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The whole idea of having private member associations, like the ICT Association of Uganda, has been approached pretty well over time, with enormous achievements recorded and government guided on policy formulation.
This has in a way created a better working environment for the private sector as well as given them better bargaining power especially at times when conditions and regulations modelled by the government have been deemed unfair.
Take Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) as a case study. It has united big and upcoming players in the manufacturing industry. And, together, they have negotiated better deals for themselves; including convincing government to provide them land for their plants and reducing costs of production.
This, they have done through their able leadership. Working with the government to tackle a number of bottlenecks that would hinder their work. Although that notwithstanding, they still have some gaps to fill.
Another case to consider – although made up of public servants – is the Uganda National Teachers’ Union (UNATU). A body which unites all teachers in the country. Through their Association, teachers have stood up against low pay, inhumane working conditions and other issues that affect them. Although no substantive achievement has been recorded, their influence is felt.
The same has been realized in the technology sector, geared by the Information Communications Technology Association of Uganda (ICTAU). Yet, there is more that could be done, if a few things are put in order.
I may not be the right person to write about ICTAU since despite belonging to the same sector, I had not taken any step to make my membership in the Association official and neither was I actively involved in the Association’s business aside from reporting about their successes and programs.
But hey, it’s 2018 and among the top things on my to-do list is subscribe fully to the association whose potential is too big although not yet fully realized.
What has ICTAU done?
I have to commend the work so far done by the association in advising the government on issues concerning technology. From telecoms, internet and many more. Though, I won’t brag that I know much about ICTAU, their role in the much rejected Simcard registration/verification process was commendable.
Another credit goes to the association for the efforts made to make sure verification of ICT vendors is not so costly despite the efforts, the requirements and costs are still not so affordable.
Through their quarterly gatherings (LAN), a number of startup entrepreneurs have been linked to potential funders and mentors and this will (although not fully realised) contribute immensely to the growth of the sector.
Taking a look at the association’s initial objectives, it’s not so surprising to say that “not much” has been realized and that there is too much room for improvement.
ICTAU membership fees structure
Subscription to ICTAU currently is 50,000 for students, 100,000/- for corporate individuals, 1,000,000 for educational institutions and 4,000,000 for government departments.
Subscription for private companies is classified into three levels, with Level 3 paying 1,000,000/-, level 2 paying 6,000,000/- and level 1 paying 10,000,000/-
Each subscription package paid annually has specified benefits that are enjoyed by the respective members of the Association.
That, in my opinion, is not too much to ask, keeping in mind what the association could achieve if it grew stronger. But this can be paid if and when the works of the association are making a change and can be felt.
Also to note, for an unspecified period of time (as indicated on the association’s website), membership fees have been slashed by 50%
What is failing ICTAU?
For any association/body to stand and succeed, it needs members. This is one big cancer that the ICT Association is suffering from and if not treated, will eat the association to the bones. More members of the association mean more funds to run the secretariat and hence building even stronger structures. More members, also mean a bigger voice by the association. One which policymakers won’t give a deaf ear.
This has however failed as big corporations have decided not to join the association fully but rather sending their employees to join as individual members. They hence cannot bring a bigger (much needed) voice since, in the association, they are not recognized as the corporations they so represent.
Associations like UMA have been able to achieve what they have achieved because of the strong voices on their membership, which when they speak, even the President will be compelled to respond.
The ICTAU has failed to achieve this. And, until big multi-national corporations and bigger telecoms embrace and subscribe to the association, the dream carried by the founders will stay unfulfilled.
What needs to be done?
The initial step is to build and boost membership. Not only individual membership but corporations. This, if successfully done, will even attract more individual members and hence build the association both through its respect and footprint.
All government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) need to subscribe to the association to have their side heard and to also hear from the private players. This should be made mandatory since most, if not all, MDAs currently use ICT services in their day to day works.
Big institutions like Universities, Telecoms, Innovation hubs, and ICT manufacturers, should be mandated to subscribe to the association if they are to provide any ICT related service in the country.
ICTAU membership should be given a percentage consideration, say 40%, during the government’s certification process of vendors.
Also, membership on the board of directors should be limited to individuals that represent bigger corporations so as to amplify the voice of the association.
Is the Association Relevant?
It’s not always good to set questions and answer them by yourself. But yes, the association is so much relevant. We have witnessed how gradually Uganda is leaning to ICT to provide almost all services. And, unless there is a private body monitoring the same, the ordinary Ugandan will be reaped to the bone.
Issues like subsidized internet rates, subsidized taxes on mobile phones can all be spearheaded by such an association but the responsible persons have decided to ignore it. The other painful issue is the fact that the association has been left to only us the geeks, no offence is meant in wording. ICT doesn’t only stop at developing solutions.
The reason why most ICT products in Uganda have failed to see the light of the day is that there is some lacking strategy in execution. The ICT Association is relevant to both techies and non-techies. Marketers are needed to push the developed products while as social workers are needed to guide developers on the problems affecting the communities in which they work.
The biologists need to guide developers on which products could help save some situations and all this can be achieved if individuals in the different sectors subscribed to the association.
The association is relevant to everyone in every sector. And hence, the responsible persons need to stop marketing it as an association for only techies but one for all Ugandans.
Note: The views expressed here are not exactly professional but personal. This article first appeared on Paul‘s blog.