Uganda: National Data Backbone ready
2008-03-14

Is the Uganda government set to become an efficient deliverer of services to the 28 million Ugandans out there? At least this is what the nationals are supposed to believe if the benefits that accrue from the completion of the first phase of the National Data Backbone is anything to go by.
Highway Africa News Agency

Is the Uganda government set to become an efficient deliverer of services to the 28 million Ugandans out there? At least this is what the nationals are supposed to believe if the benefits that accrue from the completion of the first phase of the National Data Backbone is anything to go by. The government has said that it will now be possible for the different ministries, government departments and agencies to hold meetings on videoconference calls; that the president will now be in a position to address parliament or cabinet on a video call.

But will the fact that this new technology is going to help simplify work for both the politicians and the technocrats make things better is the big question. Next month, Uganda?s ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) together with Chinese technology company, Huawei, will launch the first phase of the national data backbone, which has cost some $30 million.

The national data transmission backbone is a fibre optic cable interconnecting different government institutions and departments in order to exploit their full potential, and reduce government domestic expenditure on public administration. It will also increase the speed of implementing government programmes, provide basic communication to rural communities and improve service delivery in the fields of health, education and agriculture.

At the moment, the first phase, which covers the capital Kampala (majority of central government functions are centered here), Entebbe, Bombo and Jinja is complete and is being tested. IP enabled phones with videoconference facilities have been installed in all government ministries and departments/agencies. This makes Uganda the first country in the region to launch such a service. None of the other East African Community (EAC) member states has deployed the infrastructure, which should make e-government a reality in Uganda.

In order to minimize the cost of communication, software for email services has also been installed. A unit has been established within the ministry to oversee implementation of the national data transmission backbone. Uganda?s ICT minister, Dr. Ham Mulira said the key issue in the second phase, which should commence immediately after the first phase, is to link Uganda?s borders with those of neighbouring countries ? work that has partly been done by both MTN and Uganda Telecom. Mulira was speaking at the African e-Governance forum that was convened by the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO) in Kampala last week. Ghana is has also built what it has called a ?national fibre backbone? with phase one, which has a few government applications working, already complete. The second phase of the e-Ghana project will see fibre laid from the southern coast to its northern border with Burkina Faso. This project will link to the other submarine cable initiatives that are planned for the eastern Africa coast among them EASSy, UHURUNET, the East African Submarine System and SEACOM.

Before the national data transmission backbone government unveiled plans, private players had moved to lay their own fibre networks. The national backbone comprises two technologies and will be laid mainly around Kampala and along the transmission routes in the East, West and the North. Microwaves for smaller backbone links into the more rural areas feeding off the main fibre optic routes have also been set up. The private network will see MTN complete a fibre link to the Kenyan border to link up with the Telkom Kenya fibre that eventually runs from Malaba to Nairobi to Mombasa and this will form part of the East African Backhaul System (EABS) project. EABS is a joint venture among operators from Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya and will link the five countries to the EASSy cable along the eastern Africa coast.

To the West MTN has fibre up to Mbarara while Uganda Telecom will complete the fibre route to Rwanda from Mbarara to Katuna linking up with a fibre to be installed by MTN Rwanda to the Rwandan border.