Uganda Country Overview

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Media and Development in Uganda


Development Context

Uganda has had one of the fastest growing economies in Africa since 2000, and the pace has remained relatively buoyant despite the recent global financial crisis. Gross domestic product (GDP) grew 6.2 percent in 2009, down from 9.5 percent in 2008, as estimated by the International Monetary Fund. [1] Much of this economic growth disproportionately benefits those that reside in urban areas. An overwhelming majority of Ugandans still depend on agriculture as their main source for sustenance and income. This inequality manifests itself in the many development challenges that Uganda continues to face.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, 51.5 percent of Uganda’s population lives on less than $1.25 a day. The country also has one of the world's lowest average life expectancies at about 52 years. Uganda's birth rate of 47.8 per 1000 residents is the third-highest globally, and about half of the population is under the age of 15. [2] The country’s dependency ratio (# dependants per worker) at 1:12 is the highest in the world. [3]

Uganda is ranked 157th out of 182 countries in the UNDP’s 2009 Human Development Index, better than regional neighbors Tanzania and Rwanda, which were ranked 151st and 167th, respectively, but below Kenya at 147th. [4] Uganda is ranked 140th out of 154 countries in the International Telecommunications Union’s ICT Development Index, which measures a country’s ability to effectively exploit information and communication technologies for economic development. Tanzania and Rwanda are similarly ranked at 145th and 143rd respectively. Kenya is ranked 116th.[5]

Communication Environment

Chart 1


The media environment in Uganda continues to be dominated by radio, a market largely segmented by region and reflective of the country’s linguistic diversity. Only the state-run Uganda Broadcasting Corporation transmits a national-level signal. In 2004, the Ugandan government attempted to put a moratorium on new radio stations but this was gnored for the most part, and it has since been lifted, except in the capital Kampala.

There has been a moderate increase in television access and viewership in recent years. However, it continues to be limited by the lack of a dependable electrical supply in many areas and the high cost of television sets.

Mobile phone reach has exploded in some areas of the country as new providers entered the market and expanded service area coverage as well as new product packages. Internet use continues to be restricted to urban areas due to a limited fiber-optic network. Two-thirds of all internet users in the survey reside in urban areas.

Chart 2


The Electricity Factor

Further expansion of ICTs in Uganda has been limited by multiple structural challenges, particularly by the lack of an extensive fiber-optic network and a limited electrical grid. In our national survey, less than 23 percent of respondents said their homes were connected to the main electrical grid, while nearly 73 percent said their homes have no electricity. Other development organizations cite Ugandan access to electricity as less than 10 percent. [6]

This helps to explain why radio, a device that is easily powered through batteries, is the most commonly used communication device. In addition, though television has gained popularity in recent years in both rural and urban areas, urban dwellers are much more likely to own a TV when they have better access to the electrical grid.

A major undertaking to increase Uganda’s electrical grid capacity is set to be commissioned in 2011. The Bugajali hydro power plant is a proposed 250 MW hydropower facility on the Victoria Nile. The project’s $750 million cost will be financed by the Ugandan government, the World Bank and a consortium of lenders. It will be one of the largest projects of its kind in Africa.

The aim of the project is to address the medium- to long-term need for cost-effective power. Fulfilling these needs will help to curtail the almost daily “brown-outs” that continue to choke economic development. The project also includes the construction of approximately 100 kilometers of 132 kV transmission line to transmit electricity purchased from the Bujagali facility. [7]

Increasing Rural Communication Access

The public Ugandan Communication Commission (UCC) has sought to extend telecommunications access into underserved rural areas by establishing the Rural Communication Development Fund (RCDF) as a part of its universal access policy. In 2008, the RCDF published its new five-year (2008-2013) policy plan, the Rural Communication Development Policy (RCDP). The goals established for the RCDF include, but are not limited to;

  • Achieve a target of 1 pay phone per village (with an adult population of at least 500 people) by 2015 by deploying at least 2500 fixed public pay phones per year in underserved areas only.
  • Support the establishment of at least 1 community information centre (CIC) per underserved area, as a profitable business providing essential ICT and related services (postal services,
  • public pay phone, internet and financial Services) aiming at a minimum of 150 CICs per year. To ensure sustainability, RCDF-supported CICs should target viable points of population convergence such as trading centers, market sites, medium and large health units, local administration points and education institutions.
  • Support the establishment each year of IT laboratories with at least 40 workstations and broadband access in a minimum total of 200 educational institutions (including both primary and secondary schools) located in underserved areas.
  • Support at least two (2) institutions of higher learning (in collaboration with other organizations) each year to undertake research that explores new ways of using ICT to support rural development and disseminate the findings.
  • Support the improvement of sustainability by providing entrepreneurial training (including business planning) for the managers of all new RCDF supported projects.
  • Encourage the use of renewable energy sources (such as wind and solar) to power rural ICT projects and encourage use of the national fiber-optic backbone for the delivery of broadband to underserved communities through the establishment of at least 4 regional centers of excellence each year that demonstrate the use of new technologies to address the challenges of ICT delivery and utilization in rural areas. [8]

These goals, along with others mentioned in the RCDP, provide many opportunities for development partners large and small to not only extend ICT access but also to assist in making these efforts sustainable-a chief problem mentioned by the RCDF. Another key area that development partners may be able to assist in is the development of e-skills. A study supported by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) examining the effectiveness of community information centers (CIC) in Uganda and South Africa, found that policymakers need to create an “enabling environment” if CICs are to be effective and sustainable. [9]

Some of the study’s conclusions recommended that policymakers should provide educational opportunities so people have the time and space to learn basic skills. In addition, the study emphasized that the placement of CICs must be done with the local context in mind. This would include integrating CICs into larger rural development projects so that ICT access can contribute to overall development goals while the projects themselves make ICT service provision more feasible. This approach can support ICT services by providing an anchor market, stimulating demand and helping people to locate and apply useful information. [10]

Electrical and Fiber-Optic Network Construction

One long-term project that is seeking to fulfill the RCDF’s mandate while extending the country's electricity supply to rural areas is the Second Energy for Rural Transformation (ERT II) Project, financed by the World Bank. The project has three components. The first involves the construction of rural energy infrastructure. In this component the project will finance the extension of the existing electricity network and the installation of small independent distribution systems such as small scale renewable energy plants, household and institutional solar PV systems, and related technical assistance and training. This component will also provide financial assistance to private sponsors for the completion of rural energy investments. [11]

The second component directly addresses the goals of the RCDP by financing internet broadband extension to rural areas, which will include the construction of new CICS, cell phone charging stations for existing community information centers, and computer equipment for schools and health clinics. Technical assistance and training will also be supported, including the development of educational materials to be distributed to rural customers.

The third and final component will finance solar PV energy packages for rural schools, health clinics, and water facilities, and related technical assistance, training, and operating costs. In addition, this component will support the implementation of poverty impact assessments by the Ministry of Finance and overall project coordination, as well as outreach activities by the Ministry of Local Government. The project as a whole is estimated to cost $105 million and is set to finish at the end of June 2013. [12] For further details regarding project details and state goals see here.


[1] “World Economic Outlook Database- Nicaragua.” International Monetary Fund. April 2009. Washington, DC. Accessed December 2009. http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2009/01/weodata/index.aspx

[2] “Uganda”. CIA Factbook. Washington, D.C. Updated 27 November 2009. Accessed January 2010. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html.

[3] “Country Brief- Uganda”. The World Bank Group. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/UGANDAEXTN/0,,menuPK:374947~pagePK:141132~piPK:141107~theSitePK:374864,00.html.

[4] “Human Development Report 2009- HDI Rankings”. United Nations Development Programme. New York, NY. Accessed January 2010. http://hdr.undp.org/en/statistics/.

[5] Measuring the Information Society - The ICT Development Index.” International Telecommunications Union. Geneva, Switzerland. Accessed December 2009. http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/publications/idi/2009/index.html.

[6] “Uganda Bujagali Hydro Power Project”. The World Bank Group. Washington, D.C. Accessed January 2010. http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/COUNTRIES/AFRICAEXT/EXTPROJECTSPROGRAMS/EXTBUJHYDPOWPRO/0,,contentMDK:21217616~menuPK:3323746~pagePK:64168445~piPK:64168309~theSitePK:3323560,00.html.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Rural Communication Development Policy for Uganda”. Uganda Communication Commission. January 2009. Accessed January 2010. http://www.ucc.co.ug/rcdf/rcdf-Policy.pdf.

[9] Parkinson, Sarah. (2005) “TELECENTRES, ACCESS AND DEVELOPMENT: Experience and Lessons from Uganda and South Africa”. Practical Action Publishing/Fountain/IDRC: Ottawa, CA. http://www.idrc.ca/en/ev-88202-201-1-DO_TOPIC.html

[10] Ibid.

[11] “Uganda: Energy for Rural Transformation APL-2”. The World Bank Group. Washington, D.C. 8 April 2009. Accessed January 2010. http://web.worldbank.org/external/projects/main?menuPK=228424&pagePK=64283627&piPK=73230&theSitePK=40941&Projectid=P112334.

[12] Ibid.