Getting to Grips with Digital Exclusion – Action Examples from Uganda

F F “Tusu” Tusubira, Inclusive Digital Economy Policy Consultant, UNCDF Uganda

When one examines the national digital agenda, Uganda appears to have it all correct at the policy level – and yet this is not having the expected results of “leaving no one behind” in the digital era.

Uganda is not alone in this: many developing countries have tried different approaches to addressing exclusion from the digital economy. To bridge this gap, Uganda has for example undertaken a multiplicity of efforts under the Universal Service and Access Fund (formally Rural Communications Development Fund). The private sector, also recognising the opportunity for increased revenue, as well as network value to users, have for long used “Pay as You Go” models, along with small volume data and airtime packages, to ensure that more people can access the different platforms.

And yet, despite some gains over time, major aspects of exclusion still remain as demonstrated by the findings of the 2021 assessment based on the Inclusive Digital Economy Scorecard (IDES). IDES helps in shining new light into the barriers to digital inclusion, enabling governments that use this tool to identify where these occur along the causal chain of inclusion. However, such insights remain useless unless the next crucial step is taken: a rethink, which can indeed lead to discarding previous approaches to inclusion, so that there is new action guided by the IDES mapping.

This is the course of action taken by Uganda, where the 2021 IDES assessment has led to a practical shift in thinking at the policy and strategy level – in some instances igniting new initiatives, or creating more synergy and better direction in existing initiatives. Some of these are shared here.

Increased Focus on Coordination at the Policy and Strategic Levels

The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, the lead Ministry for Uganda’s digital agenda, is addressing the effectiveness of the Digital Transformation Programme Working Group by taking steps to ensure top level representation that addresses coordination at the policy and strategic level. The Programme Working Group is composed of permanent secretaries in the ministries, heads of governmental agencies, and representatives of development partners, service providers, and civil society. Working together, this group can address gaps, inconsistencies, and contradictory approaches at the national policy and strategy levels.

Addressing Implementation Gaps

At the implementation level, the Ministry has now required that they (the Ministry) and all its agencies approach the annual planning and budget cycle in a synergetic fashion to address sector priorities. This is a departure from the previous approaches where each unit in the Ministry, as well as the agencies, developed annual workplans and budgets in silos, often with duplication.

Addressing Inclusion at the Policy Level

Uganda IDES 2021 was released at time when a programme was already underway to refine the Digital Uganda Vision, guided by a review of the Uganda National ICT Policy, and to amend the Uganda Communications Act as well as the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Act. IDES established that while significant progress has been made in addressing inclusion for women and youth, other marginalised groups, especially refugees and many rural localities still lag far behind national levels. This timely data has created opportunity for these gaps to be addressed at the highest policy levels, and within some of the laws that impact the national digital agenda.

Dealing with the Challenge of Skills

IDES revealed three categories of skills gaps:

  1. The shortage of the requisite strategic skills required to drive the national digital agenda within the Government. Further exploration of this gap led to the finding that those frontline ministries and agencies responsible for driving digitally enabled social services (education, health, etc.) also have major digital skills gaps.
  2. The shortage of digital skills within the population with respect to innovation and exploiting ICT enabled services
  3. The shortage of digital skills (among the general population) required to benefit fully from digital opportunities.

The action decision taken was to carry out a digital skills gap analysis within government as well as nationwide, and based on that, come up with remedial measures – some addressing staff in government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs); others addressing the general populace; and others being more foundational by addressing curricula and learning methodologies from the earliest levels of schooling.

Related to digital skills variations in MDAs was the identified need to establish consistent skills level requirements across government, and elevate the profile and competence of ICT staff in recognition of their critical roles in the success of Uganda’s digital agenda.

Going Forward

The IDES was developed to support countries in better understanding the status of their digital transformation together with main priorities to accelerate the development and make it more inclusive: by translating the findings into a programme of action to address identified gaps, Uganda has actualised this objective.

As observed by Dr Aminah Zawedde, the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance during a meeting with the UNCDF Team: “The initial steps might be small, but they are the start of what will be a sustained effort of transformation of people, methods, and processes so that through full inclusion and a digitally empowered population, Uganda’s development aspirations can be achieved.”

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