2019 IN REVIEW: EVENTS, ACTIVITIES THAT STOOD OUT

Even in an action-packed year, as 2019 was for Uganda Communications Commission, some events, activities and developments managed to stand out, as this report shows

RCDF on a mission – The Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF) relentlessly pursued its mission to connect government-aided schools in the country to the Internet. By the end of the year, RCDF records indicated that more than 1,000 schools had been equipped with computer labs. Internet connectivity aside, RCDF was also engaged in capacity building workshops, empowerment of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), as well as People with Special Needs (PSNs). RDCF, Uganda’s Universal Access Fund, works to reach and provide access to communication to the unserved, underserved and hard to reach areas. https://wp.me/paP880-mc

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Taking IT services closer to the people – RCDF was also involved in a joint project with Posta Uganda to take IT services closer to the people. Through this project, post offices are upgraded to one-stop public information centres. Post offices in Kitgum, Kasese, Mubende and Moroto were equipped during the year, and several others are to follow. The idea is to support post office in integrating technology in its operations so as to make it more efficient. The revamped post offices will be able to facilitate public access to e-government and e-commerce services, including relevant information on health, farming, education, etc. https://wp.me/paP880-k7

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Caught breaking the law – Complaints by security operatives and some members of the public about the conduct of some radio and TV stations while covering political activities in April 2019 triggered a groundbreaking investigation. Thirteen broadcasters; NTV, NBS, BBS, Bukedde TV, Salt TV and Kingdom TV; Radio Sapientia, Capital FM, CBS, Radio Simba, Radio Two Akaboozi, Beat FM and Pearl FM allegedly breached Minimum Broadcasting Standards. A report released on 7th October 2019 found a number of the concerned broadcasters culpable and recommended a range of actions, including asking them to show cause why UCC shouldn’t revoke their licenses. https://wp.me/paP880-te 

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ABS TV sanctioned –Following complaints from concerned members of the public that ABS TV was broadcasting inappropriate content, the station’s management was invited to defend itself. Particulars of the complaint are that the station had aired adult content that contained pornographic material with no warnings to the public about the theme and nature of the said content. Moreover, the content was shown during day-time, with children likely to be watching TV. Appearing before the Commission, the proprietor of the station, Pastor Augustine Yiga apologised for the sexually explicit content. He and his manager said it was an error committed by a staff member who had since gone into hiding. Pastor Aloysius Bugingo’s Salt TV also appeared before the Commission in connection with inappropriate content.

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4IR debate rages – To promote innovation in ICT, the Commission organises the National Conference on Communications (NCC) in conjunction with educational institutions. The 5th such conference was hosted by Makerere University’s College of Engineering, Design, Art and Technology (CEDAT) in October. Initiated in 2010, NCC offers students, researchers, application developers and practitioners a platform to identify new research challenges, share findings and discuss issues relevant to the communications sector. Organised under the theme, Harnessing Opportunities in Emerging 4IR Technologies, the conference sought to stimulate research and debate around emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence, robotics, Internet of Things and unmanned vehicles. Hon Frank Tumwebaze, the outgoing Minister of ICT and National Guidance challenged the gathering of mostly students, academics and researchers to leverage technology and find solutions for contemporary problems. https://wp.me/paP880-uf

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Consumers speak out – Some three hundred people turned up at Margaritha Palace Hotel in Lira for the 10th Consumer Parliament. The event has always presented consumers with a rare opportunity to hold both the regulator and service providers accountable, and this was no different. Buoyed by the theme, Be Right, Know Your Rights, members of the public made the most of this opportunity, actively engaging the executives of telecom companies on matters ranging from quality of service to tariffs. MTN, Airtel, UTL and Africell represented the telecoms, as Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), Commonwealth People’s Association of Uganda (CPAUG) and I-NETWORK represented consumer advocacy groups. Conceived in the image of an actual parliament, the Consumer Parliament provides a platform where people’s representatives raise issues that concern them and demand answers from the regulator and service providers. https://wp.me/paP880-y9

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Lailah’s big night – Uganda Film Festival 2019 was the biggest UCC has hosted to date. Lailah, whose director is serial winner Richard Mulindwa, won five awards, including Best Post Production, Best Feature Film, Best Actor in a Feature Film and Viewer’s Choice. Besides Lailah, for which Patriq Nkakalukanyi won Best Actor, other outstanding winners were Bed of Thorns, which saw Malaika Nyanzi winning Best Actress in a Feature Film, and veteran actor Philip Luswata, who won the Life Achievement Award. Held at the Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology in Nakawa, the UFF 2019 gala lived up to its billing as Uganda’s version of the celebrated Oscars with the pomp, décor and entertainment a fitting finale to the week-long festival that included film screenings, capacity building workshops and training. https://wp.me/paP880-B8

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Our own festival aside, the Commission was well represented at some of the world’s leading film festivals, notably Cannes in France and the Toronto Film Festival. The Cannes Film Festival in May proved to be a particularly watershed moment, as it’s while there that Uganda signed an agreement with the Hollywood Film Festival, opening the way for local content to showcase at the world’s most prominent film stage – Hollywood. Later in the year, it emerged that Uganda had been appointed to the position of “Leading African Advisory Country” on the Advisory Board of the Cannes Film Festival’s Pavillon Afriques platform. https://wp.me/paP880-g0

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Still, in film news, Hollywood star Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine gave Ugandan filmmakers a reason to smile by announcing a short film competition where the winner will take home US$1,000 (Shs 3.7m). Mwine, who holds both Ugandan and American citizenship, unveiled the challenge while meeting film stakeholders at the UCC head office in Bugolobi on Sunday, 29th December 2019. The film competition, which he says aims “to inspire you guys to tell unique stories from Uganda,” will be an annual or bi-annual competition for films of not more than five minutes. Details are yet to be worked out as the actor engages UCC and other partners on the possibility of making the prize bigger. Mwine is best known for his roles in “Queen of Katwe” and more recently “Farewell Amor,” which is due for its World Premiere at Sundance Film Festival in 2020. https://wp.me/paP880-D6

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Africa meets in Uganda– The Commission hosted several international events during the year, most notably the 2nd Africa regional preparatory meeting for the World Telecommunications Standardisation Assembly (WTSA-20), which took place in Entebbe during the first week of October. WTSA is one of the structures of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a UN agency responsible for ICT matters. The week-long meeting was for African stakeholders in the telecommunications industry to brainstorm on matters of interest ahead of the WTSA 2020 in Hyderabad, India, November 2020. Telecommunications standards are necessary to facilitate global communications by ensuring that whether we exchange voice, video or data messages, different countries’ ICT networks and devices are speaking the same language. Delegates came in from a wide range of African countries, including Nigeria, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Algeria and Morocco. https://wp.me/paP880-re; https://wp.me/paP880-r9

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Cyber Drill – The Commission also hosted the ITU regional Cyber Drill for Africa that took place at Kabira Country Club in Kampala. Organised in the different regions of the ITU annually, the Cyber Drill was held in Ivory Coast in 2018. It is based on scenarios that focus on risks to the cyber and IT infrastructure. Using exercises, participants are trained to improve national cybersecurity readiness, protection and incident response capabilities at regional and international level. Fifty-two participants from Uganda, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, DRC, Egypt, Gambia, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Somalia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe attended the four-day programme. https://wp.me/paP880-yL

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The East African Communications Organisation (EACO) held a training programme on E-waste Management at the Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala from 21st to 25th October. EACO, which brings together communications regulators in the region, aims to achieve zero negative impact of e-waste in member states by 2030. At least 30 participants, including government officials, policymakers, ICT regulators, national bureau of standards bodies and leading specialists in the e-waste management field in East Africa and beyond attended.

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Radio regulations discussed – Hosting aside, the Commission attended a number of events outside the country, among them the World Radiocommunication Conference (WRC-19), which took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from October 28 to November 22, 2019. Uganda’s delegation to this conference, which is held every four years, was led by UCC Executive Director Godfrey Mutabazi. Organised by the ITU, the WRC’s main task is to review, and, if necessary, revise the Radio Regulations, the international treaty governing the use of the radio frequency spectrum, and satellite technology. Participating in the conference ensures that national spectrum allocations are globally harmonised. For Uganda and other countries, it means not being limited regarding where to get the latest technology and devices. https://wp.me/paP880-uL

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Best regulator recognised – The Commission made its participation in the Uganda International Trade Fair count by winning the Best Regulatory Exhibitor Award 2019. UCC was at Lugogo to, primarily, raise awareness about its mandate and, more specifically, to sensitise the public about cybersecurity, frequency monitoring, consumer rights, complaints handling and verification of counterfeit gadgets. The Best Regulator Exhibitor Award goes to a government institution that demonstrates substance and the relevance of its work and contribution to economic development. Branding, presentation and customer service are also considered. Elsewhere, the Commission also won “Best Visionary Government ICT Regulatory Agency of the Year” for her contribution towards Uganda’s Vision 2040.

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New year new license- A new framework for the licensing of telecommunications companies in Uganda was unveiled. Sharing the details with telecom executives, the UCC Executive Director Mr Godfrey Mutabazi noted that the last such review was conducted in 2016. Mr Mutabazi said the new framework, which has been arrived at after a protracted process, would boost investment in the sector and ultimately improve the quality of telecommunications services. Highlights of the new framework include a requirement for national telecom operators to float at least 20% of the shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange within two years of acquiring the new license. https://wp.me/paP880-BP

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SIM card ring busted– SIM card registration fraud continued to pose a challenge. Following press reports that some individuals are able to acquire SIM cards using forged documents, the Commission suspended the refugee registration system, which was identified as the loophole being exploited by fraudsters. Announcing the move, UCC said in a statement that it was in the process of formulating stringent procedures with the OPM on the validation of the refugee cards and attestation letters to mitigate further fraud. SIM card registration is done only after the presentation of a national ID for Ugandans, original refuge card for refugees and passports for foreign nationals.

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The Commission took further action when her officers undertook the prosecution of two suspects caught in possession of assorted SIM cards, voter registration lists, forged national IDs, forged refugee cards and fake passports, among other items. Joshua Katamba, 26, and Agnes Kirabo, 18, were arrested by detectives attached to UCC after their illegal SIM card registration bubble bust. They were charged at Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court and remanded to Luzira Prison. Their arrest followed press reports that some shady individuals were making money out of selling SIM cards obtained using forged national IDs or refugee cards. https://wp.me/paP880-uu

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Setting pace for Africa – The Commission continued to enjoy a high rating as one of the best communications regulators in Africa, with a number of countries lining up to learn from us. During the year, the Commission hosted two separate groups of officials from the regulatory bodies of South Sudan and Zambia. Just as two senior officials from the National Communications Authority (NCA) of South Sudan were completing their one-week benchmarking visit at the Commission, in came their Zambian counterparts. While the South Sudanese were interested in the way UCC functions in general, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA) staff were here on a specific mission to study the administration and management of the Universal Access and Service Fund, which in Uganda is also known as the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF).

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Time to play – It was not all work and no play in 2019. The MTN Marathon at the end of November provided participating members of staff with an opportunity to not only run for their good health but also in support of maternal health services. The end-of-year party was another chance to play. Having started on a solemn note with a praise and worship session led by the “UCC choir” and singing by East Africa’s Got Talent winners Esther and Ezekiel, “the party in the jungle” later took on a higher tempo with eats, drinks and games taking centre stage in the lush Mbuya hideout. Not even the wet weather could dampen the mood as staff danced the year away!

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