Archive for the ‘current affairs’ Category

Bringing Security to the heart of Uganda Consumer Applications 

A very welcome addition to Uganda technology scene are the multiple consumer facing apps, from banks, to telecommunication companies to support mobile money services, to parastatals getting closer to their customers. The newest apps that I am aware of include (in no particular order):
  1. Airtel Money
  2. My MTN
  3. NWSC Mobile
  4. NSSF Go
  5. Stanbic Bank Mobile Banking
  6. DFCU Mobile Banking
  7. Bank of Africa Mobile Wallet (BMW)
  8. Ask URA
On one hand, this is a very welcome addition to address the increasing sophistication of the Ugandan urban consumer who demands more from the corporations. However a worrying trend which needs to be addressed is the security of these applications, in collecting and managing user information. I have taken to social media to ask for more information on the security setup for these apps, but have never gotten a response.
This is hoping to the regulators, Bank of Uganda, Uganda Communications Commission and NITAU (at the moment) to provide a united front to ensure that the following areas are addressed:
  1. Excess permissions, one app wanted to access my contacts, SMS messages, WIFI, phone identity yet was not a banking app
  2. Encryption of data stored on the phone to ensure that if the phone is separated from the owner the data is safe
  3. Secure connections for communication with external servers – via HTTPS and SSL
  4. Security audits of back end infrastructure following ISO and COBIT standards (http://www.isaca.org/Journal/archives/2002/Volume-6/Pages/A-Survey-of-Application-Security-in-Current-International-Standards.aspx)
  5. Penetration, stress and load testing to ensure that aside from
  6. Software development practices that include OWASP top 10 Proactive Controls for software developers https://www.owasp.org/index.php/OWASP_Proactive_Controls
What else do you see being done to improve the security of our consumer facing applications
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Future of Software Development Industry In Uganda – 2015 Edition

These are my thoughts on the future of the software development industry in Uganda, after the official announcement of ThoughtWorks closure of the Kampala office (http://info.thoughtworks.com/Kampala-office.html).

I would like to approach this first of all by analyzing the contribution of ThoughtWorks to the Ugandan technology space, then what I see the future as.

ThoughtWorks contribution in two aspects – showing that its possible to run a pure-play software development business operation out of Kampala using Ugandan based talent, and the second providing an injection of new DNA into the local technology community. The exposure to international level processes, practices and projects have helped grow the experience of the local software development talent.

Local communities have been started & supported, included but not limited to Agile Uganda, Geek Night, Girl Geek Dinners (yay! Women in Tech), Rails Girls and Ruby Fridays. The OpenMRS community run a number of events to help grow its reach, while the Technology Radar discussions provided a continuous look into the present and future of computing. The contributions leave the local technology space different from three years ago.

What does the future look like? A tough question, and my answer is biased by over 15 years experience writing software in Uganda, my overbearing optimism, and my newly rekindled foray back into software development.

The future is bright, but can only be harnessed if the business and technology communities work hand in hand to grow the local technology capability. In this, a concerted effort to build a local technology practice with buyers pushing for a local component on all contracts leveraging open source. A good example is the Ministry of Health selection of OpenMRS (http://openmrs.org) as the EMR of choice for electronic medical records throughout the country with aggregate reporting done in DHIS2. There are lots of opportunities in leveraging technology in the agriculture and education sectors which remain new frontiers to be conquered.

I would further call upon the government entities and parastatals KCCA, URA, UMEME, NWSC to leverage OpenData approaches to provide the infrastructure for young innovators to build and monetize customer centric products and services.

Like Ghandi said, be the change you want to be in the world in this case “Coding in Uganda, for Ugandans, by Ugandans”.

Gakyali Mabaga (it is just the beginning)

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 …

Saying Farewell to Madiba outside Houghton Estate, Johannesburg

The world is awash in grief and sorrow over the death of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. I had the opportunity to go to his home in Houghton, Johannesburg along with other mourners. There was a lot of media coverage and people from all walks of life, even from all parts of the world. While there is a general melancholy all over the country due to his passing, there is also an air of celebration of his life and what he stood for.

My little eye caught a few sights and sounds ….

Local wrapper

Local wrapper

Traditional Wear

Traditional Wear

Full view all decked out

Full view all decked out

Candles, cards and flowers outside the home

Candles, cards and flowers outside the home

Vehicle fully decked out in ANC colors

Vehicle fully decked out in ANC colors

Hare Krishna Tribute

Hare Krishna Tribute

Many people came to pay their respects

Many people came to pay their respects

A Final Prayer

May Madiba’s soul rest in eternal peace, and may the merciful Lord give his family & friends strength to go through this trying time and all of us the wisdom to learn from the path he walked.

Amen

Uganda Simcard Registration – Alternate Approach

By now all of you know that the mandatory simcard registration by Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has gone naught, died a natural death like most Ugandan projects, a white elephant dead on conception. Sam Agona (http://www.samagona.org/?p=14) hit on the nail why UCC could not enforce its threat.

The approach I am proposing has the following strategic objectives:

  • Simplifying the process for the customer not the telecom providers
  • Centralized registration for telcos while segregating the data for each telco (Do I smell Number Portability ahead)
  • The minimum registration information for each telco is the same while allowing for each  telco to collect more data as may be required

The high-level architecture is as follows:

  • The telcos form a joint venture to manage the centralized registration system to keep it away from government to cater for privacy concerns, which can be mandated by the regulator or paid for from telco contributions to the regulator development fund 
  • Each telco pays based on the number of simcards registered – they are already paying agents a commission to register users anyway
  • The data for the subscribers for each telco are segreagated from each other but a user can access their registration information across the different telcos (technically this is no-longer a deal breaker)
  • A single set of mobile applications is used to register the customers – with each telco having an option to customize and brand the application for its own use
  • A unique sim-card registration number that’s only useable within this system, similar to the Financial Card Number for the credit reference bureau
  • Ability for a customer to add more simcards to their portfolio, does not have to be online or automated, but without the need for submitting all the documentation all over again
  • Support for business customers to register and maintain simcards (this also needs to be looked into as it can be used to circumvent why the registration was done in the first place
  • REQUIRED: An interface (not necessarily automated) to validate “official” documents like:
    • Passport – for Ugandans at least via Ministry of Internal Affairs
    • Drivers Licenses – Face Technologies – they already have tablets for Police to verify validity
    • NSSF Cards – okay I know these are not available but they took my photos and biometric
    • Corporation IDs (I am not sure how this would work since there are many briefcase companies abound)
    • Voter Registration cards – Electoral Commission?
    • Corporate Registration – Uganda Registration Services Bureau and Uganda Revenue Authority (TIN/VAT numbers)

The next question is who pays for the operations of this center which may be an annual service fee for the telcos based on the numbers of simcards maintained with fees for addition and removal of simcards,  “accurate and timely statistics” on Uganda mobile telco industry.

What are your thoughts? What else could be added?

Launch of Sim Card Registration by Uganda Communications Commission – March 5, 2012

It is a Monday morning, and 7:00am as requested I am at the Sheraton Kampala for the launch of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) official launch of the sim card registration which requires all mobile phone users to register their sim cards with the Telcos. The telecoms are setting up registration tents outside so I think I will register my 4 (yes four) sim cards today and get it over and done with.

I already have my finger prints and photos taken for my drivers license, have my details also taken by two telecoms (MTN and UTL) for their mobile money services. Not forgetting I have to register with the other two telecoms for their mobile money services too 🙂

Today is the stakeholder launch and the public launch will be on March 24, 2012 at Nakivubo stadium. In attendance are the top guns of the telecoms, Security Minister and Inspector General of Police, Executive Director NITAU, members of parliament so it seems like the project has political buy-in. The social and technical challenges well are still yonder.

The driving factor for the sim registration is to curb the wave of crime perpetuated by explosion of mobile usage in Africa over the last decade based on the numbers from the ITU. This explains why the advertising theme for the sim card registration is “Make Communications Safe” and the messages are: no more hiding by bullies and conmen/conwomen, sim people have bad intentions. However this begs the question “Are there no positive messages to show how beneficial it is to register the sim cards?”

Critical issues that I am looking to see mentioned better still addressed:

1. Is the information to be synchronized across the different telecoms? – Answer: Each telco is charged with registering the subscribers within their network and securely storing the information within their system. This raises a question of interoperability between the information stored by the different operators on their systems.

2. Is the sim card registration also to be synced with mobile money registration too, or are they to be kept separate?

3. How are privacy implications to be addressed? Answer – This is the responsibility of the different telecoms overseen by UCC. The government is reassuring the public that the telecom providers will protect this information. With no details this is out in the wild.

4. How is this process to be scaled to the 40% sim card users in the rural populations who actually do not have any form of registration?

5. How will corporate registrations of sim cards to be handled?

6. How will this link up with all the other registration systems, National ID, Drivers license, Credit Reference Bureau, and any new ones that will be thought up too …?

7. How will verification of the registration information be done, do we assume that all who register are using their real names and information? Answer – the government will no tolerate any such activities

8. Who owns the registration information – the telecoms, UCC, Government of Uganda, the registrants? Answer – The information seems to be owned by the telecoms who capture the subscriber information.

I have registered my 4 sim cards on all services and here is my take on the operational challenges so far:

1. This is a chance for the service providers to sell their mobile money services, since the sim card registration is invariably mobile money registration too. This puts pressure on the incumbent MTN Uganda which has the largest foot print

2. The telcoms are ill prepared for the logistical nightmare that the sim card registration calls for, and will put pressure on their earnings for the next 2 years. We were only about 100 people at the stakeholder launch, but it took almost 20min at each providers stall. Mulitply this 10,000 fold and you get the picture with only 10% of estimated subscribers covered. Lessons from credit reference bureau service roll-out planning should have been used as it was done to over 500,000 bank account holders and was tied to regulatory compliance by financial institutions.

3. The duplication of efforts is daunting. My opinion is that UCC should have forced the telcoms to come together and carry out this registration as a block for it to be successful.

4. Information privacy is still a major issue which has not been addressed, we are being told to trust the telecoms.

5. There is no verification of information, and it is easy to get and use forged credentials for sim card registration which becomes official. This could have been simplified if the registration has been done by a block of telecoms.

On a parting note, as I always have them Isiah Katumwa’s saxophone playing is off the hook, what talent…

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