Posts Tagged ‘kampala’

MeetMTN – MTN Uganda Executive Management Town Hall Meeting

Well 2012 is upon us, and the incubmbent US President Barack Obama, has started his battle for a second term in office, so that he can complete the change that he promised the American people. The battle for his first term was epic, first against Ms. Hillary Clinton, which intially changed from a David vs Goliath story to a battle of titans that he won. The one against the Republican was a massacre as Mr. John Mccain shot himself in the foot and head one campaign after another.

Why all this about President Obama, well one of his campaign tactics was town hall style meetings in different towns, and constitencies in order to connect with the people in the ground, and hear what they have to say directly.

Teleport straight to Uganda the Pearl of Africa, home to great beauty among other things, as well as to multi-national corporations which are running a large chunk of the core economy activities. Well these corporations have been facing a backlash with regard to service delivery over the last few years (which was terrible), the wrath of most was directed to UMEME the national power distributor due to the incessant power shortages which sort of brought the economy to its knees in 2011. At the height of the backlash, UMEME started to reach out to the populace to inform and educate the general public who did not understand their roles, challenges and strategies for attacking the rampant power problem. One of these events was a Tea Party for social media enthusiasts – bloggers and tweeps covered here

Well MTN Uganda, the largest telco by market share, numbers and revenues, has also reached out using a similar strategy this time called MeetMTN, where tweeps and bloggers were invited to meet the MTN executive management to discuss issues pertaining to service delivery and what is being done to work around the known issues.

Here is a summary of the major issues raised during the meeting, and responses from MTN executives who attended:

1. Provision of an API for Mobile Money and development of a partner ecosystem – information on when an API will be provided for mobile money as the largest provider and one with the largest reach. From the recently completed startup weekend, 12 of the 13 startup ideas depend on Mobile Money for payments. However no details of the availability of an API for 3rd parties were given citing a need not to commit to predefined dates. .The API is coming soon

2. Staff Attrition – there are rumours in the grapevine that there is a higher than normal attrition rate of talent over the last quarter, and whether this is one of the root causes of the recent outages and lowered quality of service delivery. The CEO mentioned that MTN leverages its regional strengths, but focuses on developing the local talent within the countries that MTN operates.

3. Service Health Dashboard – whether its possible to provide a public dashboard on the health of different services, inspired by Google approach. Also whether it was possible to spread information on service slowdowns and outages through different channels, Facebook/Twitter/Website/SMS, Radio/TV and customer service centers for extended service outages.

4. Lottery Games – there was a game which involved amassing points by answering questions for a chance to win UGX 10,000 (~US$4,000), and one of the attendees played the game using his family resources, and his wife almost divorced him. He was wondering how many points were needed to win the prizes so that he would be contented. The executives thanked him for playing and wished him better luck next time.

5. Unsolicited, Spam and Junk SMS messages plus hidden charges from content providers licensed by MTN and the company itself – There are many SMS messages for caller ring back tones, both from MTN and licensed content providers both as spam and also unknown activations which charge user numbers. We were informed of a blacklist code to enter I seem to have forgotten it, but this is not publizied … similar to US “Do Not Call Registry”

6. Does MTN Sell Customer numbers to content providers – MTN does not sell numbers to content providers, however these numbers are collected as part of normal usage for example promotions etc which may be done by friends, relatives. Ms. Maureen Agena of Text-to-Change also provided her organization’s experience with collecting targetted numbers which corroborates the information and policies from the executive.

7. Postpaid Service upgrade – customers on post paid services cannot upgrade data bundles in case they run out on a pay-as-you go service once the post paid bundle runs out. The executive informed us that the billing platform for all services is converged therefore this should be cleared in the very near future.

8. Hoax Promotions – there are cases when a promotion sale of phones or devices is announced, but they are not available because they were gobbled up by MTN staff. Management promised to look into this

9. IPV6 Migration – internal testing is in progress, but roll out to all customers is not confirmed until the services are confirmed as stable

10. SME Pricing – there seem to be no plans geared towards the SME sector as the current plans are either consumer (too expensive for SME at retail rates), or Enterprise (capex and opex costs too high for SME)

UPDATES – from Reader Feedback:

11. Simcard registration process and charges – there are claims of some agents charging for sim-card registrations, bu there is no charge for sim-card registrations. Also MTN intends to use this exercise as a “Know Your Customer” exercise and to deal with the spam/junk SMS message problem highlighted above.

12. Mobile Hotspots – the internet is not usable in a few parts of the country, and it would be better if there were hotspots at least in the urban areas, so that customers do not need dongles but just connect, and pay for usage. The technical team informed us that this was something that they were considering.

13. Internet Bundles using airtime once they expire without approval – currently once the Internet bundles expire the user’s airtime is charged which is the default option. There are ways around this and MTN intends to educate its customers on how to use these options

14. Slow Speed of the Website – the website is too slow, actually one of the slowest in Uganda, and the website self service features do not work. The website is currently being upgraded for speed and features, and a new one will be unveiled soon (BTW this is very embarrassing for multi-national telcom company).

Overall the interactions were excellent, and the available MTN staff were knowledgeable of subject matter they were discussing, which left a ray of hope that finally the behemoth is listening to its customers. Obviously the gift packs at the end made the trip worthwhile too. In closing I would like to say again as I did on Twitter:

“The only way @MTNUGANDACARE can support #startups and #enterprenurs is to provide a #mobilemoney #API #MeetMTN”

If I missed anything, just let me know …


Startup Weekend Kampala – Day 1 – Ideas, Pitches, Teams

This was my first time at a Startup Weekend or a Hackathon so I was looking forward to the experience and to see what really goes on under the hood at this event. So why was I here, well I have had this idea brewing in my head for a long time and so I decided why not take a shot at it and see what it is.

The idea was an “opendata” platform similar to Google Public Data ( and lack of any government initiatives in Uganda leaves an opportunity for such an intervention.

I got to the venue at 4pm, started mingling with the people who were already there, some whom I had met the previous night at the Google Sponsored Pre-Event Bootcamp ( whose focus was Gaming on Android. As more people walked in the energy in the room became intense, with excitement, “geek” words flying left right and center, and a concentration of geek activities, game consoles out, rock music, movies as we waited for the “festivities” to begin.

The introductions were led by Richard Zulu, GTUG lead, and there were presentations by Ben Maina, CEO Rupu Limited who provided excellent ideas for how to manage startup growth based on lessons from a stratup then Apiyo Laboke, Mara Foundation on how startups can receive support from VCs.

Nextup were 60 second pitches for the different ideas available, well being my first time, I decided to go first with the Databud pitch. 60 seconds is a very short time and I was not able to complete my pitch, but it seemed to be well received. There were 34 additional pitches made by the end of the evening.

Next step was voting for the pitches, where each attendee was given 3 stick-it notes to place on the projects they are interested in. This was the moment of truth for the product pitches since those without sufficient votes would be whittled down … Of the 35 pitches available only 16 were selected to move forward ….

Now that the work was done, the next step was to attract teams of which DataBud attracted 3 members and we were ready to get to work …

Unfortunately we lost Internet connectivity and so there ended Day 1 … It was exciting, high tension and now crunch time …

Follow the rest of the days actions at

  1. Startup Weekend Day 2 – Platform, Mentors, Coding, Product Positioning, Decisions during Execution
  2. Startup Weekend Day 3 – 60 sec pitch, Customer Validation, Business Value, Wrap Up and Lessons Learnt

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…

The Christmas Gathering and Beyond

I know the first thing that came to mind is who gathered, where and for what. And for those of ye who have knowledge of old English or Celtic history you are thinking of a meeting of wizards, witches, faires, elves, dwarves, gnomes or smurfs 🙂

Well it is nothing like that, this is where it all began. A friend of mine Dennis Assimwe a talented pianist has had this knack for writing and social media, Facebook in particular provided him with an outlet for his writing he has a coupla good notes out there. Anyway whilst reading his notes, we suggested that he creates a group intially to share his notes but it later turned out to attract others who have an interest in the “written word” creative writing and so on. Personally I am trying to find my artistic side, trying to stimulate it so that it does not wither and die on me something which I have always enjoyed but never had the time to do.

I am trying to read the classics, started with the Art of War, now moving to Shakespeare, am also starting to listen to soft rock as I have been advised that the artists there still write, pour their hearts and souls into the music.

Now back to notes, well we started the group now 700+ strong, and then an idea came, what if we were to meet, put faces to people and share more in person.

The idea was hatched and in October we had our first Gathering. The format was simple have a guest speaker, then interweave it with music, poetry, and let it take a life of its own. Fortunately there is a cafe, Soho’s (FB Page here), which we used. On the day the weather was terrible, it rained from 3pm to 7:00pm, and the traffic was not just murder, but unbelieveably bad. But 15 or so turned up, and our first speaker for the day was James Onen, a radio presenter, free thinker and well articulated atheist. His topic of choice was Hotel California by Band Name, the lyrics, meanings behind the lyrics etc, the history of the band, link to Satanists etc. It was enlightening and we wondered where time went … There were a few renditions, and a blues number by one Susan Anique (Google her) but all in all it was a great evening.

Since the first one was a success we decided to have a second stab at it, this time with Santa thrown in and see how much trouble we could get into …

The date was set Wednesday December 14, at our venue Soho Cafe and Grill, with the usual guest speaker, this time I Am Enigma (, an MC and Hip Hop artist, did not know what to expect, plus buffet, egg nog and mistletoe (the package of this got caught in customs so we could not partake of the meanings).

The ladies were out in the sweet little red and black dresses, it was definitely a sight to behold …

Well I was late, occupational hazards, but thanks to a power outage, I was able to get  in fashionably late in my blue outfit, the green elf outfit did not dry because of the rain. So there I was all spruced up and ended up becoming the master of ceremonies …

The guest speaker was up next, he walked us through the lyrics of one of his songs, and explained the thinking process being the lyrics and how he brings the words and rhymes together using anagrams, plaindromes, and related places e.g., Lebanon (near Isreal for freedom), you and me are like decepticons on their way to the prime (the journey of life to the top).

The Q&A highlighted differences between MCs and DJs, why he wears the mask, his path to the top, etc. After which was food, after a prayer by our guest speaker which started in Arabic and ended with an Amen 🙂

After food was music time, Suzan our resident crooner did a rendition of Little Drummer Boy (of course I pushed for that one), James Onen did an oldie by Silk with the end being Dennis on the keyboard and Ouma Myko on the guitar and can those boys mix the beats.

A gathering is never complete without something on the wild side, not so, well we then had some freestyling poetry between myself and Justyne, called “Nightfall Lover” which is a poem about two lovers and their romantic adventures …

We then cut the Gathering Xmas cake, secret Santa gave out gifts to those who had brought (all u had to do was pick out a package that u did not bring and there were some very nice surprises). Finally the moralities were done then it was time to mingle and shake hands, drink more of the punch and just chill out …

Before we knew it … it was way past midnight and other gathering was concluded. Just watch this space for the next one which will be informal and we already have an eye on our guest speaker …

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 (!/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 (, 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.

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