Social Media in Uganda – Part 3

My second meeting in Uganda to discuss social media was with business man and entrepreneur Collins Mugume. He describes himself as a ‘business junkie’ and has a number of enterprises: a software development house, a price comparison site, Africa’s equivalent of Spotify and a mobile money transfer platform. Collins believes that social media is becoming more and more important for business and political discourse in Uganda.

Remit-Uganda

Collins used to publish a PC/Tech Magazine, so we had a long discussion about technology advances in Uganda. He talked about how technology infrastructures have improved greatly in recent years and are set to improve further. In May this year two mobile operators Warid and Airtel announced a proposed merger which will create competition for MTN, who have the largest market share. This was followed in June with the launch of a new 4G network, Smile Uganda. Smartphones are also dropping in price with entry level phones at around £100. These advances in technology, increased competition and lower prices should all have a positive effect on technology diffusion and social media utilisation in the future.

Collins is an early adopter of technology and has been active on social media for several years. He used to regularly attend Tweetups with other entrepreneurs, journalists and activists in Kampala, but says that they haven’t been so popular in recent months. At one of the meetings a group organised a campaign against a proposed bill that would ban mini-skirts as part of a wider anti-porn legislation. The Twitter campaign #savetheminiskirt gained a lot of attention on both social media and the wider media. The campaign is a great example of collective action or as Bennett and Segerberg (2012) call is “connective action”. It seems to have worked as the ban has not been imposed (yet). Twitter was also adopted in a campaign protesting about inflation and rising fuel costs using the hashtags #walktowork #walk2work and #ugandawalks.

It appears that political discourse on social media is affecting change in Uganda. At the moment a lot of people in Uganda are using social media to observe and listen as opposed to joining the conversation. I am sure that we will see a dramatic growth in social media in the next few years. Will the Social Media Monitoring Centre quell this political discourse and social protest? I don’t think so…..

 

Reference: Bennett, W L and Segerberg, A (2012) The Logic of Connective Action. Information, Communication and Society 15(5): 739-68

 

Social Media in Uganda – Part 2

Whilst I was in Uganda for two weeks I thought a lot about how social media can help development. I’m interested in social media for development in many contexts e.g. how an international NGO uses social media to raise funds or how social media is used within a developing country to empower citizens, mobilise, report corruption and disseminate information during disasters etc.

There have been a lot of positive uses of social media in recent years (Ushahidi, Arab Spring, Chile Winter, Occupy Movement, Anti Corruption) but there have been many negatives too (London riots, pornography, bullying and so on).

What is the reality in Uganda? Is social media a tool for development? I mentioned in my previous blog  the number of Facebook and Twitter users in Uganda. It is estimated that Uganda has 25,000 active Twitter users out of a population of 38m. Whereas in the UK it was estimated that there were over 10 million Twitter users in 2012. Facebook apparently has around 1.6m accounts in Uganda (other reports say 584k), but many people cannot access their account on a daily basis and certainly not at the speed and convenience that we can in the West.

But there is no doubt that social media is making a difference in Uganda! Ruth Aine, a freelance journalist and blogger outlines several cases of social media for social good in Uganda in one of her blog posts. I was lucky enough to meet Ruth and to have a quick discussion about social media just before she set off to Kenya for a conference. Ruth strongly believes that social media is making a difference in Uganda. She talked about the ever growing number of people joining Twitter and how they are using it to make changes in civil society. Twitter is mainly the domain of middle class youth and university students, but it is also being adopted by organisations who want to have a voice that resonates outside of Uganda too. The problem with some regional offices is that they want to reach out via social media but often their content is controlled from the top so they fail to get the message out.

Ruth-Aine

Ruth also talked about some of the older generation in Uganda who believe that social media “erodes values and morals”. They don’t believe the younger generations have the experience, expertise and knowledge to influence policy change. Some people even believe that “technology has come to disappoint us.”

However, things are changing, Alan Kasujja who now works for the BBC encouraged the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi to hold regular Q&A sessions on Twitter. Mbabazi has over 14,000 followers and is apparently among one of the friendliest and interactive politicians in the world. Some people are critical of the government on social media and they announced in May that they intend to set up a Social Media Monitoring Centre to ‘monitor activities’. There’s a fine line between monitoring, censorship, regulation and control. On the one hand Mbabazi is encouraging openness and debate, on the other hand the Centre will undoubtedly instill fear in people who are being too vocal.

Howard and Hussain (2013) in their text Democracy’s Fourth Wave ask “Where is social change possible through new communication networks? How have social movements operated across global contexts since the growth of digital media?”. These are good questions, and with the relatively fast technology diffusion in Uganda it is hard to predict the future.

I asked Ruth what she thought social media in Uganda would look like in 5 years time. She believes it will be a formidable force with a big voice: a small army making things happen. I look forward to 2018 to see if she is right.

Social Media in Uganda – Part 1

I arrived in Uganda just over a week ago to help produce a documentary about Living with HIV, the Mango Tree. I have been researching use of social media whilst I have been here as background to some interviews I have set up with some journalists and IT entrepreneurs who are avid users of Twitter. Social media (or at least Twitter) is still restricted to the middle classes and the elite and has limited use for development at this present time. In this first blog in a series on social media in Uganda I will share some basic facts and figures.

Uganda-TheMangoTree

The population of Uganda is 38million. According to www.socialbakers.com Uganda has 584,000 Facebook users. I’m not sure whether these are active users or not. TeamUOT.com are currently tracking over 25,000 Twitter accounts in Uganda. The most prolific users tend to be people working in the media, celebrities, IT specialists and entrepreneurs.

Nearly everyone has a mobile phone, with 16 million active mobile accounts in Uganda, however smartphones are not very common. Apparently smartphones have dramatically reduced in price over the last year. The Galaxy S3 was 1.8m shillings (£450) last year and is now available for around 1.3m shillings (£325). Although this is a big drop in price it is still unaffordable by the vast majority of people in Uganda. As we know from the European mobile market, prices can drop quickly and in 5 years time smartphones might be the norm here. Will access to smartphones alone aid development? Maybe.

The next obvious barrier to social media for development is internet access. I was amazed at the speed of the wifi in the guest house when I arrived. I did not think I would be Skyping with my family quite so easily from my mobile phone. However access to wifi has been sporadic since the first few days and download speeds are often poor. Upload speeds are even worse. Access to 3G is readily available at reasonable prices (for those with a decent wage). The largest mobile provider MTN has an 80% coverage. Incidentally MTN’s Facebook site was the first in Uganda to reach 100,000 fans earlier this year.

Can social media help development in Uganda? My initial thoughts are mixed. Internet access is getting better, but there are still regular electricity outages affecting access. 3G is widespread (80% coverage) but it is only really affordable for the elite/middle classes. I have arranged to meet with a few social media users whilst I’m in Uganda and I look forward to writing about my findings.