Though Uganda’s mobile phone subscriptions have grown strongly over the last few years, internet usage has lagged behind largely due to limited access to computers.
However, for a few thousands of shillings, one can get a good Smartphone fitted with a number of platforms that can enable them access various online products. As a result, product developers have become increasingly aware that the demands of internet users have become increasingly diverse.
Mr. Godfrey Mutabazi, the Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), recently told the East African Business Week that internet users had risen to 5 million at the end of last year from about 4.5 million in 2010.
With this has come an opportunity for SMEs that mostly rely on foot traffic, to market their products to a richer and wider audience. Mr. Ham Namakajjo, Google’s Uganda Country Manager told the East African Business Week recently that the SMEs have a whole range of opportunities to market their products in a cheaper way.
“When you go to down town Kampala, you will find that the small traders have similar businesses that mainly rely on foot traffic. If someone never passes by their shops, then they will never know about them.
So the Google trader platform works like the classified ads; you take pictures of your merchandize and put them online and when people are searching for shoes for instance, your merchandize and shop pop up,” Namakajjo said, adding, “This is a site that people go to when they are looking for a particular item. It therefore gives you a rich and much broader audience.”
Ms Dorothy Ooko, Google’s Communications Manager for East and Francophone Africa, says that businesses that are not online are missing out on the potential that the internet provides.
“If you are not online, you are only able to influence a few people, so only the people around you. But if you go online, it means that even someone in Mbarara (Western Uganda), Jinja (Eastern Uganda) Nairobi, (Kenya) will know about your business. ” Ooko says.
Ooko adds that businesses can also take advantage of products like Google places on Google Plus local where they can put up their businesses and people can rate and recommend them.
“If for instance it is a Friday and I’m trying to figure out where to go, I’ll simply go to Google plus and look out for the areas that have been highly recommended. So that gives you a much wider reach than if people were to pass it on by word of mouth or foot traffic”, he said.
“We know that internet penetration is still very low in many parts of Africa and we are trying to increase that. How do we do that, is by making sure that more people are online-Since most people access the internet on their mobile handsets, we think that the cost of the mobile handsets should be VAT free to reduce on the cost of the mobile handsets so that more people can access the internet”, Ooko said.
Total mobile subscribers in Uganda surged to 16 million last year, up from an estimated 13 million in 2010.