So, after I’d chatted to Odiirah about her work path and role, we moved on to talk about the impact of digital in Uganda in general, as we’ve naturally been in some of the poorest areas, where digital is not so much a presence as it appears to be elsewhere, although yesterday’s village had a mobile shop, and evidence that more of the villagers had some kind of mobile phone.
Online most people use Skype (although not loads, as the signal is poor and breaks up a lot), and Facebook – a lot! They’ve not really started using Twitter yet, although there’s definitely an awareness of it. The people using these tools are mostly in the towns, and mostly the youth, as those who are older are either not much interested or say they don’t have time for it… people like Odiirah’s dad have been forced onto Facebook, but he hasn’t really got it. Facebook really helps people stay connected with their friends, and people love sharing photos, and in fact seem to share every little thing – certainly no worries about privacy (there’s a sense that people haven’t been using it long enough to see how people could use it in a bad way).
The mobile phone, which has already taken off in a big way in Uganda for those who can afford it (it’s still regarded as a luxury), and new plans are being developed that are leaning more towards data (remember the other day that we paid around £18 for 3GB). Lots of phone networks offer plans which allow free viewing of Facebook, and of status updates (though you still have to pay to update photos), which encourages people to use their phones more – and they are then more likely to use other paid services.
People are using their phones for voice time – people are on their phones all the time. Those in the villages love the radio on the phone (it’s free), and will put it on loudspeakers for others to hear. Mobile money/banking started in Uganda 2 years ago, first with MTN, but now all networks offer it. Photos and videos are becoming more common and some phones even have TV on them – usually the Chinese phones – which are the poorest quality, but cheap and have extra features (e.g. allow 4 SIM cards, although batteries then don’t last very long). Nokia and Samsung are the original brands in Uganda, and tend to copy the most popular functions. The Chinese phones tend to last only a year, but people tend to prefer something cheap (rather than “cost per wear”) – partly because they are still a luxury, but also because mobile phone robberies are frequent and they don’t want to become a target. In town it’s entirely possible to be talking on the phone and someone will take it.
With regards to other digital tools, computers are still unusual and not accessible to most people, although they are there in towns. In towns there are more computers than elsewhere, and the best schools may have them. If village schools have one, it will be a really old model. Apple laptops are expensive and incredibly rare, although iPads are beginning to come in slowly, but still expensive and owned by only a few.
Digiexplorer (not guru), Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing @ Manchester Metropolitan University. Interested in digital literacy and digital culture in the third sector (especially faith). Author of ‘Raising Children in a Digital Age’, regularly checks hashtag #DigitalParenting.