Monday, June 29, 2009

Makerere CIT Trains 150 Women in ICT

As the global race to bridge the digital divide between the North and the South is given impetus and incentive by the growth of southern economies, today this need is nowhere greater than in the emerging sub-Saharan markets. Seemingly trapped by illiteracy, overpopulation, breakdown in infrastructure, lack of access and soaring internet costs, the challenge to harness technology to aid Africa leap frog the divide seems even more daunting. Uganda serves as a microcosm for this African dilemma.

Another part of this complex conundrum is the fact that although women are substantially part of the business environment today, most of them know little or nothing about ICT and its potential to alter/or exponentially increase their access, use and leveraging of information technologies to help their businesses.

The Makerere University Faculty of Computing & IT (CIT) under its Community Outreach program has just finished training 150 women in basic ICT skills. The women are engaged in different business and entrepreneurship ventures but mostly consist of teachers.

The training included skills in use of Microsoft Word, Spreadsheets, Email, Introduction to computers and Power point Presentations.

CIT has done other trainings in the past for the Uganda Police Force, Uganda People's Defence Force, Makerere University Teaching and Non-teaching staff and will continue to train members of the public and private sectors as part of its commitment to increase ICT literacy in Uganda. Currently, 400 staff from Mulago Hospital is under ICT training at the faculty.

My big question is; Is it enough? Is it enough to train our women, and pump them with IT skills when they are still struggling under bad marriages and sexual harassment? As I ponder these thoughts what keeps coming to me is a phrase from a book I love deeply: Jane Eyre; where Rochester as he looks at the plain and yet deeply moving Jane says to himself and almost to God "It will atone." What will atone? The new life blood in this new young girl who he feels deeply about will atone for the trickery that led him to marry a woman with hereditary madness who he now keeps locked up in one of the rooms of his huge mansion. Can all those years of putting our women down be erased by giving them special treatment and advantages? I don't know anything for a fact but this I know: it will ATONE.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


When the President of the Republic of Burundi, H.E. Pierre Nkurunzinza, visited Uganda a few weeks ago to sign a MoU with the Government of Uganda, he took some time off to tour and talk to the people at Makerere University Faculty of Computing & IT.

Apart from touring the facility [currently Africa's largest computing, teaching, research, and consulting facility], he thanked Uganda for continuing to be the regional educational hub. He talked of the possibility of training Burundi graduates at the National Software Incubation Center, instruction in IT, the newly introduced Software Engineering Bachelor's Degree, and the now looming possibility of Uganda as a Business Processing and Outsourcing center for the region.

Some pictures from that occasion:

President Pierre Nkurunzinza with Makerere University Chancellor, Prof. Mondo Kagonyera; and Faculty of Computing & IT, Head of Corporate Relations, Michael Niyitegeka

In the end, it matters more that he saw it fit to visit than that he signed an MoU with our government. the first counts, the second one, well...story of my life.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Internet of Things: A Talk with IBM CTO

I caught up with Mr. Clifford Forster at the just concluded Digital Africa Summit at hosted at the beautiful Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo where I spent a few minutes chatting with Mr. Forster about his and IBM's vision for Africa.

Name: Clifford Forster

Position: Chief Technical Officer

Company: IBM Africa

Expertise: Consulting and Engineering.

Q: Where does your career with IBM start?

A: I was born, raised and trained in South Africa after which I worked across Europe in Engineering and Consulting. I joined IBM in 2001 as a partner in the Business and Consulting Division. There, I worked as a consultant for Financial Service Institutions across Europe and China.

Q: What was that like?

A: it was a good time and my time spent consulting and delivering projects led me to be named the "IBM Distinguished Engineer" in 2008.

Q: That sounds cool, what does it mean?

A: It's an internal IBM award that recognizes delivery and distinguished service to customers. It reflects and involves a broad range of deep level engineering and high level consulting.

Q: Returning to IBM, what was going on when IBM decided to switch up and reorganize itself?

A: Well, in 2008 IBM wanted to better focus itself on its markets, and that led to IBM identifying its principal markets. It emerged that there were two major groups: Mature or Developed markets and the Growth or Developing markets. The reorganization meant that markets which previously reported to vendors but were emerging would be given full focus and more attention. And that was how Johannesburg was set up as the sub-Saharan African Center of Operations for IBM.

Q: I understand the need to increase investments in order to stimulate growth [which is IBM's justification for concentrating on the African market] but why would you have given up a career in Europe to come back?

A: I am African, firstly (Laughing and smiling deeply). So there was that. The opportunity to have a positive influence on the growth of Africa is majorly what brought me back. I am very intrigued about the trends in Africa. For example, I have heard a lot from the conferences I have been attending lately that clients no longer want to be serviced remotely. What they want is IBM on the ground delivering services to them. They are buying more than a service; they are buying a brand.

Q: Tell me about the IBM Vision…

A: We realized in reorganizing IBM that in order to achieve our objectives, we were going to have to focus our work. The IBM of the future is looking at a smart planet; boiled down to 3 I's.

Enter Smart Planet:

The smart planet concept was guided by three ideas after realizing that the 21st century had brought with it a substantial increase in inventions but also a fall in prices of technologies. We believe that the future is:

1. Instrumented: Due to the increase in inventions and innovations, we now see sensors embedded in everything; phones, water networks, water quality, electrical networks, power stations, vehicles, fridges and power meters. Everything is measured. The embedded sensors allow almost all gadgets to take measurements and readings.

2. Interconnected: Everything is being connected i.e. There has been a rollout of interconnected telecoms across the continent. So much that it is "Now no longer the internet of people but the internet of things…" connectivity for cars, appliances, cameras, pipelines, livestock, roadways. This means that more and more you need less gadgets. This is because your iPod talks to your laptop, your car talks to your phone, your phone talks to your banker, etc. Right now Africa has about 300 million mobile phones and projections put it at 400 million by 2010, this means that the continent will get eventually all get connected.

3. Intelligent: The use of this information, to support, enable and guide decisions in real time or near-real time.

Q: And your final word?

A: As technologists, we will be judged by the future by how we used emerging technologies to solve the really big problems facing us.

And so the future will be a safer, more connected place, albeit not without challenges, but Africa is positioning itself to be the fertile ground for the next generation's innovations.