What you need to know:
- In an Op-Ed piece this past week, Dr Emily C. Maractho, the director of the Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University, shared that there were times when it seemed like Ms Kaggwa accomplished little.
After holding the forte as executive director (ED) of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for five years, Ms Irene Kaggwa this past week returned to her substantive role as the director of engineering and communication technology at the government regulatory body of the communications sector.
In an Op-Ed piece this past week, Dr Emily C. Maractho, the director of the Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University, shared that there were times when it seemed like Ms Kaggwa accomplished little.
This was because of the less industry drama like shutting down and suspension of industry players like other regulators do. But Dr Maractho added that Ms Kaggwa had “mastered the use of what we know as soft skills and made a difference at UCC …Her soft skills, for an engineer, were remarkable.”
In an interview with Sunday Monitor, Ms Kaggwa confirmed that she applied for the ED position when it was advertised in September.
Despite losing out to Mr George William Thembo, Ms Kaggwa is appreciative that she was given the chance to lead the institution. She is also glad that managing two offices simultaneously did not take a toll on her.
Local artistry on world stage
One of the pivotal discussions centres around the global scramble for content, a phenomenon witnessed on both international and local streaming platforms. Ms Kaggwa shed light on the avenues available for Ugandan content creators to reach global audiences.
International streaming platforms like Netflix, she explains, have interest to acquire local content through various models—purchasing, commissioning, or collaboration.
She adds that it’s an advantage now that local creators have greatly improved their content ever since UCC established a local content quota of 70 percent in primetime (6pm to 11pm) for mainstream media.
The broadcasting policy defines local content as “content produced under Uganda’s creative control that recognises the cultural and linguistic diversity of Uganda and carries themes of relevance to the local audience.”
“Local content creators speak about our stories and it becomes relatable and captivating. And as UCC we have been focusing on that. We addressed the supply side, because we realised that a whole value chain had to be addressed—script writing, production, and distribution,” she says, adding that UCC trains these industry players on this using the world’s best art industry experts. Over time, a lot of Ugandan creators have wondered how their movies can feature on international streaming platforms like Netflix, Apple TV, Disney, Max, among others.
The first local film to appear on Netflix, the world’s largest streaming platform with over 250 subscribers, was The Girl in the Yellow Jumper, the 2009 Ugandan film directed by local filmmaker Loukman Ali. The aforementioned film went on Netflix in 2021.
According to Ms Kaggwa, local content creators should be optimistic because there is a high demand for content right now as the world becomes more digitalised.
“Most streaming firms in the developed world are actively seeking for new content due to a shortage,” she says, adding: “There is a risk, however, of cultural appropriation as they might reshape local narratives to fit their sovereign context.”
She reveals that “what most of these platforms (Netflix, Apple tv, Max and others) do is buy your content, which you already produced and everything or buy the rights to broadcast it.” Alternatively, “they can also pay you to do it or they might also do it themselves.” The challenge is “accessing them because not all these platforms are everywhere, but they are actually scouting for content everywhere.”
Sim card registration
Our discussion turns to the divisive topic of Sim card registration in early November and the recent blocking of one-third of Uganda’s 46 million Sim cards. This is thought to be the regulator’s reaction to the increasing amount of mobile fraud. But Ms Kaggwa clarifies that the UCC’s goal extends beyond countering fraud; “it’s about securing telecommunication services.”
“Technology is a double edged sword. When a new one emerges, some people are looking to put loopholes in it,” she says, adding that people should be cautious when leaving their personal data in public places because fraudsters are fond of using this data to follow their transactions and locations.
Despite public outcry, Ms Kaggwa defends the UCC’s decision, noting that this reflects the commission’s commitment to staying ahead of emerging threats in the digital realm that exploit the vulnerabilities of the system.
The action, she explains, evolved from the introduction of the Registration of Persons Act in 2015 to the incorporation of fingerprint verification in 2018.
“This Sim card registration started way back when people were using phones to detonate bombs because people were abusing technology. Bad people used to kidnap and demand ransom from people,” she says.
Now, the public has until February to register their Sim cards in order to get their blocked Sim cards unblocked.
Soon we are into Uganda’s digital firmament. There is a lot of hype surrounding the entry of SpaceX’s satellite Internet service, Starlink, into Africa in 2022. Starlink works by deploying a network of satellites that communicate with ground stations and user terminals. The novelty has started to wane in the six markets into which it has so far made forays—Nigeria, Rwanda, Malawi, Kenya, Mozambique, and Zambia.
Two key concerns that will ultimately determine Starlink’s success in Africa and influence modifications to its go-to-market strategy are pricing and regulation, which are progressively tamping down the excitement surrounding the company’s entry into the continent.
Regarding speed, particularly when compared to current mobile offerings (aside from 5G), other conversations concerning Starlink’s services and suitability for Africa have largely reached the conclusion that Starlink is generally faster than what is readily available.
It is also already generally acknowledged that Starlink offers excellent coverage, both in urban and rural areas. These user terminals, which look like small dishes, communicate with satellites and provide Internet access to homes, businesses, and institutions.
Interest in Uganda
Ms Kaggwa reveals that Starlink has shown potential interest in Uganda, but it hasn’t officially applied.
In the event that the deal goes through, the UCC has actively worked on a framework to ease this transition to go beyond traditional telecoms.
“We are finalising the consultation process with global peers, and Starlink is one of them. And when it’s adopted, we shall be ready to receive applications,” she says.
Ms Kaggwa’s discussion on satellite technology underscores the need for Uganda to embrace innovative solutions to meet the growing demand for reliable and high-speed Internet.
Airtel, MTN licence disparity
In June 2020, the MTN Group disclosed the renewal of its subsidiary’s second National Operator’s licence, MTN Uganda, which cost it $100m (Shs379.3b) for 12 years. But according to the company’s 2021 disclosures, Airtel Uganda only paid $74.6m (Shs282.9b) for the same licence.
Whispers began to circulate within the industry that Airtel had received preferential treatment over MTN during this process for undisclosed reasons. But UCC says the story is different.
Ms Kaggwa attributes the differences in licence amounts to renewal terms, market dynamics, regulatory changes and the shift from a protectionist stance to a more competitive environment.
As an inducement when MTN first entered the market and the then Uganda Telecom Ltd were shielded from competition for five years. In 2006, the government opened up the market to competition and established a licence for public service providers.However, MTN’s 20-year licence was still valid, as the business began operations in 1998. “So when it renewed its licence, it was given the second national telecom operator (NTO) licence. But Airtel Uganda started as Celtel with a mobile cellular licence,” Ms Kaggwa says.
The mobile cellular licence was for mobile telephone only whereas the NTO licence was for the full spectrum of telecommunications services and other telecom infrastructure. “As per regulations, the renewal is based on a percentage of the revenue and that is how the 100 came in,” she adds.