutions.

Despite the current circumstances, there are local  innovations that have found their way onto the market.  Some of these successfully incubated to commercialization include Safe Bode, Ensibuuko, Yoza, run for Your Life, MamboPay, Clinic Master, Jaguza, WinNsenga and Tambula to mention but a few. WinSenga is a Windows Phone solution app that performs an ultrasound on pregnant women and detects any possible problems. Everyone who possess a smart phone can be able to move from one point to another by just ordering a ride from the comfort of his home on safe boda app. Most people are able to carry out financial transactions with the help of a fintech services like Mambopay.Innovations and research solve existing challenges while unlocking income and job opportunities for populations.

The good nation that every citizen dreams of isentirely the responsibility of the government. Countries around the globe let it be USA, Canada, Europe or Asia, innovation and research have been the driving factors for their economies. My mother land, Uganda being a developing nation needs to copy and paste what has worked elsewhere into the system and make sure that it works for the benefit of its citizens. President Yoder Kabuto Tibuhaburwa Museveni over the years has been a champion of science but what surprises many is his slowness in adapting to thedigital era. I implore the president to channel the  money dished out to the likes of full figure, Bebe cool, Catherine Kusasira and others to the relevant ministries like Ministry of ICT and Ministry of Science, Innovation and Technology to enable innovators and researchers provide solutions to existing problems in the communities.

We thank the government for whatever form of assistance it has provided amidst various competing needs, however, much more could be done since this sector has the potential of employing millions of youths if well harnessed.Its not only the building of infrastructure like roads, dams and others that transforms a nation.What we all need is a systematic and sustainable innovation eco-system that is vital for longterm socio economic transformation of the country into a knowledge-based economy.

The Writer is a student of Dental Surgery at Uganda Christian University.

@petrkabuye on Twitter

Peter Kabuye
I am a third-year student at Uganda Christian University currently majoring in dental surgery. I am highly interested in matters concerning leadership, management, finance, and dental surgery.