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The social media blackout that can happen when you travel around Uganda

In Uganda we like to travel to our upcountry homes for the holidays. The long Easter weekend provides a perfect opportunity to do just that! We enjoy catching up with friends and family, and generally all the fuss that comes with taking a break from city life.

One thing you quickly realize as you settle in on your arrival at your country home is that you will clearly have to take a break from some amenities that you have become accustomed to! For example the President recently made an announcement on that as reported by Sheila Nduhukire on Twitter, so there is a high chance that your upcountry home is off the grid.

If you happen to be in an area on the grid or you’ve got alternative source of power like solar, congratulations! But that’s just half of the story if you are one of the social media junkies that form part of Uganda Communications Commissions’ internet users statistics. The next obstacle to your next Facebook fix is a working internet connection.

Many of the ISPs don’t have 4G connections beyond Kampala suburbs, those who do like MTN which has “countrywide coverage” and Smile Communications that has been on an expansion drive, will still focus on the major town centers as that’s what makes business sense. Now even with 3G much more available, if you are at your grand father’s home 20 km away from the sub county office, you might find your social interaction limited to the people in a 10m radius.

Uganda is gifted by nature, there’s lots to see all around the country. However at many spots, internet connectivity is limited to EDGE/GPRS.

Whereas at my parents’ house in Mbarara, I can get “4 bars” of 4G on MTN and get on with work (or “Facebooking”) as if I never left Kampala, my friend Diana who is at her mom’s house about 15 km from Kayunga isn’t as lucky. If you are the “glass half full” optimistic kinda guy, you could say Diana is lucky she can only get a limited 2G connection, and has no option but to interact with the people in the house. That was the purpose of travelling afterall, right?

Richard, a friend who has been living in Europe for the last 5 years returned to Uganda earlier this month, and has been traversing the country checking on folks. He spent the first few days in Kampala and I’d hooked him up with a 4G MiFi which gave him the impression Uganda had developed. The story was different however the moment he traveled West and about 1 hour into the journey realized he hadn’t got any notifications on his iPhone. He called and I walked him through the process to change the configuration from “4G only” to “Automatic” so that the device could be able to connect to 3G and 2G as they traveled. Over the next few weeks he was introduced to the reality that you can’t keep online reliably in many parts of our country.

Where are you for the Easter weekend? How are you faring? Are you online or are you going to read this on Tuesday when you return to the office? 😉

Happy Easter!

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