PCs for Uganda      Part One: Putting a new face on Uganda
Dr. Richard Ochero & Vanessa Kratzmann
Africa. Some call it the Land God Forgot. Others, the Land Time Left Behind. In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, one would be forgiven for saying so. In the era of Satellites and IT, the African continent is one of the most misunderstood, most slandered places on earth. We have touched down on Mars, but Africa remains unexplored. They say media defines a land. And yes, this is true. I should know.
I returned to Africa for 2 years in 1999 after a 20 year absence. Time abroad had shaped my vision of "home". I returned with the common stereotype mentality towards Africa - it is a beaten continent, sinking. In my mind, progress was happening here, abroad! Life in Africa was not an option for me. And true to thought, Africa fulfilled these negative expectations I had brought "home" with me. When I had left Uganda as a teenager, it was a country on the brink of shuttling into its own "modern era". The Uganda I found in 1999 was a shocking reversal of the one I had left 20 years before. Not even the eight years of dictatorship under Idi Amin had halted the strong growth momentum. But the war to expel Idi Amin in 1978-79, then the mutinees and coups that followed that war for the next 7 years effectively killed hope for this country.
One needs to look beyond this because that is where the bad news ends, and unfortunately, so does the interest of the Western world. Uganda is a veritable Nirvana - a beautiful land with wonderful people and the only place on earth where there exists a total absence of stress. It took me all of one week to find this again. My brief one month visit extended to nearly 2 years. Today, I know exactly where my life is going... back to Africa.
This month, I share with you some general information about Africa and more specifically, Uganda. Further issues of the AJ will contain segments exploring the problems Uganda faces in trying to catch up with the West, how these challenges can be met and ongoing reports of progress being made.
Political boundaries, as seen by the native African would read like this: The North and the Sub-Sahara (includes the western, southern, and eastern regions of the Sahara Desert). The main geographical landmark is Lake Victoria, sitting centrally on the equator, which divides the continent in two. The north is home to Islamic Arabs with varying ways of life that is not unlike Middle Eastern culture. Sub-Saharan Africa can be considered for my purposes, as one culture. With all the incredible diversity in geography, climate, language and culture, the challenges for survival are essentially the same. Because it contains all these diversities, I will use my personal evaluation of Ugandan demographics as a way for you to get a feel for the entire Sub-Saharan region.
The country's major exports include power, and agriculture and mineral resources. Tourism still lingers from the booming '70's, but lacks hotel and transport infrastructure to sustain it as a major economic source.
Kampala, the capital city houses 5% of the official population figure of 20 million. This figure is questionable, due to the AIDS epidemic, war and extreme poverty. My estimation is that 20% are in the cities, 80% in rural villages.
Wealth and influence are reserved for 1%.
Poor, but educated - what we would consider the working class - accounts for 20%.
English is the first official language. Swahili, the second. The tribal languages that are still used in the villages were not part of the educational and business systems England established during the colonial years. It is this same education system that has maintained a strong, yet poor working class. While this working class is set to work in IT, the actual resources needed to tap their strengths are non-existent. Computers are the missing element.
Independence from England was achieved in 1962. Uganda is one of only 3 nations that achieved it peacefully. It is this independent developing nation that I recall and can still see reflected in the educated working class.
The articles you find in upcoming issues of the AJ will discuss my frustration with the privileged 1% and explore the potential of the poor, educated 20%. My over-all aim with these publications is make up for the lost world market, which forgot about Uganda over the course of war. The poor, but educated will be provided with IT resources to restore Uganda.
Several articles have been written about Africa in regard to western Aid which have largely failed. Some more recent writings have even questioned the viability of IT expansion, specifically whether Africa is ready for IT. Negative or positive, any article that attempts to tackle the African problem is a welcome event. We encourage all who come across any such articles to forward it to us , as it will be most helpful in our preparations for later articles in which I will attempt to outline how my "PC for Africa" Project can and will indeed open up the continent. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
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