Uganda: Citizens Opt for Cloned Computers

Computing

Uganda Green Computers, an initiative by the Government to enable small and medium size enterprises to buy affordable computers to because of the popularity of cloned computers in the market. The joint venture between the Government of Uganda, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and Microsoft has yet to deliver to its full potential.

Launched in June last year, Uganda Green Computers was meant, first to refurbish and later, start recycling computers. The initiative was born out of the realisation that information and communication technology is a powerful tool in spurring business growth and development around the world.

This was, however, lacking in Uganda, where enterprises are the cornerstone of the local economy and the shortage of high-quality, affordable hardware and software has been a barrier to expansion.

With a projected annual output of 10,000 computers, the firm churns about 1,000 PCs a month. In a bid to make the computers affordable, each refurbished computer, operating using genuine Microsoft software costs about sh300,000 (US$141).

The general manager Simon Nshimye, says "We have a lot of stock that has not gone out yet. The problem is lack of awareness. People opt to buy cheap clones that are dumped in the market." Rachel Asiimwe, the sales and marketing manager, says branded computers such as Compaq, IBM, Dell and HP, are now refurbished and come with an unparralled advantage as compared to the clones.

The partnership signed in 2007 between the three stakeholders sought to support business opportunities and entrepreneurship among local enterprises. The aim is to bolster the country's access to affordable PCs and ICT training.

However, given the current situation, its objectives may not be realised unless proactive measures are taken. "Our objective is to ensure each home in the country has at least one computer. In light of that, we have gone out to schools, business enterprises and cafes. Parents should disconnect the television set at home and let the children learn how to use the computer. By doing so we will bridge the digital divide," says Nshimye.

On average, the firm imports a container of second hand branded 'A' computers (about 2000 PCs). It is these computers that are put through a meticulous checking and refurbishing process, to guarantee quality before being stamped with a Microsoft license and released to the market.

And the incredibly low number of complaints, coupled with lots of referrals speaks volumes about the quality of the refurbished computers. According to Bawangaonwala, the technical manager: "Out of about 1,000 pieces sold, we get six complaints and these have not been about hardware problems, but due to people trying to download other software. On the other hand, we have had lots of referrals from customers, directing other prospective clients to us."

But outgoing state minister for industry Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu says a number of factors have conspired to ensure a low computer penetration in the country, chief among these being electricity. Currently, he says out of a population of more than thirty million, only one millionUgandans have access to computers, a number which he says is too low to enable the country realise the full benefits of information technology. "Only about 8% of Ugandans have access to electricity and one milllion people have access to computers," Kamuntu says. The figure, he says, rises to 10% when you factor in solar and other forms of energy.

He says the poor penetration of computers is compounded by lack of infrastructure and price. However, he hastens to add, that the Government has moved in swiftly with a number of interventions.

"There are a number of hydro power stations like Karuma and Ayago that the Government is constructing. These and a number of other interventions should be able to considerably lower the cost of ICT in the country and consequently improve on computer penetration.

In addition, he says, a Chinese company, Huaiwei Technologies, has embarked on fibre optic cable in the country that is expected to cut down the cost of running ICTs.

The Government's position was strengthened by the signing of a deal with the government of China under which Uganda was to borrow sh230b from the China Export-Import Bank to build the national backbone infrastructure. "The cost of running ICT should be tremendously low, consequently we should have ICTs in the villages," Kamuntu says.

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