ICT enables individuals and communities to enhance their social and economic well being, and participate more actively in society and the economy, internationally as well as nationally. Enterprise/employment creation, health, education/ learning, access to justice, interactions with government, and personal contact between people are increasingly being ICT enabled. Over time they will be ICT dominated.
To compete globally, not only against developed nations such as the US, Britain, Canada, Ireland and but also developing nations utilizing ICT and the Internet to great effect such as Mexico, Uganda needs to maximise the number of people/ businesses/places utilising ICT effectively.
Certain features of our demographic and economic profile suggest that if we wish to achieve growth rates similar to our competitors and improve employment opportunities, we will need as much of our human capital as possible, in all locations, to be maximising their potential. Pertinent demographic and economic factors include our:
Low population growth
Increasing income disparity
Less than ideal skill base, and
Narrow export base.
Optimal access to ICT and ICT literacy are increasingly essential for maximising human capital potential.
Access to ICT
Access to ICT is defined quite broadly. It covers not only the issues around physical and financial access for the broadest range of people and locations but includes also having all groups in society seeing the relevance and potential for benefiting from ICT, and there being meaningful content.
Access can be through home, school or work, or through a range of community locations. It includes an adequate technical infrastructure in all parts of the country, and people developing the skill base necessary for optimum use of ICT.
The digital divide is the gap between the information haves, i.e. those who have adequate access to ICT such as computers and the Internet, and the information have-nots, i.e. those who have limited or no access for either socio-economic or geographical reasons, or because of disabilities.
Integrated Within Overall E-Commerce Strategies
In order to establish and retain lead positions for their countries in the electronic revolution, lead knowledge economy nations have integrated national access to ICT as a key part of their overall information society/economy strategy. They seem universally of the view that only with a fully ICT literate population will their nations be truly competitive.
However recent research from the United States suggests that despite a concerted effort by governments, the ICT industry and community leaders to open up access to ICT, the digital divide has actually widened over time.
While information on different groups’ ability to access ICT in Uganda is limited, what information we do have suggests that any digital divide occurring in Uganda is most likely to be amongst the following groups and areas:
Those with lower incomes
People with low or no qualifications
Those who are unemployed or underemployed.
Progressing the Issues
If from a government perspective, it is agreed that the move to an information-driven knowledge based economy and society, and a more socially inclusive society, is advanced by all of Uganda having widespread ICT literacy and access, then several issues have to be considered.
The first is whether widespread ICT literacy and access will happen as a result of a competitive ICT market producing goods and services which all can and want to access. Currently there is no robust information on whether or not this is likely to happen. A point to note here is the extraordinary pace of ICT research and development which means that changes in the nature and costs of Internet access happen rapidly.
If an ICT inclusive society were to be added to other crucial elements of progress which government plays a role in advancing, namely economic growth, social stability and good governance, and enhancing ICT literacy and access were an agreed way of achieving this, then the question arises about the best way to do this: the respective roles of government, the private sector, the community sector, and groups and individuals themselves.
The first step to progress this issue is to undertake research on the nature of any current or likely future digital divide in Uganda. Research would include the current situation i.e. Technical infrastructure, and community-based access to ICT, and assessing relevant overseas strategies and solutions, and testing out some possible responses.
With sound information about the problems, opportunities and options, government will be well placed to develop an effective strategy to ensure all Ugandans have adequate access to ICT and maximise ICT literacy. With an ICT literate population and widespread access to ICT, Uganda will be on a sounder footing to compete with other knowledge economies and promote an inclusive society.