The use of the Internet in Uganda has typically been confined to urban areas; but a pilot telecenter in central Uganda is proving that this service can transform the lives of users in rural areas. The results of the project have led to national telecommunications policies aimed at encouraging the development of rural telecommunications.
Among the telecenter users is metal worker Thomas Kasana, who works in the rural trading center of Nakaseke in central Uganda.
He graduated over a year ago with a vocational training certificate in metal fabrication and is able to manufacture window frames, gates and other household products for the local building industry. Instead of establishing his business in the city, he chose to move to Nakaseke.
Thomas Kasana says the key attraction to the location is the presence of the telecenter.
“In our area in Nakaseke, I develop new designs which my co-workers, they ask me: ‘Where do you get such designs?’ And those designs, I download them from the Internet. So I have got very many customers because of that.”
Thomas Senkyanzi is another enthusiastic user of the Internet at the Nakaseke telecenter; he is a teacher at a secondary school in the area. He says the internet is helpful in tracking the foreign donations that pay for the fees and tuition of a number of children in his school.
“We normally look for sponsors via Internet and …those students who get sponsors, they get free education, so we normally use the internet to communicate abroad so this is a global village.”
The Nakaseke Telecenter is a unique experiment in Uganda. Built in 1997, it was the world’s first rural telecenter, inspired by the UN calls to bring telecommunications to rural areas. Use of the Internet in Uganda is low, as is the literacy rate, nearly 62 percent among men and about 52 percent among women.
Martin Nsubuga is the project coordinator for community multi media centers at the Uganda UNESCO office Kampala. He explains why the site was chosen:
“Uganda had liberalized its telecommunications network that attracted in a lot of stakeholders so this was a pilot to see whether the lives of people in rural areas would change. Other countries had not…while Uganda opened up and liberalized its economy.”
In addition to having Internet services, local customers are trained to use computers and the latest computer applications.
Other activities include various training programs. For example, one group of farmers used the telecenter to participate in a short course on a new plant disease.
The telecenter in Nakaseke has demonstrated the immense possibilities of internet use in rural areas. Its success has led to the establishment of six more centers in other districts of Uganda.
Martin Nsubuga of the Uganda UNESCO office says the lessons learned at the telecenter are the foundation of new rural telecommunications policy that is now in the works.
“Government has [created] a policy where they have provided for Internet points of presence in every sub county…we are going to have a point of presence where you have a computer, a telephone for getting information…so we believe with that strategy we shall be able to move into the rural areas and try to capture a bigger part of the population of this country.”
The project gets support from Uganda’s Rural Communications Development Fund, UNESCO, and Canada’s International Development Research Center. It was created with a ten percent levy on the profits of Uganda’s two telecommunications companies, designated for the development of rural Internet technology.
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