The Future Of Digital Connectivity

Tricia G. Nabaye

What you need to know:

Internet users in Uganda should be fully empowered to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms

According to the Digital 2022 Global Overview Report, Uganda had Internet connectivity of 13.92 million Internet users in January 2022 and an Internet penetration rate that stood at 29.1 per cent of the total population at the start of 2022.

Digital infrastructure has developed significantly across Africa. Digital connectivity has become a key part of achieving many human rights, from education, health and access to information, among other rights.  “The more recent leaps in fintech, e-commerce, mobile payments and digital media consumption are evidence of a rapidly growing digital economy, and the impact is seen to transform everything from elections to agriculture, creating bigger market opportunities and attracting investments to the region.”

As we continue to push for digital migration and an increase in connectivity within Uganda, affordability should be central to the digital shift. The increase in the adoption of mobile phones and other digital infrastructure is not achievable without connectivity and increased accessibility.

According to Kepios, analysis indicates that internet users in Uganda increased by 1.8 million (+15.1 per cent) between 2021 and 2022. The Covid-19 pandemic expedited the digitalisation process in Uganda, and this has increased the amount of information available, which makes the control of data more complicated, if possible, at all. The widespread availability of free information has increased concern of no common understanding of the rules that should internationally govern the Internet, and this is a potential pitfall in access and use of the Internet in our digital shift.

The future of our digital migration requires that we adopt not only affordable devices and the Internet but that we push for etiquette. The influx of abuse of the Internet requires that regulation looks at curtailing abuse online and as well provide cyber norms that provide for Internet governance for Ugandans as a collective.

New technologies are radically reshaping the digital landscape, traditional regulatory assumptions have been called into question and, in many cases, existing rules have become counterproductive. Governmental regulation has proved to be inefficient in sustaining free speech-friendly methods in regulating social media platforms. The government has the responsibility of drafting and implementing international Internet-related public policies. In other words, we cannot continue to arrest dissidents who call out government officials online. We need to deal with the threat of fear that continues to cause self-censorship among Internet users in Uganda because the powers-that-be have created laws to protect themselves.

Internet users in Uganda should be fully empowered to exercise their fundamental rights and freedoms and be able to make informed decisions and participate in the development of a digitally friendly future.

Internet and usability knowledge will leverage our experiences in the digital migration for the future. Beyond having computer studies as a taught subject, we need to have a continued and sustained refresher on the use of digital platforms and infrastructure. Access and affordability do not make viable sense if it is not coupled with increased awareness and knowledge on how to use and navigate these spaces.

In conclusion, we cannot go back post-pandemic in our use of the digital platform and infrastructure, our commitment as a country should be to pushing for nationwide connectivity, Internet affordability and ease of access to digital infrastructure. Internet is a basic right and that requires us to provide all the entities around Internet connectivity so that no one is left behind in our digital future.

Ms Tricia Gloria Nabaye is a resident research associate, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies.