Uganda Adopts Free And Open Source Software For E-Governance 19/12/2014 by Hillary Muheebwa for Intellectual Property Watch 3 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)The population in Uganda has been growing rapidly. The country now has 35 million people. In order to provide quality services to its citizens and to improve the national competitiveness through administration innovation, the government has adopted free and open source software as the preferred mode of operation for electronic government (e-government) services and platforms. In July 2011, the Uganda cabinet approved the National E-government Policy Framework with the overall objective of improving public service delivery through a systematic transformation from manual to electronic-based systems and practices. The National Information Technology Authority-Uganda Act, 2009, defines e-government as the use of information and communication technologies to deliver public services in a convenient, efficient customer-oriented and cost-effective way. The primary delivery models of e-government can be divided into four groupings: government-to-citizen/government-to-consumer/government-for-citizen; government-to-business; government-to-government; and government-to-employees. In order to achieve solid economic and developmental benefits, the government of Uganda has resolved to adopt free and open source software, as the preferred mode of operation for e-government services and platforms. According to the National Free and Open Source Software and Open Standards Policy, adopted in 2014, Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is computer software whose source code is made available and with a licence in which the copyright holder provides the rights to access, study, modify, and redistribute the software to anyone and for any purpose. According to Julius Peter Torach, director of e-government services at National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U), the adoption of FOSS is expected to achieve main objectives that include promotion of innovation, development of customised e-services, and saving in costs. Open and free access software has long been in Uganda. “When we conducted an e-government readiness assessment, we discovered that FOSS was already being used by government agencies,” Julius said. “The formal standardisation and adoption of it is to give a greater recognition and formal implementation of it within government.” According to the National E-government Policy Framework, currently, there are a number of e-government applications and investments already or being implemented. Some of the already implemented e-government services include: e-services by the Uganda Revenue Authority, the tax collecting body; Integrated Financial Management System, to improve financial information processing and reporting systems, implemented by Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development; Lands Information System, for digitising land titles and land records, implemented by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development. Government agencies have been majorly dependent on proprietary software. According to the Uganda E-Government Readiness Assessment 2012, 98 percent of respondents have word processing applications, with 85 percent having Web-based applications, and 75 percent having accounting and database applications. Most respondents reported using mostly Microsoft operating systems especially Windows XP and Windows. Some 7. 66 percent of respondents were using Microsoft Office, while Kaspersky appeared as the antivirus software solution of choice, with 44 percent reporting its usage. James Wire According to James Wire Lunghabo, an ICT and small and medium enterprise business consultant, “that was an assessment of the status quo in 2012, giving a baseline of where government stood then.” And although the numbers have not changed much, he anticipates a change. “There has been a lot of ignorance about alternative systems over the years,” said James. “With a multi-pronged strategy, technocrats have reached that point where they have realised that going by the market prices, the government can’t afford to foot the cost of proprietary software, especially in licences.” Proprietary software costing is prohibitive to the government. “The government of Uganda has been spending 8 million US dollars on procurement of Microsoft software and applications. We have now negotiated a bulk procurement order, and we will be spending 3 million US dollars annually. With the adoption of open source, that cost is projected to decrease,” Julius revealed. Both sides do agree that FOSS usage isn’t only about cost. It’s about freedom. As James explained: “proprietary software relegates us to mere technology users with no sense of ownership or even ability to customise the software to suit our conditions. FOSS allows us to not only have access to the backend of the software we are using but also enables local developers to take control and modify it to suit our demands.” James added: “If we have a dream of seeing technology become relevant locally and working for us, we shouldn’t focus on our people conforming to technology but vice versa. Technology should conform to people’s needs. We need to take control of our software and ensure that it is doing the work that we need it to do.” “In 2006, we did the first ever translation of the then Mozilla web browser into Luganda, a feat we achieved due to its open source nature. For Internet Explorer, we had to first sign non-disclosure agreements and make all sorts of commitments before they could even allow us to dream of translating it,” James said. Luganda is a local language. As the government starts rolling out the FOSS, according to Julius, it is facing a challenge of attracting and retaining professional ICT personnel. “The highly competitive private sector, which is ahead in use of FOSS, recruits most of our experienced personnel due to remuneration scales,” he said. The flight of staff from government to private sector is a matter of free flow of labour, as some government agencies are also luring people from the private sector. Rehema Baguma, who is writing a chapter on “Affordable e-governance Using Free and Open Source Software (FOSS),” in a book called, Measuring Computing Research Excellence and Vitality, Strengthening the Role of ICT in Development, states in the chapter: “OSS/FS has great potential for low-cost, flexible and reliable e-governance implementation but to exploit its potential fully, there is need for stakeholder collaboration and augmentation of one another: namely governments should work with the OSS/FS community, educational institutions and other goodwill promoters to groom local expertise and set up local focal points for distribution of the software, user awareness and sensitisation for a wider adoption and appreciation of OSS/FS.” Image Credits: opensource.com Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related Hillary Muheebwa may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."Uganda Adopts Free And Open Source Software For E-Governance" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.