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Govt has developed capacity to tackle all cyber security issues – PS Zawedde

Dr Aminah Zawedde

Dr Aminah Zawedde

In an increasingly digitalised world, the ICT sector is taking centre stage in enabling Uganda’s socioeconomic growth and, therefore, the ministry of ICT and National Guidance is making deliberate efforts to grow the sector.

DR AMINAH ZAWEDDE, the permanent secretary of the ministry, talked to Ernest Jjingo about policy decisions and investments being undertaken in the sector.

Could you briefly tell us about the Digital Transformation Roadmap which was launched last year?

Uganda launched its Digital Transformation Roadmap in August 2023 as an implementation tool aimed at speeding up the country’s digital revolution. The roadmap that spans a period of five years (FY2023/24 - 2027/28) spells out key enablers aimed at actualizing aspirations embedded in the Digital Uganda Vision.

These include attaining 90 per cent household connectivity; 90 per cent broadband coverage by geography; and 90 per cent citizens accessing e-services online, among others, by 2040. This roadmap clearly outlines a comprehensive implementation plan to realize its vision and objectives.

These objectives include enhancing digital infrastructure and connectivity; promoting digital services; fostering innovation and entrepreneurship; empowering digital skills and literacy; and promoting cyber security, data protection and privacy in order to guide Uganda’s digital transformation agenda.

Even though Uganda has made significant progress in developing the legal and regulatory environment for digital transformation, developing e-services and improving cyber security, more efforts to improve the digital landscape are still required. These include integration of e-services, expansion of ICT infrastructure, acceleration of digital skilling, reduction of internet costs, increased innovation and the application of emerging technologies.

What is the current digital landscape in the country?

Uganda’s consumption of data/internet has increased significantly. There has been a 51 per cent increase in internet traffic from 91.4m GBs in 2022 to 138.5m GBs in 2023. This means Ugandans have integrated internet into their lifestyles. Internet penetration is at 64.4 percent, as of December 31, 2023.

Mobile phone subscriptions are now at 34.3 million while Internet subscriptions are at 27 million. There are currently 37.3 million mobile money accounts, and of these, 26 million accounts are active. This shows the utility of digital payments. The value of the transactions on mobile money is at an incredible Shs 54.5 trillion. This value of transactions surpasses by far that of over 100 years traditional banking. For context, mobile money started in 2009.

Government has identified informational technology as a big driver of development. What is Uganda doing to meaningfully realize the benefits that ICT has the potential to deliver?

Aware of the immense benefits that the country can actualize from ICT, we curated our country’s first Digital Transformation Roadmap. The roadmap aims to leverage digital technology as an equalizing force between rural and urban citizens.

With a strong focus on inclusivity and empowerment, the roadmap bridges the digital divide that has historically hindered opportunities for marginalized communities. By embracing the potential of digital technology, Uganda aims to empower individuals, businesses and communities to participate fully in the digital economy, and access essential services to improve livelihoods.

The Digital Transformation Roadmap defines a holistic approach towards achieving a technology-driven economic transformation for the next five years. In the roadmap, we have identified five key interconnected pillars that we believe shall lead us to the transformation we seek and desire.

These include: (i) Digital infrastructure, which is critical in ensuring communication amongst people and services. This infrastructure benefits both the private and public sectors. (ii) Digital services which are necessary if we are to improve efficiency and offer better services across government and businesses but also optimally utilize the digital infrastructure we build.

(iii) Cyber security, which is necessary because we move the citizens’ data and information through digital channels and, therefore, we must protect that information to avoid misuse.

Another pillar is (iv) digital skilling. Our citizenry cannot consume the digital services we develop if they are not digitally literate and skilled. And the last pillar is (v) innovations and entrepreneurship. For any ecosystem to be sustainable, it must evolve and renew itself as the environment changes. This is where innovation and entrepreneurship become important.

We need to have other products developed on top of the services and data generated by the government to build a commercially viable digital ecosystem. To ensure unity of purpose across Government, I am happy to share that H.E the Vice President, Jessica Alupo directed that our new national development plan, NDP IV, includes all aspects of this roadmap.

Youth at the National ICT Innovation Hub, Nakawa
Youth at the National ICT Innovation Hub, Nakawa

What sectors are you focusing on?

Youth Employment through business process outsourcing (BPO); Digital Public Services in agriculture, education and trade; Human Development; Digital Skilling; Health; Tourism; and Climate Change.

What are some of the challenges still facing the ICT sector in Uganda?

Whilst the challenges exist, the good news is that our Digital Transformation Roadmap guides how we as government, private sector and development partners are addressing these challenges. These are some of the challenges and the key interventions:

Limited infrastructure, particularly in some rural areas where connectivity is still low. We are expanding the coverage of the Government ICT fibre across the country. Additionally, we have set inclusive-specific connectivity performance targets for the telecom companies in their licenses. We are ensuring that all our towns across Uganda are on 4G internet, with good speeds.

In areas that might not be commercially viable for the telecoms, Government is working with development partners to ensure connectivity. We shall provide the connectivity and invite the telecoms to provide services.

Cost of internet. We are aware that in the region, our data prices rank high. We are in discussions with our counterparts at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to reconsider the taxes on mobile phones, other internet devices and online products. We are jointly assessing the beneficial ripple effect of heightened ICT usage, which subsequently boosts taxable revenue. In essence, by eliminating taxes, we can stimulate the adoption of digital services that are in turn taxable.

Another challenge is the digital divide, with disparities in access, skills and usage between urban and rural areas. We are actively working on bridging this divide through our digital literacy programs.

Cyber security threats are also a concern. As technology advances, so do the risks associated with cyber-attacks and data breaches. The Government is continuously strengthening our cybersecurity capacities and frameworks to protect the privacy and security of citizens’ data.

ICT has become a big enabler of financial services, but also created the problem of hacking and online fraud. As a country, how prepared are you for cyber-crime?

Combating cybercrime in Uganda, especially when ICT has become a major enabler of financial services, requires a multi-faceted approach, and we have put in place stringent measures to address this.

Legislative framework: We have established stringent cybercrime laws that clearly define various types of cybercrimes, penalties and enforcement mechanisms. This provides a legal foundation for prosecuting offenders.

Public-private partnerships: We have an active collaboration with businesses, especially those in the ICT and financial sectors, to share threat intelligence, best practices and resources.

Investment in infrastructure: We have set up state-of-the-art cybersecurity infrastructure, such as advanced firewalls, intrusion detection systems and secure data centers in the sector. Our Government entities are able to provide services to citizens securely.

Human capital development: We continue to invest in cybersecurity education and training. We are also working with universities to offer cybersecurity programmes and provide training for law enforcement personnel.

Regular audits: We have now made it mandatory to have periodic cybersecurity audits for critical infrastructure and financial institutions. This ensures that security protocols are up-to-date and effective. Incident response teams: We have formed two specialized teams in the sector trained to respond to cyber threats quickly and efficiently. Their function would be to contain the threat, minimize damage, and gather evidence for prosecution.

International collaboration: We continue to engage with other countries to share intelligence, best practices, and collaborate on investigations. Cybercrime often transcends borders, making international cooperation crucial.

Research and development: We are investing in R&D to develop indigenous cybersecurity solutions and to stay ahead of cybercriminals.
Backup systems: The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance ensures that critical data across the country, especially in the financial sector, is backed up in secure environments. This minimizes the impact of ransom ware attacks and data breaches.

Regular update policies: The cyber landscape is dynamic. We regularly update cybersecurity policies to reflect the latest threats and technologies.

Students at the Soroti University ICT Innovation Hub
Students at the Soroti University ICT Innovation Hub

Do we have enough laws and policies to counter cybercrime?

Yes. We have the best laws in the region. It is, however, we not being intentional about implementing the enabling regulations. We have ensured that the regulations we have implemented are catalytic to grow innovation. Our laws and regulations are agile, iterative, and collaborative.

As government, we continue to ensure that all cyber laws and related regulations are efficiently administered so as to improve businesses and industries, and importantly grow the innovation industry.

These laws include; the Data Protection and Privacy Act, the Electronic Transactions Act, 2011, the Electronic Signatures Act, 2011, the Computer Misuse Act, 2011, the Uganda Communications Commission Act, 2013, the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (RICA), the Copyright Act and the Access to Information Act, 2005.

The youth are the biggest users and innovators of ICT solutions; any special programmes tailored out for them?

The Ministry of ICT is committed to supporting Ugandan youth through strategic initiatives such as Business Process Out-sourcing (BPO) and our National Skilling Programme. We aim to equip our youth with the skills they need for today and the future, emphasizing digital skilling.

Our National BPO Policy is a significant step in this direction. This policy aims to harness ICT-enabled innovative solutions to optimize labour utilization, enhance efficiency and promote the BPO industry for sustainable development. In pursuing the development of this policy, we aspire to create employment opportunities, increase workplace efficiency, and tap into the global Information Technology Enabled Services (ITES) outsourcing business by 2040.

The global BPO industry was valued at $163 billion in 2020 and is projected to reach $183 billion by 2023. This sector provides employment opportunities and has contributed to the growth of economies in developing countries. In the coming years, emerging subsectors such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, and machine learning will present even more opportunities within the BPO sector.

The great news is that our National BPO Policy is ready for discussion and guidance by our valued Cabinet. This National BPO Policy was developed by the National BPO and Innovation Council, headed by Prof William Bazeyo. This special council brings together experts from the Government, the private sector and the academia.

jjingoernest1@gmail.com

Comments

0 #1 Kidepwe 2024-05-27 10:52
And so, you really want us to believe you?? That you are on top of matters concerning cyber security?

Yet, you have failed to fix the roads, or to facilitate hospitals and schools with the basics?
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