Archive for the ‘current affairs’ Category

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

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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…

Options for Impact by UHMG instead of the GeNext Campaign

This was a comment on Albert Mucunguzi (@albertmuc) blog post Why UHMG’s GeNext Campaign is a Waste of Resources (http://almuc.me/blog/2011/12/why-uhmgs-genext-campaign-is-a-waste-of-resources/) but then I figured why not add my voice to those who think this is a waste of time and provide some “simpler” alternatives

Albert I agree with you all the way, infact China has had the 1 child policy for such a long time and yet they have one of the largest populations in the world, and infact they are a power to be reckoned with due to that.

My suggestions for UHMG (Uganda Health Marketing Group) is to focus on our major problems:

a) Maternal Mortality – 25 mothers (recorded) died on Xmas day alone what is to happen to their children

b) Child Nutrition (below 5 years) – focus on how we can improve the nutrition of our children using available foods and resources

b2) Primary School Child Health – teach kids how to wash their hands, gain access to toilets, better feeding for school going age (given the constraints on funds and resources) so cannot be a one size fits all for the whole country but tailored diets for different regions within the country

c) Adolosent Health – sexual activity is a problem, then support Marie Stopes to market the Life Guard condoms better, but help the teen agers eat better. Make healthy eating hip and the thing to be …

d) Family Health – teach families how to eat better within given budgets, work with Rotary, Mother’s Unions and localized support groups to teach these things, hell I can even help here lol!!!

e) Contraceptives – provide easier and more convenient access to contraceptives for mothers, give them out free if you have to, its a better solution to the large families to those who could otherwise want smaller families.

Thanks Albert for taking the lead on this …

UMEME Tea Party – Quick and Dirty Review and Perspective

A strange name for an event none of us had any idea about and here we were wondering, about the hushed event for social media and bloggers, online buffs as some may term us, tweeps and other names. So tea party it was to be with a Twitter hashtag #teapartyug (https://twitter.com/#!/search/%23teapartyug).  At the Sheraton hotel, starting at 3:00pm EST (12 noon GMT) on December 8, 2011. How do you dress for such an event I wondered, but to be on the safe side took along my trusted Navy blue jacket and tie in the blistering heat of the December sun, we had even forgotten that it had been raining non stop a couple of days before.

5 past the hour and there I had arrived, fashionably late I should say, and there it was UMEME Ltd (http://www.umeme.co.ug/), the company contracted to distribute electricity in Uganda, and Google. There were screens all over the place, about six in total all hooked up to show the proceedings via Apple Macs (am not a fanboy, but they are considered the next best thing since fried rice). Out I pulled my laptop and turned on the wireless signal, saw many networks and a TeaParty_UG was there so I connected, and it was surprisingly fast. Looking around I saw Roke Telkom staff connecting routers and so I knew who the providers were. Checking me battery I was only at 20% so I started looking around for a plug to get some juice. Being a networking event I well started talking to the other folks as we waited to hear what the big do was.

Simon Kaheru the MC well started things flowing quickly and smoothly laying the ground rules and 4 tweets later and well the presentations started. First was Simon Kisubi, Stakeholder Manager, who gave us an overview of UMEME’s role in the power distribution lifecycle, other players and the challenges they face. I had one tab of my browser on my timeline and the other watching the hashtag to keep track of what was happening, and a lot was at the time. By my third cup of black coffee, no sugar as I was taught to enjoy it, and given that I had not had a cuppa for over 7 weeks, well I was wide awake, the D&A session started.

What was impressive was that the executive management of UMEME was present including the Chief Executive Officer, and they were fielding the questions and providing well articulated and knowlegeable answers which seemed to appease the tweeps, but also got more insteresting as the street conspiracy theories were brought up along the way.

One angle of tweets which made sense was that, if you go to the supermarket to buy milk and eggs and u find them rationed or none at all whom do u blame, the farmer who provided few or no eggs (the electricity generation company), the transporter who carried the few eggs they got (the electricity transmission company) or the owner of the market who sells what he is provided with (UMEME).

The 10 major points and clarifications some new, some old which came out of the briefing are:

1. UMEME only distributes the power that it receives from generation and transmission. It gets estimates on a month-by-month schedule, but rations power on an hour-by-hour schedule to prevent network meltdown.

2. UMEME has no local, Ugandan, share  holders unlike what the conspiracy theories on the streets

3. UMEME has met and exceeded the targets set out in their mangement contract

4. The high small consumer tariffs are subsidized by the Government of Uganda due to the use of thermal power generation, and UMEME does not receive a cent of the subsidy which goes directly to the generation companies.

5. Large consumers receive concessions if they use power at low usage times, between midnight and 5:00am, which is not available to small consumers due to the amount of work needed to monitor usage and the low usage numbers

6. Disconnections are only made based on balances from a previous bill and not  the current period’s usage basically if u do not pay your bill in net 30 you can be cut off. Disconnections are only done Monday to Thursday, and not over the weekends. UMEME operations are being fine tuned to ensure that reconnections are completed with 24 hours of clearing outstanding bills and reconnection fees.

7. Estimation of bills is done based on previous usage and is between 5% – 20% of previous usage. The algorithm is being tweaked to make it more accurate, but the estimates would cancel out when actual readings are taken. The estimation is common in the business and in Europe up to 40% of bills are estimated compared to about 15% in Uganda.

8. Technology solutions are being put in place to enable electronic deliver of bills and balances, and electronic payment of bills to smoothen the user experience.

9. UMEME helpline is available 24 x 7 to support consumers

10. Despite load shedding the bills remain the same, because the usage patterns for the available supply have changed to ensure maximization of usage when the power is available especially ironing, cooking etc.

My argument and take is that UMEME is the face of the power industry (just like the Front Desk Staff are the frontline of any company), and they have to up their game in order to appease the customers that they deal with. One way is to improve communications; they are already doing a good job with thrice daily updates via radio stations, twitter and Facebook from the Incident room through the Load Shedding Project Manager, who is the face in this particular crisis. The idea is to open more channels for providing information and crowd source the collection and distribution of information so that it can reach all concerned. This has been successfully implemented in other areas around the world and communities have been built around data provided for public consumption.

Based on the information that we gleamed from the fast Q&A session, which reminded me of a wild west shoot out, it was clear that UMEME is interested in hearing what the customers have to say and has initiatives in place to try and alleviate the major problems faced by the consumers it serves. As a first meeting I should say that it was productive, the million dollar question being was it beginner’s luck or is this the first of many initiatives to engage the stakeholders, SMEs and small consumers who bear the brunt of power shortages.

An exciting afternoon it was and looking forward more of such engagements in the future.

WikiLeaks – Is this turning into a civil war?

Just watching the countinued cat-and-mouse game between wiki-leaks, governments, and large corporations, its starting to seem like the beginnings of a civil war on the Internet, probably the first Internet world war.

ISPs, Credit Card Companies, Banks, Radio stations, individuals, are all being targeted. I am sure that underneath all of this the collateral damage to the grass (public) as the elephants suffer cannot be estimated until after the war has ended. The criminal activities that are being disguised as renegade acts to support the leaks are growing by the day?

What are we the Internet citizens to do at this time, should we just sit and watch?

Do we pack our bags and move? To where? When we depend on the Internet for most of our daily lives, news, information, livelihoods – buying, selling and work?

Where will this leave the Internet as a platform that brings the whole world together? Is Net Neutrality going to suffer?

 

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