25 February 2019

Uganda: Rejoice, 4G Is Finally Here, and It Has the Mbeggingbowl App Pre-Installed


The relentless advance of information technology has turned Uganda's political leaders into unhappy men and women.

While launching the country's border-to-border 4G high-speed data service provided by Airtel Uganda on February 13, Uganda's First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen Moses Ali, made a sad disclosure: It transpires that the MPs can no longer hide from their constituents who, as we all know, have a habit of asking them for money for everything from funerals to wedding parties and school fees. Nowadays, they just contact the leaders using the various mobile platforms available and expect a prompt reply in the shape of mobile money.

So even as Uganda the country celebrates attainment of the most efficient connectivity in Africa, its poor leaders have more reason to mourn.

It should thus in a way be a consolation to our leaders that our national mobile telephone network UTL (Uganda Telecom Ltd) has remained rather stunted, to put it kindly. For those East Africans who may not be aware of it, UTL was founded around the same time as Safaricom. But don't start imagining that it is Uganda's equivalent of Safaricom. It is the opposite.

Indeed, UTL, which is publicly owned by Ugandans, is the weakest of the mobile operators in the country, its rich inheritance from the former Uganda Posts and Telecommunications notwithstanding. The national telco is heavily in debt, and the creditors include its competitors over unpaid cross-network calls clearance.

The weakness of UTL is thus a relief to political leaders. Imagine a national operator that is as strong as Safaricom, or even Airtel Uganda or MTN Uganda! The poor politicians would be getting even more financial requests from their voters with another powerful network connecting them.

Even today, when MTN is in serious trouble with the state (four of its top officials including the CEO have been declared persona non grata and deported from Uganda in the past one month), UTL is unable to position itself to benefit from the former's political misfortunes.

The South African giant has been accused of espionage by its staff and worse still, of enabling the deported persons to continue to transact as MTN Uganda officials. Uganda's Internal Security Organisation has also accused MTN of under declaring calls (therefore income) and so cheating the host out of tax.

But UTL has shown no signs of reorganising to benefit from its competitor's woes. So weak does it look today that a joke made the rounds recently that some Nigerian cowboy is about to take it over and turn it round. But then again, who knows, maybe a genuine Nigerian investor will sooner or later take it over and turn it round.

We the owners of UTL thought we deserve some communication from management over the state of our company. We would actually understand and probably even share some ideas that could be useful.

There is so much information about turning enterprises round, readily available to Ugandans, thanks to the 4G Internet brought by Airtel, that UTL'S owners may actually be enabled to revive their company.


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