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Regional Media and Communication Differences in Uganda
Here we will examine the differences between Uganda’s four geographic and administrative regions, in addition to looking at the effects of each region’s urban-rural divide. On the national level there is a clear urban-rural divide. However, this divide is more nuanced on the regional level, as there are clear differences between regions in access and use of both traditional and newer media formats.
In addition to the regional differences in media use, there are also substantial differences between the urban and rural areas of each region. A large majority of Ugandans still reside in rural areas, with only 12.2 percent of the population living in urban centers and according to Uganda’s latest national census (2002) 41 percent of all urban residents reside in Kampala. Poverty levels in rural areas are substantially higher than the national average, which is 31 percent according to the World Bank. The Central and Eastern regions have the highest percentage of impoverished Ugandans. All of these factors; poverty, the lack of access to telecom infrastructure and regional broadcast markets, have a strong impact on ICT access and use. Here we will take into account these factors and examine the differences between Uganda’s geographic regions, in addition to looking at the effects of each region’s urban-rural divide.
Radio, as Chart 1 depicts, is by the far the most dominant communication medium in Uganda. It is the most reliable form of communication to reach both urban and hard to reach rural areas within each region. Television use has begun to grow over the past couple of years but its reach is limited by bad reception in many of the regions, especially in rural areas. Television is most popular in the Central and Eastern regions as reception is more easily obtained due to their proximity to television broadcasters and easier access to the country’s electrical grid.
Despite the continued economic hardships endured by much the Ugandan population, access to some forms of new media has increased. Mobile phones saw exponential growth in the rural areas of some regions, along with considerable growth in already well connected urban areas. Two-thirds of all internet users reside in urban areas with a large percentage of these users residing in Kampala, the Central region specifically. The Central region was the only region to see any significant increase in internet use between 2007 and 2008.
Central Region and the Capital Kampala
The citizens of Uganda’s Central region are the most affluent in the country. Within our survey almost half of all respondents of high-socioeconomic status (SES) reside in the Central region, along with 37 percent of those with an upper middle-SES. As a result of its relative wealth the Central region is the most well-connected in the country, especially for those in urban areas. Residents have greater access and use rates to traditional media such as radio and television, in addition to newer communication mediums such as mobile phones and the internet.
Relatively higher access to electricity is a contributing factor to Central region residents' higher ICT use. Thirty-six percent of the region is connected to the main electrical grid, more than twice as much as any other region. However, access to the electrical grid is lower in rural areas. Only about 22 percent of rural households have access to the electrical grid, according to the surveys, versus 79 percent of urban homes.
Telecommunications infrastructure in the urban areas of the Central region is far more developed than in other areas. This grants urban dwellers access other communication tools such as fixed land lines and public telephones. The survey indicates that many urban residents supplement their use of mobile phones by using these other access points. About 44 percent of urban residents said they use a fixed line telephone regularly (monthly) and about a third (32 percent) use a public telephone regularly. Rural Ugandans in the Central region, on the other hand, use these resources far less as most telecom infrastructure fails to extend outside urban parameters.
The concentration of telecom infrastructure in the urban areas surrounding Kampala has also given the Central region and its residents greater access to the internet. Twenty-four percent of the region’s urban populace are internet users (monthly users). This is nearly twice that of the urban population of the Western and Northern regions. In fact, the Central region saw the largest jump in internet users from 2007 to 2008, as the percentage of urban users increased from 18 to 24 percent.
Even though the Central and Eastern regions have the highest percentage of internet users, a majority of web users, in every region, are dependent on internet cafés as an access point. Sixty-five percent of internet users in the Central region rely on internet cafés and another twenty-three percent access the internet at work. The high expense of home internet access is still out of reach for even Uganda’s high income earners.
Internet users in the Central region are also more likely to spend longer amounts of time accessing the web. Sixty-seven percent of internet users in the region spend 30 minutes or more every time they access the internet, while only 38 percent of users in the Eastern region do so. This may be the result of greater access in the workplace or the greater concentration of affluent Ugandans in the country’s capital.
As host to the country’s capital Kampala, the region is saturated with radio stations and has better access to different television broadcasts. In fact, there is a moratorium on the issuing of radio licenses in Kampala. Interestingly, while the rest of the country saw increases in TV viewership from 2007 to 2008, viewership in the Central region held largely flat.
Uganda’s Northern region has the least amount of ICT access and the lowest rates of use. These are symptoms of an area that is the most impoverished in Uganda. The rate of poverty in the Northern region is nearly four times of that in the Central region. While other areas of the country have seen substantial reduction in poverty, the Northern region has been plagued by cycles of violence and mass displacement that have spoiled productive economic activity.
However, from 2007 to 2008, the region experienced large increases in rates of access to and use of mobile phones, along with a substantial increase in TV viewership. Personal access to a mobile phone jumped exponentially in rural areas, from just 3 percent to 30 percent. Equally as impressive, urban ownership improved 19 percentage points from 32 percent to 53 percent. The Uganda Communication Commission attributed this to the introduction of new service providers, which increased geographic mobile coverage in the country and the multiple sale packages offered by providers, as a result of new competition.
The Northern region’s lack of ICT access and use is not only symptomatic of the area’s high rates of poverty but also the result of the area’s lack of dependable electricity. Only 5 percent of respondents said their homes are connected to an electrical grid, while 91 percent said their homes have no electricity. Even in urban areas, only 27 percent of respondents reported access to an electrical grid.
As is the general trend in Uganda, Northern region internet users are dependent on accessing the web from internet cafés. Only 18 percent of users access the web from their workplace and only 6 percent do so from their school or university. Users’ dependence on cafés and minimal access in the workplace point to the generally high cost of bandwidth and the region’s lack of telecommunications infrastructure, specifically a fiber-optic network.
Internet users in the Northern region are predominantly affluent and highly educated, as in most of the country. Nearly all (92 percent) internet users in the Northern region possess an upper-middle or high socio-economic status (SES). Their relative wealth allows the users to spend are greater amount of time on the web. Even though the percentage of internet users is small, a large percentage of them spend a substantial amount of time on the web. Forty-seven percent of internet users spend 30 minutes or more on the web whenever they access the internet. This is the second largest percentage among regions.
Television is far from challenging radio as the dominant communcation tool, but TV has increased in use substantially in the region from 2007 to 2008. In rural areas, television viewership while still minimal increased from just 2 percent to 18 percent. Urban viewership nearly doubled from 23 percent to 42 percent.
The recent boost in TV viewership may not only be caused by an increase in home access but also communal watching. In order to supplement the lack of personal access or ownership many residents of the Northern region listen to the radio or watch TV in either other people’s homes or in public places such as restaurants or cafés. Thirty-seven percent of rural residents in the region listen to the radio in someone else’s home and thirty percent in a public places weekly. In addition, about 30 percent of urban dwellers and 20 percent of rural residents watch TV weekly in a public place. This habit often has a multiplier effect on household access. While around 71 percent of rural households have access to a radio, 91 percent are weekly listeners.
The Western Region
Uganda’s Western region rivals the Central region in the access and use of media and ICTs such as radio and mobile phones. However, as in most of Uganda, poverty is the major inhibitor to media and communication use. In the survey, 58 percent of respondents residing in the Western region were categorized as being in the lower-middle or low socio-economic status classifications.
Despite the region’s economic problems, mobile phone access has blossomed in recent years. Mobile phone access in rural areas jumped 18 percentage points from 23 percent in 2007 to 41 percent in 2008. In addition, urban access levels increased from 53 percent to 60 percent of respondents.
The region’s lack of telecom infrastructure has kept the cost of internet access elevated, both in the home and in the workplace. This lack of connectivity is reflected in how long internet users are connected to the web. Only 28 percent of internet users in the region spend 30 minutes or more every time they access the web.
Television access is less than half that of the Central region. The Western region lacks a broadcast hub. Many respondents cited reception as a problem, providing less of an incentive for the purchase of a TV. Only 25 percent of overall weekly TV viewers said that their reception of GTV, the second most popular channel, is clear or very clear.
As in other areas of the country, the Eastern region has seen strong growth in recent years in access to and use of mobile phones. Although the mobile phone is still not commonplace in rural areas, access has increased substantially. From 2007 to 2008, household access jumped from just 16 percent to 28 percent. In urban areas, where now a majority of households have access, the increase was smaller from 44 percent to 52 percent.
Television access and use in the Eastern region, as in the Northern region, has seen a steady increase in popularity over the past two years. Home access in rural areas, while still minimal, jumped from 12 percent of rural respondents in 2007 to 18 percent in 2008 and in urban areas it increased from 40 percent to 48 percent. With these moderate boosts in access there came increases in weekly TV viewership. Rural viewership jumped from just 15 percent to 27 percent and in urban areas it increased from 50 percent to 60 percent.
Despite the region’s lack of home access to the internet, it has the second largest percentage of internet users in the country, with a large majority residing in urban areas and relying on internet cafés for a connection. There was only a marginal increase in internet users from 2007 to 2008. The major restriction on further growth, as in most of the country, is the lack of a fiber-optic network. The recent connection of two undersea fiber-optic cables, SEACOM and TEAMS, to the coast of East Africa has the potential to increase international bandwidth and decrease the cost of internet access. However, this is dependent on the construction of a new fiber-optic backbone that would potentially pass through the Eastern region towards Kampala.
Similar to the residents of the Northern region, many in the Eastern region go outside the home in order to listen to the radio or watch TV. This habit is particularly prevalent when it comes to radio listening in rural areas. Thirty-six percent of rural residents said they visit another household to listen to the radio weekly. In urban areas about a third (30 percent) watch TV in public places like cafés or restaurants on a weekly basis.