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Increased awareness, integration and adoption of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) in Uganda, both by government and the private sector is key to improved service delivery by government, reduced cost of public service deliver as well as improve competitiveness of Uganda’s ICT and ICT Enabled Services (ITES), Hon. Frank Tumwebaze, Uganda’s ICT and National Guidance Minister has said.

Speaking at the 7th annual conference on FOSS and the Digital Commons – IDLELO 7 summit at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Tumwebaze said that as Uganda seeks to increase her share of the global ICT/ITES, there’s need to find new ways of doing business and FOSS presents fresh opportunities for the country.

“As a government, we’re very serious on improving services delivery to our people and this requires that we look into more affordable means of serving our people. Presently, government has been spending over $400 million annually on commercial software from the likes of Oracle Systems and Microsoft Corp. Adopting the use of FOSS, will result into enormous savings that can be re-injected into other underfunded areas,” he said.

Tumwebaze added that ICT has received the backing of the highest political leadership and currently features predominantly in the 23 national priorities for the next five years recently adopted by Cabinet as an extension of the 17 priorities pronounced by the President upon acceptance of this new five year mandate.

“While on a state visit to the US recently, H.E the President of Uganda committed to the proposal to use cheaper yet equally efficient Open Source Software as opposed to the current policy of relying heavily on proprietary Software, which are far too expensive.”

IDLELO7 which is being held under the theme, “Open Source Solution for Open Government and Open Data in Africa” has brought together a lineup of over 200 participants working on FOSS projects, platforms and rapidly evolving social networks tools and applications drawn from the government,, the academia and the private sector the share FOSS best practice, experiences as well as strategies to make it work for Africa.

The conference is sponsored by the National Information Technology Uganda (NITA-Uganda) in association with the Ministry of ICT and the Free Open Source Software Foundation for Africa.

“As an emerging economy, in our vision 2040, we have set ambitious targets to substantially increase the proportion of ICT goods to total exports from below 5% to 40% by 2040 and this requires a significant shift in the way we approach ICT investments as a country,” Frank said. “We need did benchmark against countries such as Malaysia, who by promoting FOSS, have been able to reduce software costs significantly by 80% on licensing fees, 58% in software development and 7% on software support services totaling an overall cost reduction of 30.5% in 2006. Today, Malaysia’s proportion of ICT goods to total exports stands at an astronomical 45%.”

Commenting on the significance of the conference to Uganda and Africa in general, Mr. Seun Ojedeji, the Chair Free Software and Open Source Foundation for Africa said, “This conference serves as a platform to build skills and network of FOSS players in Africa, focusing on technology and brings a wide spectrum of FOSS players in an intensive skill-sharing environments, laying the path for mutual understanding and collaboration.”

On NITA-U sponsorship of the summit, James Saaka, the ED NITA said that despite the enormous economic and development benefits of FOSS to users and software developers in government and the private sector, the acceptance levels were still low especially in government.

“FOSS promises a positive contribution to the software ecosystem of developing counties that are keen on expanding their markets, diversifying their technology base and developing their indigenous capacity and local human capital,” said James.

James adds, “today, there exist several popular, high quality, secure and easily customizable FOSS application such as WordPress, Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, Open Office and VLC compatible to the Windows and MAC OS environment that we can and should adopt as government and the private sector, thereby be able to save on both costs of acquisition and maintenance and the re-directing these savings to other areas.”

A 2012 survey by NITA showed that the top 5 computer application by government and the private sector were all proprietary software. Most respondents reported on using mostly Microsoft OS systems with Windows XP and Windows 7 being used by 58% and 56% respectively. Microsoft Office is used by 66% of respondents, while Kaspersky was the antivirus software solution of choice with 44% reporting its usage. Microsoft SQL Server was the preferred server solution.

James said that whereas currently, some Uganda governments Ministries, Departments and Agencies as well as educational institutions have adopted the Open Source Software model and solutions such as Linux and Open Medical Record System there’s still over-reliance on proprietary software, largely influenced by little knowledge about the alternatives, which is why, the ICT Ministry has already developed a FOSS Policy and Strategy to provide guidance on the deployment of Open Source Software and the use of Open Standards in government.

“Among others, the policy states that where there’s no significant overall cost differnece between open and non-open source products, open source will be selected on the basis of its additional inherent flexibility,” James said.

He added saying that, the government will,, wherever possible, avoid becoming locked in to proprietary software. In particular it will take exit, re-bid and re-build costs into account in procurement decisions and will require those proposing proprietary software to specify how exit would be achieved.

The policy also dictates that all IT investments shall have to comply with Open Standards unless specific project requirements preclude use of an Open Standard or if the Open Standards are not appropriate.