In COVID we’re divided more than united. By Abubaker Basajjabaka

As new milestones of infections and deaths for the novel coronavirus continue to rise every day, and case series exceed the 2 million mark, global response to COVID-19 is showing a different image, and so to speak a despicable one.

COVID-19 is dividing more than is uniting. China has gone through its episode alone so is Italy, Spain, and the US, etc., and African countries notwithstanding.

Calamities of some scale in the past encouraged unity and always followed certain and almost similar protocols. Even countries that had freedom to fight for at home, they’d still combat those of their neighbours. If your kin—brother or sister—were in trouble, so were you.

In the wisdom of Chinua Achebe, Nigerian and one of Africa’s finest authors: a kinsman in trouble was saved rather than blamed. From Kampala to Kimberley, words for humanity or unity exist—Obuntu or Ubuntu; ubunye in isiZulu or Obumu in Luganda in Uganda—but have been in short supply in the face of the coronavirus.

Problems confronted in the past united more than they divided. Supranational or regional bodies to mention the UN, EU, AU or to narrow it down to our context in Africa, EAC, ECOWAS and SADC to name but a few, stood in unity or if they proclaimed to do so, in response to global or regional problems and challenges. Need we mention that in many such formations, the mantra was always the same: attack on one of us is an attack on all of us? Spirit of unity echoed!

COVID-19 is redefining a new world order of ambivalence—accusation and counter-accusations, with conspiracy theories propagated by fake news consuming most of our ambient media—WhatsApp, Facebook, and Twitter et cetera.

Director-General, WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, currently under attack by the Trump administration puts it mildly, “We’re not just fighting an epidemic; we’re fighting an infodemic!”

As world leaders wake up to a novel reality, invectives have become the new gunshots fired at one another. Truth like in a typical state of war has become the culprit in the fight against COVID-19.

African leaders usually outspoken in unity are recoiling in their niches as if they won’t need each other when the storm withers. Some governments have singularly sent planes to Wuhan, China, to evacuate their nationals, without caring whether other African citizens require Caesar to the rescue. Instead, African leaders only invest in their personal companies pervading the continent to take the little from their poor citizens.

Today, many of their citizenry is trapped, as some Chinese rear ugly faces towards people of African descent in Guangzhou and many other cities, while our leaders fail to show courage.

Truth is, China is forging economic relations with many developing countries, African inclusive. Bilateral treaties ring-fencing resources for the communist state have been signed. You can’t ‘chinamander’ Africa, build first-class roads, high-speed railway systems; malls, hospitals, recreation centres, and other infrastructure, and expect African leaders to protect their citizenry! Common sense purports that they’re following the money rather than their citizens.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah must be disappointed and turning in his grave when his proclamation—seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added onto you—is not being heeded.

COVID-19 is showing another dimension. Resilience, as countries—developed or non-developed—endure through its scourge. China is containing the situation swiftly. Historically, they’ve done so in other circumstances such as SARS or H1N1 (swine flu) that have stalked them in the past. They are a communist state, whose political culture doesn’t allow for the romanticism of procrastination under the guise of democracy. Their path to development, typical of command economies, shows that orders from above, as only they can testify, can transform a country into a fast emerging economic powerhouse like China is today.

But with all frills of freedom and democracy, and resources notwithstanding, the US is creaking under the weight of COVID-19. At the time of writing, the country continues to be the epicentre, with 610,774 cases and topping any other country in deaths at 26,119. These landmarks are being reached for reason that the US is more divided and managing a crisis than they’re united against the pandemic. Daily press conferences are showing spectacle of a rare kind we’ve never seen before. Political leaders continue to tear themselves apart as infections and deaths multiply.

The US, usually a provider of leadership in crises of monumental proportions hasn’t measured up to this task. After all, President Trump didn’t prepare enough as he assured Americans before reality begun to strike. He is blaming WHO for not being insistent on China, and China for lacking transparency. Today, a total of about $1 billion the US contributes to the global health organisations has been frozen, pointing more to a global public health crisis than it is being solved.

America has always been known for pursuing enemies to their last hideouts, returning with their heads rather than their brides. But the coronavirus is proving elusive. When global leaders start apportioning blame, you know they’re failing us and themselves. United we stand divided we fall.




Abubaker Basajjabaka is a blogger; a social, political and economic critic.



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Catalytic dynamics of the novel coronavirus—a lay person’s overview of the pandemic.

The novel COVID-19 outbreak has ramped-up exponentially, puzzling experts to include a host of medical doctors, epidemiologists, researchers, international and other related health organisations.

In the history of virology, the outbreak continues to puzzle every echelon of experts, especially concerning its origin, the manner and speed at which it spreads and the exacting impact it’s imposing on economies already collapsing under its weight.

The virus is spreading rapidly and is classified as a pandemic by WHO, with alarming cases confirmed in multiple countries across the world. The virus is virulent and projected to reach the 1 million mark in infections in the shortest time possible in spite of the concerted effort to avert it.

Epidemiological investigations first referred to the strange virus as the ‘Wuhan Virus’. But with probable stigmatisation that name would cause, nomenclature changed to COVID-19, an acronym for Corona Virus Disease 2019.

COVID-19 is one of the zoonotic coronaviruses comparable to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) coronavirus and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) coronavirus but also different in so many ways. Zoonotic diseases are infectious diseases that spread from non-human animals, usually vertebrates, to humans caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites.


COVID-19 was first identified in China in December 2019, although its actual origin remains a mystery. Epidemiologists reveal that the outbreak first started in the seafood market of Wuhan, where a variety of live wild animals such as hedgehogs, badgers, snakes, and birds (turtledoves)’ and carcasses and animal meat were being sold. The virus is associated with certain species of bats common in Asia and Europe. Despite this understanding, investigations reveal that no bats were sold in the Wuhan seafood market at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. What remains probable is that the virus is traced back to China, since the country was the first to report its presence to WHO.

Symptoms and diagnosis

COVID-19 is related to other SARS-like coronaviruses previously found in bats in China. The disease manifests itself through severe respiratory difficulties, fever, dizziness, and cough. Diagnostics adopted from patients in Wuhan Hospital in December 2019 reveal fever, chest tightness, unproductive cough, pain and weakness within a week of presentation. Medical tests also determine that the patients usually suffer from hypoxemia, a medical condition known to cause oxygen deficiency or abnormally low levels of oxygen in the blood.

Confirmation of COVID-19 requires nucleic acid testing of the respiratory tract samples such as throat swabs. Clinical diagnosis may also be made based on symptoms such as exposure and chest imaging. In the US stool samples have also been used.

Spread and transmission

COVID-19 is a highly infectious disease possessing an increased sequence of variability. Because it’s a zoonotic disease, the initial source of infection was a zoonotic spill-over probably from seafood markets in China.

Human-to-human transmissions are thus far known for the widespread of the virus, with China initially reported as the epicentre. As transmission ebbs in China, new local frontiers continue to increase in Italy, Spain, and the US; Iran, Japan, and Korea.

The spread of the virus was first detected among travellers from Wuhan, Thailand, Japan, and Korea. In global circumstances, the pervasion of the coronavirus is an import proving highly virulent and difficult to contain at the moment.

Evidence reveals that human-to-human transmission is spread through respiratory droplets of infected persons coughing or sneezing amidst people within 6 feet of their reach. Transmission is also possible through touching contaminated surfaces such as tables, handrails, telephones and doorknobs, etc.

Lack of personal protective equipment, especially among health workers has been found to aid secondary transmission in many hospital settings across the world and familial households where those infected are being cared for by their loved ones.

Another dangerous twist in the spread of COVID-19 is what epidemiologists term as asymptomatic cases. This is a situation where an individual tests positive on the viral nucleic acid test but does not exhibit any symptoms such as fever, dizziness or dry cough, etc. found to be consistent with the infection.

Human vulnerability and fatality

Case series from China and other places indicate that anyone, irrespective of age is vulnerable to COVID-19 infections and that this novel coronavirus is highly contagious.

Findings reveal a grim situation for people of advanced age and those with pre-existing medical conditions in regard to fatalities. Studies conducted in China confirm that the majority of deaths are of patients found to be 60 years or above old, and those exhibiting pre-existing conditions such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

Prevention, treatment, and control

Globally, concerted effort is being exerted to prevent and find effective drugs for the treatment of the new pandemic. Nonetheless, the absence of a cure or a vaccine has prompted a number of preventive measures to limit human movement.

To avert the spread, the Reproduction Number represented as–R0–has to be controlled. It needs to be understood that if R0>1, the transmission of the virus will increase but the transmission will decrease if the R0<1. It is this calculus that is reinforcing the need for social distancing, isolation, and quarantine that most leaders across the world are promoting, as a medical solution is contemplated. The exponential growth of the virus is explained by the fact that the Reproduction Number (R0) currently stands at 3.28 outpacing the 1.95 the WHO had earlier estimated.

The absence of antiviral agents and vaccines prompts the deployment of numerous measures to limit movement since human interaction is known for the exponential spread of the virus. China has focussed on traditional public health outbreak response applied before, especially during SARS, to include crowd isolation, quarantine, social distancing, and community containment. The same cue is being applied by leaders of other countries to prevent infections.

‘Isolation’ is the measure undertaken to separate infected persons from non-infected persons in order to prevent the spread. Isolation is done in hospital settings, in rooms equipped with negative pressure to reduce transmission via aerosols.

‘Quarantine’ is an old and most effective method to control communicable diseases, and means movement restriction of a person or group of persons for a certain period of time and applied to homes or designated facilities. Quarantine is either voluntary or mandatory but is monitored for the manifestation of symptoms and if symptoms occur, those infected are then isolated.

‘Social distancing’ is a reduction in interaction within broader community settings where people are suspected to be infected but have not yet been identified or isolated. Social distancing is significant in the sense that it gives ample distance to limit the transmission of respiratory droplets between people. Social distancing measures include the closure of schools, office buildings, and suspension of markets and cancellation of gatherings.

Lockdown, which is similar to community containment is applied to entire communities, cities or regions, designed to restrict interaction except for minimal personnel to ensure vital supplies.

Other measures are temperature screening at major airports and busy transportation terminals.

In developed countries, a resurgence of specialised emergency such as building new hospitals is being witnessed and deployment of medical equipment and medical staff in their hoards is being done.

In China, the state council has also indicated that a medical solution is in the pipeline. Chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine, old drugs known for the treatment of malaria, have demonstrated marked efficacy in dealing with COVID-19 associated pneumonia. Clinical trials of 100 patients spread in ten renowned medical facilities in China have demonstrated that chloroquine phosphate is effective in the control and inhibition of the exacerbation of pneumonia. Chloroquine phosphate has also been found to promote virus-negative conversion and shortening the course of the disease.

With no adverse effects after its administration, Chinese experts including government and regulatory authorities have agreed to use chloroquine phosphate as a potent activity against COVID-19. This attribute has led to the drug being recommended for inclusion in the next version of guidelines for the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of pneumonia caused by COVID-19.

Passive Antibody Therapy as a medical alternative to stem COVID-19 is also being studied. The therapy has a long history since the 1890s. It involves the administration of human convalescent serum or antibodies to susceptible individuals. The therapy is currently known to be the only method that can provide quick immunity to susceptible persons. Previous trials during the 2013 SARS outbreak, show that convalescent sera extracted from patients who had recovered contained neutralising antibodies against the virus. The therapy was also used in West Africa in the containment of the Ebola epidemic. In the current outbreak, the therapy has been applied in China, and available information implies that the method reduces viral load and is safe, although a paucity of its detailed application exists.

WHO and many health authorities across the world are also emphasising a catalogue of preventive measures. They advise social distancing, staying at home; hygiene procedure of using masks in crowded places and for those who are infected and those attending to the infected; using gloves, washing hands with alcohol-based hand rub or sanitisers and with soap and warm water where possible; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; practicing respiratory hygiene through covering the mouth and nose with the elbow when coughing or sneezing, and disposing of used tissue materials immediately.

Capacity to limit local cycles after importation of COVID-19 is highly dependent on a country’s ability to detect, prevent and control infections. Measures include and many others besides: heightened surveillance, rapid identification of suspected cases, patient transfer and isolation, rapid diagnosis, tracing, and follow-up of potential contacts. Capacity is dependent on a country’s public health system and resources.

Impact of COVID-19

COVID-19 may be hard to substantiate at the moment in terms of the damage it is currently causing. The disease has already had short-term effects experienced in lockdowns, shortages in supplies, local business standstills, global economic disruption, human movement, and social interaction limitations, etc. The overriding short-run and hard-hitting impact COVID-19 has caused is the death of scores of people across the world.

At the time of reporting, infections are first approaching the 1 million mark. Microsoft Power BI (2020) a website tracking the global status of real-time incidence, indicates that the total confirmed infection cases stand at 810,123 but as previously noted, the count changes all the time. The site also shows the total death at 39,572 (4.88% death rate) and recovery at 172,531 (21.32% recovery rate).

Mainstream and social media are also awash with reports of fatalities. New milestones are reached every day, with occurrences in both infections and deaths, especially in the developed countries, changing like clockwork. Countries with the highest infection rates are: USA (166,214), Italy (101,739), Spain (94,417), Germany (68,180) and France (44,550) among others. At the moment, Italy and Spain have the highest death rate at 11.39% and 8.76% respectively (Microsoft Power BI, 2020).

What the pandemic shows is that if infection rates increase in developing countries the situation is likely to be dire due to compromised health systems in many countries.

Analysts state that the pandemic will certainly have direct and indirect economic implications and that its impact will have a heavy bearing on policymakers to formulate appropriate macroeconomic policy response after its impact has been clearly assessed.


It is thus far proved that COVID-19 is a pandemic that will have far-reaching and long term consequences as the reality of its spread begins to set in. COVID-19 is highly infectious with its exponential growth attributed to high human interaction.

COVID-19 can be managed through stringent measures of social distancing, homestays, quarantine and economic lockdown and hygiene procedure.

COVID-19 and other coronaviruses may continue to mutate over time, to become more virulent but capacity needs to be marshalled to stem it. The lesson learned is that lack of immediate response, as the COVID-19 exponential growth demonstrates, can shutter economies even those with highly developed systems.


This article has been written with input from different scholars whose sources I have greatly benefitted from to inform others. Thanks go to the numerous people that in their respective capacities are doing whatever it takes to prevent the COVID-19 infections and to save lives. For a full paper with bibliography, forward your request to

As I remain ‘huddled’ in my apartment, I pray for my parents Hajji Bilal and Mrs. Janet Basajjabaka to go through these very trying moments of the pandemic, as they are of advanced ages.

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Dispelling fears of the Fourth Industrial Economy. By Abubaker Basajjabaka

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is in hot-pursuit, moving at unprecedented speed to catch up or even overtake revolutions that existed before it, but reawakening apocalyptic fears reminiscent of the Y2K, with people wondering what form it will take and what exacting impact it is likely to have on the vast majority of humans.

For most of sub-Saharan Africa, before other revolutions complete their laps, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is becoming a reality in some parts—especially South Africa—where conversation about its arrival is building momentum across the broad spectrum of policymakers, educationists, medical practitioners, bankers, engineers, mining corporation, the list runs endless.

The Fourth industrial Revolution is preceded by three distinguishable sequences: the first, the second and the third industrial revolutions—also in their onerous stages—causing extraordinary fears and impact—both negative and positive—on lives and livelihoods and the environmental ecosystem where humans subsist.

A synopsis of these revolutions beckons more than it reckons. Britain in the 18th century, sparked off the First Industrial Revolution, transforming manufacturing processes from hand production to machine production methods, adoption of locomotives, steamboats and steamships. Innovations also included steel making processes, large scale manufacturing of machine tools and steam powered factories. It is in this era that Britain gained the technological and economic advantage, to also become an imperial power, acquiring colonies in North America, Africa and the Indian subcontinent, where raw materials emerged and where finished products were sold.

The Second Industrial Revolution occurred in the 19th and 20th century in Britain, Germany, the United States, Italy and Japan before it spread elsewhere. The revolution adopted most of the preexisting technological inventions of the First Industrial Revolution, such as steam engine, but introduced new energy sources—petroleum, most importantly electricity, which led to mass production.

This revolution produced a wave of inventions among others, the telephone by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876, the light bulb in 1879 by Thomas Alva Edison, first electric train in Germany, electric street cars replacing horses and radio waves across the Atlantic by Guglielmo Marconi. In a feat to make electricity more reliable, efficient and supplied over longer distances, competition brew between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla—with the former working on the Direct Current (DC) and the latter on Alternating Current (AC).

Internal combustion engines using petroleum energy were also invented, thus marking a shift from external combustion that relied on steam engines whose main source of energy was coal or firewood. Massive railroad systems were established, chemical and medical inventions done.

Starting in the 20th century, the Third Industrial Revolution billed as one of the most cunning, galvanised information and communication systems, with the invention of the personal computer and the international network, in short the internet. Today, the Third Industrial Revolution greatly influences the creation of green energy—or renewable energy—believed to be a solution to greenhouse emission imposed by Second Industrial Revolution production processes. It is perhaps in this industrial era that many billionaires are made, just as poverty increases due to massive unemployment. Also anticipated is rollout of battery powered vehicles, just as anyone would guess, is likely to render fossil energy outdated.

Technological inventions and innovations of the Third Industrial Revolution characterise new work ethics between humans and computers, between human and humans, mass production as well as mass customisation, and instantaneous communication around the world that lays huge collaborative trap in social networks, economic undertakings spreading across global villages and political movements winning elections but causing revolutions in equal measure.

But before the Third Industrial Revolution grace is fully grasped, a new revolution—the Fourth Industrial Revolution—is summing up gains its predecessors in the 19th and 21st centuries have already achieved. The Fourth Industrial Revolution is catalytic, sometimes abominable, bringing into the fold a digital revolution characterised by Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics, nanotechnology, quantum computing, biotechnology, Internet of Things, Industrial Internet of Things, 5G wireless technology, 3D printing, autonomous cars—the list is inexhaustible. But its complexity and likely effect is causing anxiety.

When Summit College learners, Olga, Keith, Allen, Natasha, Murunwa and Lerato, and their teacher Mr. Willian, converge at AccLearn Centre to get a glimpse of the future, fears are hard to allay. AccLearn stands for Accelerated Learning, and is a digital teaching and learning initiative for learners, using Virtual Reality, Robotics and other AI devices to give new learning experiences poised to impart critical skills such as creative thinking, critical thinking, communication, collaboration and problem solving, necessary for the Fourth Industrial Economy.

Summit College learners contend that the Fourth Industrial Economy spells more doom and gloom, as they envisage robots will take over while humans recede into slavery. Emphasis on AI and robotics as cornerstones of the Fourth Industrial economy prompt questions such as: what particular skills should be pertinent to survive in an economy driven by intelligent machines?

Answers to such questions are more intricate than they are clear. Rodolfo Stavenhagen (2015), although not giving response to AI but education in general, argues that education systems are structured around a number of different roles according to particular circumstances: to transmit knowledge from one generation to the next, to impart skills to prepare new generations to cope with challenges of the world they live in, especially the labour market.

Mr. William, the teacher cautions that a horde of skills such as accountancy, legal practice et cetera will be no more. His caution resonates with Yuval Noah Harari the futurist writer, who imagines that by 2050, Artificial Intelligence will be able to code software far better than humans, and that Google Apps will enable humans conduct conversations in a flawless manner without requiring translations—at least from humans.

When students ask what they should learn and what they should be taught, response is not straightforward apart from causing more bewilderment. Yuval Noah Harari, in his wide exposition on the subject matter offers some clues. He says the Fourth Industrial Revolution will require people to learn new skills and new things. Harari argues that holding onto stable old identities, jobs and worldviews risks people being left behind as the world flies by.

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Analogue TV to Digital nothing, how Uganda lost its TV

Am huddled in a rural place, doing what I do best—signal scoping for digital TV! In Bukedea, a few kilometres from Mbale along Soroti Road, a middle aged couple exhibit their bulky TV, the Cathode Ray TV type in technical terms. Out of frustration they demand to know why the damn thing is not working (read showing). I labour to explain but their agitation is the kind backed by rumour that government wants to impose license and take TV completely away from the poor. As an enthusiast, and a decoder vendor, hoping that one day Ugandans will have access to digital TV broadcast without limitation, I also feel deeply affected.

Not only the dual in Bukedea, but a horde of people in Isingiro, Bushenyi, Masaka, Fort Portal, Jinja, Budaka, Mbale, Gulu and everywhere else I’ve been, express endless frustration about lack of digital signal. To them, years of deliberations, debate, phased rollout, to say the least, have produced almost nothing but a trumped up digital migration process.

Uganda among her East African neighbours remains one of the countries lagging behind after Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania, had successful migration processes. No longer ranked in the same calibre as her ‘finer’ East African counterparts, Uganda can now be equalled to Burundi and South Sudan. No pun intended but these countries—Uganda being one of them—haven’t lived up to their hype of having a smooth digital TV migration process. They say one thing and do another; something akin to lack of goodwill on issues that matter.

Uganda’s odds are and many of them are! Like a country emerging out of its slough, digital TV signals haven’t even flickered on a wider spectrum of local Ugandans, save for those in the central region. A greater part of the country is in digital TV limbo and as anyone would imagine, consequences can only be dire. Dire in the sense that not all regions in the country are at equal footing regarding access to information and of course knowledge that should bind it and should come with it.

In upcountry locations deprivation of Free-To-Air TV service due to lack of proper signal distribution means that if you don’t have money for pay TV you don’t have access to TV broadcast. Those that have money to watch any TV, be it UBC, NTV, NBS, Delta TV, Salt TV, ABS, BBS etc in no pecking order, may not have an idea how much money they are losing because as we all know; paying for exclusivity on Pay TV platforms always commands high premiums.

It is this very gap—signal deprivation—that Pay TV services hone or take advantage of to make a killing and the very gap they use to acquire bragging rights as if digital TV starts with them and therefore ends with them.

Uganda is supposed to have been covered already; but this hasn’t happened. Even in the most hyped phase1, which commands a footprint of a 70km radius, signals haven’t been perfected. Dissatisfied viewers put it boldly, “Pictures jump and dance and channels shuffle all the time.”

Poor picture and uneven sound levels, and many times TV name misallocation or mix up also agitates viewers, making digital migration one of the most improbable projects in Uganda at the moment. Deadlines that were established passed without consequence. To date, as upcountry locations remain locked, no single statement has been issued to explain the circumstance.

Then, the rollout model as most viewers decry, receives more derision than praise. Uganda adopted an unsighted and inconsiderate Centre-To-Peripheral transition model, as opposed to the Peripheral-To-Centre. This model is a barrier to uptake especially in regions that have never seen light of day of TV signal since Uganda’s independence.

“Take it simply, if you’re dealing with a serious issue requiring some resources; do you start with endowed or deprived regions?” one senior member of the clergy in Eastern Uganda who begs anonymity asks ardently.

Uganda chose to do it differently—deprive deprived regions further! With her rollout plan, starting with the central region which since colonial times is endowed considering the numerous connection opportunities they have, be it in telecom or TV, digital TV continues to be a service for the few.

Central Uganda is also the business hub of the country, which by and large means ability to afford pay TV services. The centre-to-peripheral rollout model pits many Ugandans in so many ways as it is also a barrier to adoption of digital TV in new places. At least, with peripheral-to-centre transition, new viewership would be reached to add on the statistics of about 3.5 million TVs in the country.

Initially, as analogue TV was being given a decent burial, some 17 sites believed to be covering some ground upcountry worked for a while, as glimmer of hope was ushered in. But in a couple of months what was yet to be wasn’t. Instead, Uganda became exposed for poor works, as signals became sporadic and elusive. Since November 2016, many months down the road, without explanation, upcountry regions have been turned into digital TV blackouts.

In Central Uganda, 4 frequencies have been allocated accommodating over 30 channels or in the lingua of engineers—programs. Upcountry locations were allocated only one frequency, which true to the biblical notion of ‘whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them’ has also been taken away. That only frequency had a paltry 8 channels or programs, against the hype that digital TV would usher in more content and variety.

Technicalities involved in digital TV expose a broader spectrum of stakeholders, with the main culprits being Signet Uganda. Signet, are a creation after UBC was awarded sole signal distribution rights in Uganda. UBC thought twice to create Signet Uganda, which as they believed, would quell the clamour from other content providers who still argue vehemently that awarding UBC sole signal distributorship rights, is a mistake tantamount to conflict of interest.

Since her creation, Signet Uganda has had a series of misfortunes. They are under resourced both financially and manpower wise. Last year, media reports showed that due to their financial woes, they were abdicating their responsibility as signal distributors to a Chinese company Star Software Technologies Limited, an affiliate of StarTimes—also a pay TV operator in Uganda—to help out on signal distribution in the country. That the procurement process was flawed also prompted some organisations to consult the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and in effect demanding that the dubious deal be halted.

Again, this story of abdication is of dual significance: it shows lack of capacity as already observed and represents an acute conflict of interest since Star Software Technologies Limited is affiliated to StarTimes, a pay TV already operational in Uganda.

Licensing is a serious challenge for broadcasters; licenses are awarded either as national or regional licenses. The implementers promised that citizens would have access to an unlimited bouquet of TV programs from national and regional Television. The more costly national license compelled several broadcasters to opt for the less priced regional licence and the prized region turned out to be the central region, Uganda’s most prosperous region. As it turns out, digital TV is currently the most limited technology service in the country so far.

This situation as it sounds, contradicts another very important principle—Universal Access, Universal Service—a belief held by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to promote access to information in deprived areas.

The mess in digital migration can also be understood from another perspective—Free-To-Air Set-Top-Box vendors some of whom are authorised and most of whom operate illegally with unapproved devices. UCC’s anti-compliant force is criticised for its lack of vigilance, more often than not, and some say for taking bribes to allow unscrupulous activities to go unpunished. There are so many decoders that don’t meet approval ratings yet they are openly being sold on the market.

Set-Top-Box vendors also fill a wider gap of creating awareness and sensitising local communities. They are so to speak, the face of the migration process even when their mandate is limited to the selling of decoders. With meagre resources they’ve upheld UCC’s image through production of collateral materials, appeared on radio and TV talk shows, done advertising and spread the message through word of mouth.

Most importantly, vendors roam the country to establish signal in places where Signet Uganda says they’ve extended service. Signal scoping sprees, besides being very expensive, often result into frustration because coverage is non-existent. To make matters even worse, vendors always find it gruelling if they’ve made sales to customers in places Signet Uganda has reported signal availability. Discussions with such customers can take any turn sometimes leading to refunds or pleas for patience ‘as the signal returns’.

Set Top Box vendors have also continued to experience endless agony. At the height of the migration hype, many were told to stock up in anticipation of demand in upcountry places that hadn’t seen the light of TV before. Today, with digital TV signal only restricted to Central Uganda, vendors are suffering with dead stock. Although many hold on in glee, with a hope that digital TV signals will be restored, their storage costs continue to rise, as new technological changes both in hardware and software surpass them.

If this is not a standard case of a melting pot or a digital TV migration nostrum, implementers need to take full responsibility and show respect to what they promised Ugandans when all this started. With the current state of affairs, it appears that analog TV had more coverage than digital TV. The claim that digital migration is on track is a lie that leaves many stakeholders with more wounds to lick.


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Is Uganda measuring up to its digital migration task?

Am a digital migration enthusiast! I’ve watched and followed digital migration processes and to say the least I am also part of it.

I’ve done signal scoping in and around Mbarara, along Isingiro Road, Bushenyi, Ntungamo and also done a round trip to Gulu, Lira, Dokolo, Kaberamaido, Soroti, Ngora, Kumi, Bukedea, Mbale, Kapchorwa, Budaka, Namutumba, Busembatya, Iganga and of course Jinja. But findings from my digital migration escapades only reveal the extent of sloppiness in the way the migration has been managed.

Uganda as we all know started well but as we speak, the country is falling in behind on the gains they would have cemented by virtual of having a smooth digital migration process.

In the East African region with the exception of Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda, other countries to include Uganda, Burundi and South Sudan are struggling to realise their digital migration dream. The case for digital migration only as Uganda Communications Commission could or would argue it was filled with a lot of expectations; better things to come and smooth trajectory, as analog signal would finally be given a decent burial.

Since the transition that to our estimation started in 2006, Uganda Communications Commission registered some milestones but as one would expect, challenges have been enormous.

Like in other countries, the migration process is characterised by stakeholders to include a signal distributor (UBC/Signet), content providers and their umbrella body the National Association of Broadcasters, UCC—the regulator, government, decoder vendors and final consumers, but the migration process has turned out to be a daunting exercise for most of them.

Government as the biggest stakeholder has lacked the goodwill and as is currently being witnessed, the migration process could be on a tipping end. In Uganda only the central region has had a complete switchover yet this region is the most endowed in terms of access to information. Other regions—North, East and West—remain deprived.

With a phased rollout approach, the migration process is supposed to be a gradual one. 17 sites which are believed to be part of the second phase have been opened up but with limited success. Signet, UBC’s in-charge for signal distribution has often run into a brick wall due to lack of resources—financial and human—but especially financial constraints that have also tempted them to apply double standards and underhand methods.

Recently for example, Uganda awoke to the news that the dual (Signet and UBC) had awarded Star Software Technologies Limited, a Chinese company and also an affiliate of StarTimes, a pay TV already operational in Uganda, to help out on signal distribution in the country. That the procurement process was flawed also prompted some organisations to consult the Inspector General of Government (IGG) and in effect halt the dubious deal until everything was sorted.

The petitioners also allege that since UBC already cultivated a relationship with StarTimes, awarding Star Software Technology Ltd would amount to nothing but acute conflict of interest.

If these procurement processes are not typical examples of fiddling, the argument since time immemorial especially by the National Association of Broadcaster has always been that UBC would be unfair in the way they would deal and always voiced concerns that signal distribution should have been awarded to an independent organisation and not a content provider. NAB’s argument is very valid. Before the bath water could even be left to dry, we’re beginning to witness a migration process that wasn’t anticipated.

Content providers also face enormous challenges themselves. They are supposed to upgrade their equipment but that notwithstanding, are also supposed to have licenses and pay some fees for them to be connected to the digital platform. The licensing scheme as has already been revealed comes in two categories—national and regional. But the regional license is very limiting because it would defeat the very essence of digital TV. Digital TVs should follow the same principle of universal access and universal service without any restriction or hindrance whatsoever.

Then Set-top-box vendors have also had their fair share of digital migration. When UCC licensed them with a hope that signal would be up and running in most parts of the country, the opportunity seemed like big business. As we speak, signal footprint is limited and where it is present, especially the central regional, most TV viewers have bought decoders and markets are saturated. In other regions where vendors would be making business, the digital signal is running concurrently with analog. Simulcast or dual illumination as the situation where two signal formats run is called is not conducive for decoder sales. As long as analog signal exists viewers will see no need of migrating.

The interplay of pay TV services, especially StarTimes and GoTV, in the migration process has also created huge confusion. Because some pay TV services use both satellite and terrestrial technologies, they’ve compromised the process. They’ve reaped from unsuspecting viewers and in broad daylight asserted that they are the first and last solution to digital migration.

To suffocate vendors of Free-To-Air decoders, StarTimes has also engaged in supplying these decoders. The argument that begets is: should a pay TV service also be allowed to operate two licenses—Pay TV and Free-To-Air?

Visibly, pay TV services like StarTimes have been left to have their field day. They’ve sliced subscription rates but also been allowed to operate on streets of every town without restriction.

On paper, although it would appear that Uganda is on course in as far as digital migration is concerned, there’s more to it than actually meets the eyes. Lack of awareness and continued existence of analog broadcast is one of the biggest barriers to proper transition to digital TV.

Digital TV like has always been articulated should be a turning point in improving access to information and knowledge, and should also be the basis where marginalised communities come out to promote their cultures. The dual licensing system—National and Regional—would be limiting and therefore a contradiction to the principles of universal service and universal access.

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Digitising Uganda broadcast a worthy investment

After recommendations by the International Telecommunications Union to standardise the telecommunications and television broadcast sectors in 2006, Uganda has embarked on a series of activities enshrined in her roadmap in what has come to be popularly known as digital migration.

International Telecommunications Union—call it ITU in short—is the organisation that governs the telecommunications and television broadcast sectors in the world, and as expected, signatory member states, Uganda being one of them, are supposed to digitise their television broadcast in respect to recommendations made in two crucial conferences—the Regional Radio-Communication Conference in 2006 (RRC06) and the Geneva 2006 Agreement (GE06)–in 2006.

In the two conferences, June 2015 was set as the deadline for signatory countries to have made a complete switchover from analogue to digital but to African countries the digital migration process hasn’t been smooth.

Reality on the ground reveals that African countries are lagging behind and many may never be ready by 2015. This reality is compounded by lack of resources, underestimation of the migration process and sheer neglect by many African governments.

Uganda has also sledged on. December 2012 was set as the internal deadline for dual illumination or simulcast, a situation where both analogue and digital signals run concurrently. Although this passed without any mention, this is not to say the country hasn’t achieved any milestones.

Digital migration is groundbreaking and a technological evolution. By its standards it will bring a lot of changes and opportunities not only to the broadcast industry but the wider business community interested in supplying Set-Top-Boxes and other equipment compliant to the entire process.

Speaking at the Opinion Leaders’ Forum in Kampala in October 2013, Mr. Ibrahim Bbossa, Manager of Consumer Affairs, Uganda Communications Commission, also upheld the natural partnership between government and the private sector. He said that the private sector could help in a number of ways especially in providing Set-Top-Boxes, units required to tap digital signal for Free-To-Air viewers.

To appreciate digital migration in Uganda, one needs to understand the complexity of how TV broadcast has evolved over the years. Until 1990, TV as well as radio broadcast was a monopoly of government. This arrangement was pitted against because it lacked drive, creativity and innovation since most governments in Africa always used broadcast as a tool to fulfil their political agenda.

The liberalisation in the late 90s brought a grimmer of hope. Private broadcasters with own infrastructure created a whirlwind. Numerous Free-To-Air TV and FM radio stations were commissioned together with Pay TV services that yet again created a contradictory situation.

The complexity of TV broadcast in Uganda is like a tale of two cities. On one side is Free-To-Air services mainly utilised by low income earners and on the other, Pay TV services utilised by middle and upper class categories.

But these two viewership universes characterise two different economic classes—the haves and have-nots—that also conform to social stratification.

For a long time in Uganda, viewership classes have also been determined by signal utilisation formats.

Free-To-Air viewers, as has always been the case, utilise analogue signal while Pay TV viewers utilise digital signal. Differences in signal formats have been many but depending on which format one was on, it meant quality and variety.

With the introduction of Pay TV services, Free-To-Air services started receiving criticism for providing poor signal, poor programming, bad presenters, limited signal coverage and limited local content, mainly brought about by utilisation of analogue signal.

These challenges in some ways have always forced viewers to either give up watching TV completely or spend a lot of money purchasing aerials and signal booster equipment or even save a lot to install Pay TV services as they grapple with monthly subscription.

Pay TV services on the other hand although not equalled in picture quality and choice offerings, are very expensive in terms of equipment purchase, installation and maintenance, coupled with monthly subscriptions.

Pay TV services have also been criticised for being limited on local content yet rich in western materials.

It is this sad reality that should make the drive for digitalisation noble and necessary in Uganda.

So far, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has steered on well. A roadmap has been drawn with drawbacks but with numerous milestones.

With the formulation of the Digital Migration Policy, a framework used to manage the transition, Uganda has lagged, but still on course to beat the 2015 deadline.

Recently, UCC purchased and handed over equipment to Uganda Broadcasting Council and also commissioned the switch to simulcast or dual illumination for Kampala and other districts.

Although developing specifications for Set-Top-Boxes (STBs) conforming to DVB-T2 technology revised from DVB-T has been another milestone, the challenge has been to establish credible suppliers and distributors of these units.

From the technical side, UCC has done their bit. What is left is to sensitise communities in Uganda about this transition, which from lay persons perspective, as is always the case, has been politicised and made to look like it is another effort by government to tax them or force them to pay subscription for viewership.

Contrary to this, digital broadcast will bring more opportunities than challenges. Freed up frequency spectrum will lead to more stations and obviously more jobs, more content streamlined to specific regions besides growing the film or broadcast industry.

Like the saying goes, the ground will be the bottom line and the sky the limit; embrace digital migration.

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HIV/AIDS: how have we measured up!

HIV/AIDS has ravaged Uganda since the 1980s when it was referred to as a strange disease!

In the 1990s Uganda shone among countries in the world with a head-on approach to deal with the epidemic; sustained efforts led to decline, Uganda was hailed and became a model.

At its peak and glory, numerous prevention programs had achieved a great deal, particularly the ABC approach, which won a lot for a country that had almost lost hope of even the slightest chance of recompense. HIV/AIDs was billed in no uncertain terms save for being referred to as a disease for infidels and those found immoral–all hogwash!

Initial challenges existed but the country audaciously ran numerous programs that culminated into public disclosure and the need to treat those found with the disease humanely. Uganda shone out of many and was said to have the best approach in the world.

But like any good things coming to an end, Uganda experienced a surge starting in 2004 that stunned policymakers and observers.

Arguments explaining the surge vary but most prominent ones claim that since 2004 Ugandans generally became complacent due to provision of free antiretroviral drugs—that offered new lease of life to infected persons to live longer—and that shifting from a comprehensive ABC campaign strategy as a perfect preventive approach, to more emphasis placed on abstinence based responses killed the plot. Uganda had placed a lot of emphasis on condom (C) use if people found it hard to abstain (A) or even being faithful (B).

Reports also suggest that infection rates became common among married couples especially those that were said to be maintaining sexual networks—a situation where a person maintained numerous sexual partners besides his or her married spouse. Sexual networks caused lapses in condom use as one of the best preventive methods against infections.

Be that as it may, Uganda is vast with elaborate sexual practices—from numerous cultural groups—that would be frustrated if condoms were used. South Africans always put it aptly and simply—you can’t eat sweets with its wrappings!

Cultural demands and cultural inclinations didn’t do much to lessen the incidence. Today, Uganda is creeping back to an HIV runaway situation, which if not abated will reach unprecedented levels.

In northern Uganda for example, after so many years of war that lent a torrent of suffering, HIV/AIDS has become a reality. Due to hardships, people in this part of the country willingly test to establish status for appropriate attention just in case but that notwithstanding need a lot of support.

Like it is elsewhere, HIV/AIDS is clearly a health problem threatening human welfare, socio-economic advancement, productivity, social cohesion, and even national security and as a matter of fact, concerted effort needs to be made towards its eradication.

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Uganda Cranes flies closer to Africa Nations Cup final

Uganda is a country full of contradictions; only a few months ago political temperatures reached boiling point! From polls in February, to discrediting results there on, to opposition led walk-to-work protests in April until chaotic scenes of swearing in of the president in May, government was made to look like they were about to lose grip anytime.

Suffice to note that for over 20 years since President Museveni came to power in 1986, Kampala had never known cruelty of such scale meted out by police and red top military to quell demonstrations sparked off by unwarranted increase of fuel and commodity prices that have made cost of living seem improbable.

If it’s a country united in grief a few weeks ago after grandiose mistreatment of protesters, Ugandans seem to have buried their hatchets. They march to Nambole Stadium (June 4) to demonstrate support for the national football team—The Uganda Cranes—in their encounter against Guinea Bissau.

Besides other factors, heavy mobilization can be explained by momentum set a few months ago in the first away encounter in Bissau in which Uganda Cranes won by 1-0. If a good turn deserved another, Uganda Cranes needed to win again to make their chances of qualifying for Africa Nations Cup possible.

Surprisingly, on regional level, in the Confederation of East and Central African Football Cup (CECAFA), no other country surpasses Uganda on the number of times they’ve won the cup. Conversely, the Cranes last appeared at continental level in the 1978 Africa Nations Cup final in Ghana where they lost to hosts, Black Stars, by 2-0. From then on, Uganda has been struggling to regain her footballing glory of the 1970s when General Idd Amin Dada was president.

If this is the significance making stakes high in Kampala, FM radios, TV stations and print media also join in the clarion call for show of patriotism for the second leg. As expected, turn up at Nambole National Stadium is incredible! In equal measure the Cranes play their hearts out with a deserved 2-0 victory over the visitors—Guinea-Bissau! Victory means Uganda Cranes need one point in her last encounters; home against neighbours Kenya and away against Angola in Luanda.

This victory has been a hard one after months of political uncertainty and upheaval. Present at the match is Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi and Vice President Edward Sekandi, whose grand appearance is greeted with commendable applause.  In spite of that, patriotism in a country that needs it most is still in doubt! Debate has always been why people from northern Uganda embrace the national flag while those from other regions especially central care less.

One thing about football is that no one can equal it in unifying masses in spite of visible undercurrents especially in Uganda today. Before and after kickoff unprecedented armies of Vuvuzela wielding supporters paint Kampala yellow—official colour of the national side. As they trek to Nambole, they can be heard from distances blowing their trumpets. This is to continue throughout the night in extended victory parties as Ugandans feel it’s their time to go!

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Is Uganda headed for French Revolution style of civil disobedience?

When the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man is mad! These words reverberate but are words proclaimed by a popular Kenyan playwright, Francis Imbuga, in his play—Betrayal in the City—in which he tells a scintillating account of a dictatorial regime ‘hell-bent’ to protect its corrupt ways by any means possible!

Roles attributed to different characters in Francis Imbuga’s play may represent different social cleavages but in so many ways seem reminiscent to what is happening in Uganda today. If a system starts falling and its leaders become detached from the reality, any positive criticism or call it advice is usually ignored like a passing fad.

Like many countries in Africa, Uganda is facing economic downturn with high unemployment, soaring fuel and commodity prices that have lent a torrent of suffering to many, thus leading to a group of mainly opposition-led politicians to orchestrate a march to express discontent not by guns, sticks or stones; but by mouths to talk and legs to walk in what has come to be known as—‘walk to work’ demonstrations!

These occurrences are not a repeat of history but a new phenomenon of civil disobedience, which those in power are failing to understand. Like the story of meeting soul force with physical force, those on the march have been beaten, forced into retreat and many, like in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., paying the price of creative suffering.

Casualties range from grueling images of an unfortunate woman whose intestines are flashed out to children wailing after canisters of teargas are fired into their compound to opposition leaders roughed up and many sustaining injuries in the process.

If this is the madness Uganda is experiencing, it is really unfortunate at a time when the country has just emerged out of the February 18 polls. The script being written is a script for every one to recapitulate where Uganda is headed to after years of self-actualization.

Question that should be pondered on is why a country that has been building democracy can’t allow freedom of expression and freedom of association? Answers may be many although most overriding is the paranoia after mass protests changed regimes in Tunisia and Egypt.

Years ago, in similar circumstances in 1789, France burst into flames over the arrogance of King Louis XVI, and his profligate wife, Queen Marie Antoinette. Their failure to listen to advisors about the plight of the people caused stringent economic situations that downgraded livelihoods and unsavory treatment of peasants by feudal lords and landlords.

Of course this is not in reference to any of our leaders but this is to draw comparisons of how a simple solvable situation can escalate into mass hysteria to an extent of threatening national security.

Historian argue that although no single factor is directly responsible for sparking the French Revolution, King Louis’s failure to judge the mood and aspirations of the common people could be the reason why France erupted.

Today Uganda is at the brink of disorder as images emerging out of it tell a story!

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Did we vote wisely to spend wisely!

Recovering from election fever feels like a new lease of life; while many are overly happy and others disgruntled and in all measure reeling with rage, current changes are affecting everybody whichever way they voted or did not vote!

We’ve seen this happen everywhere and every time; discussed and wondered why election fever comes and goes, and when we get back to normal, realize how zealous we’ve been about things we thought mattered yet in actual sense didn’t matter!

We lend in every effort, scrutinize tomes of posters, flyers and manifestos; and reach conclusion—at least in our hearts and minds—that since those we like would deliver on their part when elected to positions of responsibility, we vote for them!

During election time, shutting up about anything is almost and usually impossible. Every nook and cranny becomes abuzz with one legendary concern—entrust those with demonstrable will and power to fight for the change we deserve. This call usually amounts to nothing but–‘voting wisely’!

This electoral cliché or supposedly so, circulates everywhere although it isn’t easy to ascertain or even discern what ‘voting wisely’ really means. Instead, political hysteria is poured and even those you wouldn’t assume to be heretical about anything vow to fight or die for those they believed in!

But once presidential, parliamentary and local council elections are held and results are announced, grueling ways only return in earnest. In Uganda for example, Fuel prices as well as those of other commodities have instead soared. It is now that people begin to imagine whether the way they voted has anything to do with what is happening, as those that failed in their bid remind you–we told you so and those voted into power begin their usual lies of shifting blame.

Indeed, in a space of time the world has changed! Both Tunisian and Egyptian presidents are gone; Libya’s Gaddafi is under enormous pressure from western bombardment, as the whirlwind also continues to Arab Middle East.

In Uganda, not so many can survive beyond one dollar a day.  But one thing, if miracles really do happen, is how local Ugandans survive everyday and none of them is ready to grace streets, protesting the soaring commodity prices changing almost at every blink of an eye!

We’re talking about austerity times perhaps, where commodity prices can spark a revolution like it happened in Egypt and possibly Tunisia, but Ugandans can protest against anything else but not soaring food prices.

Yes, fuel for example that escalates prices of every other thing including sex, has had its price increase everyday with little chance of abating. Our trade unions that are supposed to check such economic excesses seem to have been pocketed by government because lately, they’re not taking a rant on any economic anomaly! Even when government wields a lot of power, since the levy on petroleum is very high, they can’t intervene to stabilise the situation to make ‘voters’ happy. Instead every occurrence is blamed on something else—credit crunch, pirates and now precarious situation in the Arab world!

What is interesting is that if blaming everything on the US dollar is not good enough, it is always tied with something else to keep fuel prices going because that is where government draws most of her revenue. Even when the US dollar declines against the local currency fuel prices can never go down, why?! Austerity times indeed!


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