Friday, December 12, 2008

Kampala Visit in Aug/Sept 2008

Back in August-September 2008, I had the chance to visit Kabale, Uganda, to conduct data collection for my research project and to examine the current status of Wireless Africa’s Uganda project.

When I first arrived, I went over to Makerere University’s Department of Electrical Engineering: Community Wireless Resource Centre (CWRC). I had the chance to meet Peterson Mwesiga and two former CWRC Electrical Engineering students were part of the team who helped to plan and implement the wireless networks in three telecentres in Uganda: Lira, Kabale, and Nabweru. It is clear from this discussion with CWRC that this program has been successful in providing hands-on experience and expertise to these former engineering students. I am unsure if such training is available in other African electrical engineering departments but the CWRC training program could be used as a model for other wireless networking projects throughout the continent. I was definitely impressed by their thesis topics and the work they have done in the area.

I also had the chance to meet CWRC’s Director, Dorothy Okello, at the WOUGNET office (she wears many hats!) who is active in community wireless networking. Dorothy’s community implementation and advisory activities continues to be dynamic within the region including with government cooperation. In the short time I was in Uganda, she had sent Peterson to fix the Lira network as well as recommended a Ministry of ICT meeting to collate research on wireless networking projects in Uganda.

I visited the Nabweru Telecentre (former IDRC project), one of the wireless networking projects just 6 km outside of Kampala. While one can see the telecentre had the mesh networking connected to the community hall, the court and the school, the inability to pay off their connectivity fees with the local service provider keeps it unconnected. Apparently, CWRC’s new MSI grant will hopefully be used to service this debt and then test a bandwidth management tool at Nabweru. Even so, the telecentre admits the need for a business plan and financial management training particularly given the difficult conditions (intermittent power, landline cutoff due to stolen phone cables, political interference, etc). Ivan is passionate to keep the centre open, has won several UNICEF awards for their radio programming but shows clear needs for advice on how to raise funds and remain operational.

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