A family fetching water from a public water service point
The rich and the educated are enjoying the benefits of information and communications technology such as access to the internet, while the poor lag behind, a report by the World Bank, which was released recently, noted.
The findings of the report have cracked a long-held narrative about ICT being an avenue for job and wealth creation, and a remedy for fighting poverty.
“…the benefits of rapid digital expansion have been skewed towards the wealthy, skilled, and influential around the world, who are better positioned to take advantage of the new technologies… Not surprisingly, the better-educated, the well-connected, and the more capable have received most of the benefits—and the gains from the digital revolution have not been widely shared,” the new World Development Report 2016 pointed out.
Uganda can easily relate to the mixed fortunes that have come with the growth of ICT. With the introduction of services such as mobile money, which allows the public to transact over their phones, institutions such as banks have reduced the number of tellers they employ as many people find comfort away from banking halls and via their cell-phones.
Also, the introduction of prepaid power metres such as Yaka has seen companies like Umeme reduce the number of staff, who were earlier handling the billing processes. Now, electricity consumers need to simply pay for their bills over their phones.
Uganda is already looking at ways of revising some of its policies, especially on tax, to ensure that more people have access to ICT services.
Speaking during the official launch of Google’s first Wi-Fi networks in Kampala last month, the minister of ICT, John Nasasira, said: “We think the prices [of internet] will come down with growth and doing better business. On the issue of taxes, on our side as ICT, we think we should reduce taxes in some areas.”
The 12 per cent excise duty on airtime, which is used to buy data and make phone calls, is still considered high by regional standards. In Rwanda, the figure is at 10 per cent.
The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) estimates that internet users totalled 8.5 million as of June 2014, making up only 23 per cent of the population. Figures also show that more than 19.5 million have access to mobile phones.
Although nearly 70 per cent of households in the developing world own mobile phones, according to the report, the majority have no access to electricity or clean water. Electricity penetration in Uganda is estimated at 15 per cent with nearly 19.5 million mobile subscribers out of a population of 36 million.
Credit: The Observer