Uganda National Housing Census 2014: Completed, Results Out but What Next?

The Uganda National Census has wrapped up. Or has it? Really not sure, but my household is a statistic for the next 10 – 20 years as a basis for planning. There are outcries of enumerators not reaching some areas, children answering questions for households and the general apprehension that the census exercise is just a waste of time.

Census information is a great help for national planning process, however in order for the statistics to be useful and relevant, it is important to continuously update and trend the statistics against existing circumstances.

The one disappointment that I find in the entire result is that the only statistic being reported is that there are 900,000 more females than males, but there is no breakdown or context or analysis of the number. What other statistics or data point can be derived from the numbers?

The question in my mind then is what else can be done to improve the process till the next census and how can technology be leveraged?

– Over the next 10 years regional data collection centers need to be setup to collect data trends over time to update the overall survey. This will leverage the national backbone infrastructure to provide a centralized location for data capture and hosting with localized analysis.

– Civic education for the population on why the information is being asked for, and what the importance is. I still wonder what the number of mobile phones, donkeys and wheelchairs as assets provide to the overall picture. The advertisement process should have been started over 6 months before the exercise, however it was barely noticeable that such an important activity was happening. TV and radio were used, but social media, SMS based options could have improved the coverage.

– All the questionnaires were coded, but the data entry still had to be done, with the advent of $150 tablets, couldn’t this process have been done electronically especially in the towns to cut down data entry errors? The tablets could have been setup to take GPS coordinates to ensure that the enumerators were not filling in the sheets while under trees (common survey issue) providing an opportunity to kickstart electronic data collection in Uganda

– Follow up on missed enumeration, using GPS coordinates overlaying satellite maps along with the white chalk reference numbers would ease the process of identifying and following up households that were missed during the enumeration.

Apart from technology, the following areas were not catered for:

– Enumeration data changes: what the basis for changing the data collected is, how the missing data will be extrapolated where need be, how the new data sets are going to support planning going forward

– Post-enumeration follow up surveys: to collect additional data to correlate the results of the census, as well as pick up localised data points such as transient populations (refugees, migrant workers, nomadic movements), local economic activities, which may not be important nationally.

– Local council authorities owning the census enumeration processes and results in their areas, and raising the bar by verifying the data that comes from their regions

Overall the 2014 census took place and the data is being released. However it is time to take learnings from this exercise and use them to put infrastructure and processes in place improve the next one.

Uganda Youth – Radical Change Needed

This cold February morning signaled the start of the rain season in Kampala, which after the blistering heat is a welcome change before the populace starts complaining about the floods, mud and wanton debris associated with rain storms.

That being said the morning was punctuated by an insightful article by Simon Kaheru titled “it’s no wonder some of these youths are unemployed”  where unemployed youths are exalting how they have no opportunities, but do not put skin in the game to actually work their way up the ladder.

The response from Mwine Edgar, An Open Letter to Simon Kaheru is a clear picture to the entitled nature that the new generation of youth have today, and their expectation for a silver spoon to be provided by the government and community.

Out of the blue was Paul Busharizi’s, The Unwholesome pressure we put our children under, which underpins the fact that the populace is pushing children through the education system into a white collar career yet there are alternate options.

Not all is doom and gloom, however there is need to change the orientation of the messages going out to the youth and their parents/guardians to set them up for success in the future:

  1. It is okay to have a blue collar job career – everybody in the country is targeting a white collar job, but that means you have to work and compete to get the job and keep it.
  2. Education is an enabler for a successful future and not the end all for life. While Bill Gates, Steve Jobs & Mark Zuckerberg did not complete their education, they are an exception rather than the rule.
  3. Wealth and riches require hard work, patience and time. Majority of the successful entrepreneurs that we admire have over 2 decades of working under their belts.
  4. You do not need alot to start your journey, start small and grow what you have, like the saying goes easy come – easy go.
  5. Get off your high horse and get a job, any job because that will give you the appreciation of what it takes to make money and keep it.

Your thoughts and additions are welcome …

Mobile Money will not die by 2020 but Evolve to Survive

Nicholas Kamazi has an interesting perspective in his article, 5 Reasons Mobile Money Is Going To Die By 2020, which I fundamentally disagree with. While he caters for challenges with Mobile Money (MM), he does not take into account who uses MM and why, which are the reasons for the pervasive nature. Rebutting each reason for the death of MM:

  1. Death of Feature phones:
    • Battery life: smartphones are no where near the battery life usage of feature phones, and in areas where there is little availability of electricity to charge the phones, this becomes a deal breaker
    • Cost: I do not see $35 dollar smartphones becoming that popular
    • Rugged: Feature phones can take alot of abuse, falls, drops, plus general wear and tear which current age smartphones cannot match
  2. Digital Currency: Africa in general and Uganda in particular, are cash economies. MM just allows people to move money from one place to another very quickly.
  3. Unnecessary Charges:
    • The cost of sending MM is usually less than transportation and time for moving to acutally deliver the money without the risk.
    • Most transactions are between UGX 50,000 to UGX 150,000 (US$20 to US$60) usually under urgent situations
    • Urgency of transfer – most transactions happen with a need for urgency for example school fees, social functions, emergencies of different nature. Which can happen at any time of day or night, until there is an option which is that flexible MM is here to stay
  4. Capital Investment:
    • MM is a defensive option for telecoms as their core business is getting eroded, and will evolve in order to remain relevant.
    • I do not see any startup having the size, and capabilities to compete with the telecoms in this market, Uganda in particular and Africa in general.
    • Even in Asia the agents are the key, however managing them is not an easy process so the incumbents will remain in play for the next 5-10 years.
  5. Business environment shift: the telecoms are here to stay, and MM will evolve along with the business environment.

Mobile Money is here to stay as it is:

  • Pervasive with 20,000+ agents and counting
  • With the telecoms opening up to 3rd parties for utility payments, diaspora remittances, merchant transactions
  • Rural-urban social dynamics which form the bulk of MM remittances within a country
  • Infrastructure challenges such as roads, railways which also provide a conducive environment for MM as an option for money transfer.

Your thoughts?

Utilities can Leverage Technology as a Competitive Edge

Utility companies are virtual monopolies in the sectors that they operate, however the stifling regulatory oversight coupled with fierce attacks from startup based innovation requires rethinking of how customers perceive and receive value.

Technology can provide a catalyst for utility companies to improve their service, defend their positions and develop new business models to remain relevant in the future.

read Utility Services can get a lot more smarter with these Technology hacks for more ….

The Telecom Wars in Uganda – Round 5 – 2015 and Beyond

The telecom wars in Uganda just got a new lease in life, however looking forward the next round will claim some casualties. Why do I call this Round 5?

  1. Round 1 – Oct 21, 1998: MTN comes into Uganda, after a monopoly by Celtel (now Airtel) where simcards fell to the equivalent of US$30 with a monthly service fee of $10
  2. Round 2 – 2007 to 2009: Warid and Orange launch in Uganda, the Value Added Service Provider (VAS) boom, thanks to James Oloo Onyango for pointing this out
  3. Round 3 – 2009 to 2012: Mobile Money wars
  4. Round 4 – 2013 and 2014: Airtel acquires Warid telecom, Smart Telecom & Vodafone join the fray, MTN launches voice bundles

At this point each of the telcom companies operating in Uganda have voice bundles, data and internet plans plus mobile money platforms. With international calling plans falling towards zero, currently even cheaper than local network calls, social media/VOIP/Messaging applications cannibalizing SMS revenues, the battle for survival is ever-fierce with the any mis-step proving fatal.

Looking into my crystal ball, the next round is going to be fought along the following avenues:

  1. Mobile Money Partnerships – with banks, utilities, and other commercial players to entrench mobile money transfer deeper into the economics of the country.
  2. Service Partnerships – can be seen around data & internet services, so that the telecos are not reduced to dumb pipes. The agricultural, health and education sectors will see a new push for value added services via SMS in order to keep the users captive on a specific network.
  3. Personalized Bundles – combined voice, data and SMS bundles are not yet the rage, but they will gain prominence
  4. Family Bundles – with families having more than one phone, I see a push towards shared bundles to reduce the costs of new customer acquisition & increasing opportunity cost of switching. The impact of this tactic will be further complicated by the multi-sim phones that most consumers have.
  5. Smart device leasing plans – one I have called for, complicated by lack of a national ID, but I see success for whoever nails a working version of business model first.
  6. Business Customers: Majority of the telecom usage is personal, however business customers provide an interesting selling point with a knock on effect for smart devices, family or business plans and shared bundles. Most users are forced to use a service or network convenient to the bread winner or trend setter.
  7. Quality of Service: after all that is said and done, when the costs are almost at par, the quality of service for a specific provider will become a critical deciding factor both for business and personal use.

With all this opportunity also comes great peril, from the following:

  1. Niche players – ISPs for Internet and data as the capabilities for deploying metro-wide WIFI accelerate, informal money transfer services especially under Islamic banking
  2. Regulatory pitfalls and taxes – the impact of the recent 10% excise duty on mobile money fees is yet to be assessed
  3. Mobile Virtual Network Operators – are they friend or are they foe? Partner or competition if running atop of your infrastructure?
  4. Market saturation with falling revenues per customer – the telcos need to innovate to stay atop of the fast moving market that is to render them dumb pipes and their services commodity
  5. Number Portability – when this comes, it will disrupt the players as it abstracts the underlying providers.

How do you see the telecoms responding to these threats, please share in the comments below ….

UPDATE: Round 2 includes VAS providers who saw exponential growth in revenues at this time using SMS based solutions

Agriculture in Uganda – Where Next?

On this eve of the 52nd Independence anniversary of the Republic of Uganda, I look at the future of my motherland and wonder where the one big boost will come from.

Over the last 2 years my eyes have been opened to the potential for agriculture to improve the livelihoods of Ugandans in particular, Africa in general and emerging economies or Global south in general. While its well accepted in all circles that this is the case, there are a few key areas where emphasis is not placed which I see as critical success factors, and others which are not.

Markets (important): James Wire poses an interesting question, COMESA vs EU: What market for Uganda’s products?  Due to the infrastructure challenges that we face in Uganda, the country cannot compete favorably without economies of scale (important) and agriculture as a business attitude (important) While it is important to look externally, without a strong local foundation for best practices and support, external markets still remain a pipe dream

Economies of Scale (important): These provide means of leveraging the abundant fertile land, predictable rain fall (yes 4 months a year is good enough), cheap labor (if you can use it) to improve the profitability of agribusiness. Why do I focus on profitability and not cost reduction, this is because the costs can only come down to a certain point which is not low enough to compete with other countries. Unfortunately a lot of donor based programs supporting agriculture focus on small holder farmers, who will never produce enough to feed the nation, or even export

Agriculture as a business attitude (important): The bulk of agriculture productions by the elderly and rural folk without options whose only take on agriculture to survive by meeting only their basic needs. This means that there is a shortage of innovation in business models. record keeping and core practices to ensure that agriculture is profitable in the small, leading to increased investments and focus. On the other hand, there is a growing segment of the middle class who are looking to agriculture to compliment income from formal employment, however this suffered from being relegated to a side activity without the focus needed to make it successful.

Government buy-in and support (not-important): I know I am going to get shot for this one, but there is no role for government to play over and above providing basic infrastructure, and like in Uganda policies are already available. If there is sufficient evidence that agriculture as a business is profitable, private sector has always found ways of staying ahead of government.

Focus Production Areas (important): Agriculture focused on feeding the nation is the most profitable, given that there is always a ready market for produce, within the population. Hence my thinking is to focus on staples and livestock as a core foundation for the industry in Uganda.

Infrastructure (important): Transport is especially important for getting produce to markets, however if a business approach is taken, aspects like post harvest handling and storage can provide a mitigating element to infrastructure challenges

Financing (important): I say bankers are shrewd business people, show them potential and they will flock to it like bees to honey. Its not up to bankers to prove that farmers are good clients, but rather for farmers to prove to bankers that they are worthwhile investments.

Women’s Day Reflections 2014 Version

Today March 8, 2014, International Women’s day, a day of celebration but most of all reflection on the role of women in our lives continuing from Who is a “True African” Woman?

On internal reflection, I accept that I have been blessed to meet many a strong woman in my life to-date, who have unwittingly, unknowingly influenced my life at specific inflexion points leaving me with no choice but to abide & achieve so as not to disappoint them.

When growing up, my mother of course was there, kind and unflinching, but tough in her own way tag teaming us with my maternal grandmother, a Reverand’s wife who gave her life to the Lord at 10, married at 14, had her first child at 24 (10 years later like Sarah), but who left this earth in 1996 the year she celebrated 60 years of marriage. My mother is a multi-faceted iron willed lady whose decisions are based in principle, and who ran a household with 10 kids at one time, all who were well fed and wet to school. Even up to-today, I still wonder how she managed to achieve what she did.

In Buganda, the sisters of my father, Ssenga, have the responsibility of grooming the boys, teaching them how to survive the treacherous pathways of life. Mine is special in that we are friends, colleagues, co-conspirators, partners in crime.

I always wanted to have lots of elder sisters so that they would dote on me, but having younger ones gives you a different perspective as a big brother. They are grown and provide counsel from their viewpoint of things which I appreciate and always take into account.

Professionally, I have to say that by far-and-large worked with some of most impressive women in all circles; starting from my first manager who while non-technical helped feed the flames of my technology curiosity, through colleagues that I recruited & mentored in the software shop that I practiced & horned my craft, via my NGO experience program director, through my former General Manager pair not forgetting my current regional manager who spurs me along day-to-day to scale greater heights. I will not forget those ladies I interact and work at clients & in the local and global tech community.

This post would not be complete without mentioning my friends whom I have met in my journey through life outside work and family. They totally prove the adage, educate a woman educate a nation each in their own unique way.

Obviously in closing there is my dear wife, who by and large is an extension of me creating a larger than life persona, tag-team, as we attempt to raise a family in the modern era while striving to preserve values in which we are brought up in.

A special thanks & best wishes to all the mothers out there, starting with my own (but of course), keep up the good fight because those you fight for appreciate even if we do not get the chance to tell you everyday.

To all those women who are out there, I wish you the best today, and every other day in the year, for you are the blood and spirit with which the world flows.

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