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  • Writer's pictureTimothy Laku

What is the role of Policy in driving Digital Transformation?

As part of an ongoing series of conversations with Digital Business Leaders, I was honored to meet with Marcus Kwikiriza, who is the General Manager at NXT Radio. We talked Policy, Advocacy, NXT Radio App, and the fresh Visual-Audio Concept.

Timothy and Marcus at the NXT Radio offices in Kampala
If you were to speak to the policy makers, what are the three things you would like to tell them? Things that would make your work easier and allow for the audiences of NXT Radio to better experience the visual-audio concept that you are pioneering in Uganda.

In Uganda in particular, as you know, we have a very heavy subsistence farming focus, also because 70% of the population lives off subsistence farming.

Because of that background the President, naturally, will put more of his focus on anything mostly agricultural based. If you were to talk to him and say, access to the internet is going to cost you 2 billion or giving farmers 28,000 trucks is going to cost you more, he will go for the trucks. He will not touch the internet. But it’s because that’s where 70% of his constituent is.

Where, of course, we have challenges, is that, whether we remain in subsistence farming or not the rest of the world is moving on. I think it’s important to understanding our challenges as a country not forgetting where the rest of the world is moving, because we must get there.

Whether we like it or not the 4th Industrial Revolution is here, we can’t avoid it. So, I would ask, without asking him to take away whatever his plan is, to put a slightly more focus on not being left behind, and that is being part of this 4th Industrial Revolution.

Kampala has the majority of internet access and use. Uganda’s GDP is being controlled by Kampala. If we can find a way to increase our GDP by increasing our internet access, and by lowering internet cost, then it’s a win-win. There is no loss at all whatsoever.

First, should be to understand that 4th Industrial Revolution is happening, and then we work on the how. Second, I would ask for access to the internet - countrywide accessibility for starters. Third, would be lowering the cost of internet.

The understanding is the first thing. It’s like, look, we can’t avoid the 4th Industrial Revolution, it’s here. Let’s embrace it without removing our plans for the people in the villages and rural areas.

These people in Kampala are the ones who control our GDP. What are the things they need? They need access to the internet! At what cost? At cost X! Let’s give it to them and we move on.

I guarantee you that even at the lower cost - the monies he will see flowing into the economy - he will not even believe it.

From where I’m standing, as someone who has been in the technology space for a long time, it feels like our voices are not front and center of the conversation during policy formulation. There seems to be no voice on technology sitting right there at the policy table, having a conversation with everyone at the policy level. What’s your take?

I think the voice is there.

I think it’s an issue of opportunity cost for the powers that make the decisions.

They are like "Yes, we hear you on your ICT plans" - and with everything that NITA is trying to do with regards to getting our issues out there.

However, the people who make the decisions, when they are weighing their issues of concern they are like "Yes we hear you but we have bigger challenges because we are not going to sell internet to a guy in Kaberamaido. The other guy wants potatoes, he wants good land, and he wants rain. He wants to be able to grow those potatoes even when it doesn’t rain. Those guys are more than you and your internet and your money. You can find a way to make money with the little internet you have - we know you can. The other guy, him, he is screwed if we don’t give him irrigation methods."

It’s not that the voice is not there, it’s just that for now, it’s sort of hitting a dead end. That is because of our challenges as a third world country.

If you know anything about our president, he is one person who wants to please everybody. He will start with the people who need him the most. In his mind, it is the people in the rural areas.

What were your key takeaways from Africa Now '19 Summit?

What I liked about AfricaNow19, is that the SME sector in Uganda is what will take us out of poverty. Uganda has the most startups in Africa. Unfortunately, 60% of SMEs don’t see their 3rd birthday.

I was looking at a statistic the other day with people from Stanbic Bank, and they said if every SME grew by 40%, and if they could find a way to keep growing by 20% to 30%, then that means they would employ up to 3 or 4 people each. We are talking 160,000 SMEs. If each of them employed 3 people, then our unemployment problem is solved in Uganda - completely wiped away.

Now, each one of those SMEs is going to need the internet.

That means more internet usage, Telcos make more money on data subscriptions, and they pay more taxes. It comes back. But you have to make a deliberate decision to look at it from that angle. It’s a strategic mind shift.

These SMEs could solve the unemployment problem, which solves the security problem, which solves the street kids’ problem. It solves so many problems.

Seems like we are pursuing the wrong strategy. If we could just focus on the SMEs, we could solve most of the issues in this country. What do you think would be the best way to address this disconnect?

Conferences like AfricaNow19 do an excellent job. I like the fact that it was very well attended.

The president was there throughout answering questions, even in Q&A, which means he understands that this generation, this so called "elite“" generation, which ideally he doesn’t pay attention to because he figures "Y’all have made it, Y’all are gonna be fine, I got bigger problems to deal with"

But the fact that he was there shows that we are actually able to put these solutions into his thinking space.

Now, the next course of action would be how we then move away from the conference to actually his desk. That would be the win-win for us.

How do we go from the AfricaNow19 conference to the President’s desk? I feel like answering this question is our silver bullet. How do we do this?

Personally, I don’t think that we have a bad ICT Minister. I like the fact that he is tech survey himself. He is always on social media. He understands the game of ICT and where it’s going.

I think we just need to find a way to feed him more information to be able to take that to the powers that be. Give him everything he needs ammunition wise, data, statistics, numbers – everything that he requires for us to be able to make a solid case, on us moving our paradigm shift, to focus on this as part of the national goal.

If we had an ongoing forum that engaged the ICT Minister, would that shorten that distance between our technology community and the Minister’s office?

Yes, it would bring us closer to him. If he attends and that he commits to be part of it - that he is part of the discussions and that he is part of the solution making - I think it would get us closer to this goal.



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