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AFRIK-IT  June 1999

AFRIK-IT June 1999

Subject:

Kampala Telecenters

From:

Jeff Cochrane <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

[log in to unmask]

Date:

Thu, 24 Jun 1999 12:46:29 -5

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (102 lines)

Greetings Afrik-ITes!

I confess I do find Uganda one of the most difficult countries in which
to work.  Starting Sunday afternoon and then from about 5pm each
day thereafter I was forced to partake in an unending stream of
Uganda's local beers with a host of good friends and superb
conversation, which made my usual quiet time in the evenings typing
reports unsuitable for anything but sleep.  Fortunately, they don't
allow my friends into the airport departure lounge...

I was fascinated by a remarkable innovation at one of Uganda's new
telecenters, funded in large measure by Acacia with contributions
from the local community and one of the country's big cell phone
providers -- yes, there is cell phone competition in Uganda!  Everyone
spends their spare time complaining about which one is better,
threatening to switch.  If only my friends in Ethiopia had such
complaints... 8*)

Ah yes, about that innovation...

Charles Musisi, now transformed from Internet pioneer to successful
international consultant and small businessman with an office and
several employees, collected me in Entebbe.  We drove just outside of
Kampala, off the main road and up a small hill through a modest
community of banana traders and small dry goods shops.  The dirt
road wound past a small school and small homes to the peak of the hill
with a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside and Kampala
center.

In a cleared grassy area at the top was a small building with perhaps
10 rooms, all in a row and opening to the outdoors as is the fashion in
countries with mild climates -- Kampala has a superb climate by the
way, never really cold or hot.  Half of the rooms housed local
community government offices.  The other half were donated to the
telecenter.  In one small room was a VCR and color television playing
CNN, but to be used for showing informational videos to community
groups.  In another was a photocopy and fax machine.  Outside along
the corridor between the telecenter rooms and the local government
rooms was a place for future installation of wireless card phones to be
installed by the cell phone company.

The room at the end was bigger than the rest, extending out from both
sides of the rectangle like the letter T.  It housed I think five late-model
computers, one acting as a server to the rest on a local area network,
and connected dialup to a local Internet service provider.

There were perhaps three people crowded around each computer, all
busily typing in notes or studying screen displays, speaking in
hushed voices, all quite intent.  We asked the center manager about
these people, and he explained that they were all volunteers from the
surrounding community, a middle- to low-income suburb of Kampala.
In return for excellent access to the computers themselves, they
agreed to help others in their community who visit the telecenter for
access to information on CDs, surfing the Net, or sending and
receiving email.

An apprenticeship program.  The paid manager trains volunteers who
in turn train their neighbors on computer usage.  Seems like a simple
thing, but in my experience it is often these simple administrative
innovations that make the technology truly affordable and accessible.

The manager looks to be quite a dynamic fellow.  His further
innovations will likely make or break this telecenter from the point of
view of sustainability.  He's already talking about marketing strategies
and a big kick-off gala opening.  He lobbied me intensively for
additional support as we walked to Charles' car.  I suggested we might
think about some of USAID's partners such as primary schools and
health clinics becoming customers of the telecenter.

The center only opened its doors two weeks ago.  They are expecting
a grand opening shortly, once the volunteers are well trained.

After another briefing for USAID in Kampala, and a further sampling
of the Grand Imperial's fermented liquids, I retired to Entebbe by
speedy taxi on the excellent new road, now a 45 minute trip that used
to take as much as two hours depending on traffic.

I thought about collecting my email from the hotel room at the Lake
Victoria, but unfortunately they've not quite got their software
configured for automated billing to take advantage of the new fiber
optic lines and digital exchange linking Entebbe to Kampala.  New
roads, new lines... what will Uganda think of next?!?

Staff were kind enough to allow me to connect to a line in the office
switchboard room, however, and I've no doubt on my next visit there
will be Internet access through the rooms for IPASS and through the
business center for visitor access to Infocom.

Cheers!
Jeff @ Entebbe Airport

-----
SETA Corporation Senior Analyst
USAID/M/IRM/CIS: Program Technology Transfer
USAID/AFR/SD/ANRE: AfricaLink
[log in to unmask]
http://www.info.usaid.gov/alnk
1325 G Street NW Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005 USA
Tel +1 (202) 219-0463
Fax +1 (202) 219-0518

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