Monday, 19 August 2013

UCC steps up

After blogging about the inadequacy of the Uganda Communication Commission's sensitisation programme for the ongoing migration from analogue to digital television I was pleasantly surprised when when I opened the New Vision today and found a glossy pull-out on FAQs relating to digital migration in Uganda.

Ugandan Digital Migration FAQ from the UCC
There is now also a fairly more extensive FAQ page on the UCC website which addresses the issues I raised and many more

I would like to think that my article in the Daily Monitor had something to do with these developments. I hope that now they can do the same in the electronic media and in local languages

Friday, 16 August 2013

Uganda Commmunications Commission not doing enough to sensitize on Digital Migration

Kampalans lining up to buy GOTV decoders. What most don't know is that
digital migration is not the same as subscribing to a digital PayTV provide
r (photo courtesy of Daily Monitor)
The confusion surrounding the recent switch-off of some TV stations in and around Kampala, as equipment to enable migration to digital television was being installed on the Kololo TV mast, exposed just how little sensitization has been done to prepare the public for digital migration. 

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has done a poor job sensitizing Ugandans on the digital migration to the extent that even the few who  have an idea of what digital migration is about associate the move to digital with subscription services like StarTimes and GoTV.

UCC has not done enough to sensitize the public on the purchase of free-to-air decoders (for which no subscription is required) and how these will work. It has instead kept quiet while the PayTV stations are raking in millions from people who are under the impression that without a subscription from a pay TV provider like GOTV they will not be able to watch any TV when the switch to full digital is complete.
The UCC should be clearly telling people that they are now only testing the digital signal and hence people will still be able to watch their analogue channels for a while until the full switchover is done. They should then further explain how the migration will work and how the people will be able to get their favourite channels for free as they have been doing before migration.

The UCC should also take steps to either import subsidized free-to-air set-top boxes or at least prepare, and publicize widely, a list of trusted distributors from where people can go to buy set-top boxes that fit their price range. A clear distinction should also be made between free-to-air set-top boxes and those for which a regular subscription will be required.

As of now the UCC is silent on all these issues, which fuels suspicion that they might be in cahoots with the Pay TV companies, helping them reap big profits while the population is still ignorant. 

All this comes on the heels of confusion over which standard for terrestrial digital television Uganda would adopt. First UCC said it would be DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcasting — Terrestrial) then it later changed its mind and decided on the more advanced DVB-T2 yet many consumers had already purchased DVB-T decoders mostly from StarTimes, which, on top of not offering them free-to-air channels, will soon be rendered obsolete. This was on top of UCC misleading people in the early days that those with digital satellite receivers/decoders from companies like DSTV would not have anything to worry about from the switch from analogue to digital because these decoders were already digital. What they failed to mention was that DSTV decoders (and those of other satellite TV services like ZUKU) decode DVB-S/DVB-S2 (Digital Video Broadcasting — Satellite), which though related in some ways is not the same as DVB-T/DVB-T2

The UCC website is also woefully lacking in any useful information on digital migration. The site only has a press release on the just concluded switch-off of TV channels on the UBC mast and a page on “Minimum specifications for DVB-T2 digital set-top boxes for the Ugandan market”, which even for somebody like me with some knowledge on digital television is too technical. 

UCC should at the very least have a FAQ page that answers most of the questions consumers are likely to have and also allay some fears based on conflicting information. There should be a simplified explanation of the set-top box specifications that does not only make sense to a technical person. There should be a well laid out time-frame over which the migration is going to take place in different parts of Uganda.

The website is just one channel through which information can be relayed but unfortunately it can only be accessed by only few people. Therefore a lot more sensitization has to be done especially on the local radio and TV stations over coming months so that by the time the global switch to digital is complete a lot more people are aware of what is going on. 

A billboard here and there in combination with the odd press conference and accompanying press release in the national English language papers will not do.

Also printed in the Daily Monitor

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Mbarara Police Swoop Counter-productive

Early in the morning on Wednesday 3rd July 2013 the police in Mbarara municipality conducted a pre-dawn security operation in the municipality’s Kakoba division ostensibly to weed out criminal elements that have been terrorising the area's residents for some time. The event that triggered this operation was, supposedly, the murder of a World Food Programme employee Andrew Mpubani, who was killed outside his home in the area a few days earlier. During the raid the police rounded up hundreds of people and detained as suspects those who could not immediately identify themselves with resident identity cards.
While the police should ordinarily be applauded for vigorously trying to combat crime, one cannot help but think that the Kakoba operation was nothing more than a show for the public and media, which will ultimately prove counter-productive.
 In a country which has no national ID and in which one has no legal obligation to carry an ID, it makes no sense to demand ID from random individuals and arresting those that do not have any identification. Even if, for arguments sake, we assumed that everybody had some sort of ID, how does carrying one prove that the individual is not a criminal or that not having any ID proves that one is intent on doing harm or committing a crime?

Anybody who has walked along Nasser road or Kampala road, around Cairo International Bank, in Kampala will tell you that "Resident IDs" are sold in the open. It is therefore more than likely that Mbarara has its own areas where such IDs are sold. On top of the fact that these IDs have no weight of legality to them, what is to prevent a criminal from owning up to 5 different ones, all conveniently signed and stamped (another thing that is easy to forge)?  Does the police have a record of all LC1 officials’ signatures and official stamps against which to cross-check.  Even if one had a duly signed, stamped and recognised Resident ID, how does that in any way prove that they are/were not involved in committing crimes?

The Uganda Police should get serious and invest in doing proper policing as opposed to operating through reactive knee-jerk operations. They should invest in cultivating community cooperation and in encouraging the citizens to be vigilant and act as the eyes and ears of the police as a way of helping the police to help them.

The "panda gari” tactics employed in Mbarara are another result of filling the Uganda Police Force with military people who do not know much about civil policing. They lack the skills and finesse to carefully carry out investigations that are likely to yield better results than their preferred tactics of running roughshod over all that's in their wake, which only serves to alienate the very people they are meant to serve and whose help they need to do their work better.

While the police might claim that the operation was a success because they got a few weapons and army uniforms, there is no indication that they are any closer to solving the insecurity issues in the town yet in all likelihood they have made many Kakoba residents unhappy and resentful. This does not bode well for the future of the harmonious relations between the police and the people they are meant to serve and protect.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Fare Thee Well James Gandolfini

So, James Gandolfini is dead.

Ordinarily an American actor's death would mean nothing more for me than a few minutes on the news and I'd be back to whatever I was doing. However, Gandolfini's passing triggered some personal memories.

Kept me company before
I found The Sopranos
No, no, I didn't know "Tony Soprano" personally. However, 5 years ago I moved to Beijing where I was to live for almost a year and the first few weeks were quite lonely because I had just moved into a sparsely furnished apartment with no TV or anything I could pass time with and I had no friends. I bought a used laptop shortly after and one day as I was going home I came across a street vendor with all Six seasons of the Sopranos (which had just wrapped up a few months before). I cannot say I was a fan of the show having only watched a the first few episodes of season one on DSTV around 7 years earlier, but it was the only one he had in English and I was really not looking forward to another night in an empty flat with only Yangjing
beer and some tasty orange coloured chicken from the street vendor round the corner  to keep me company.

Anyway I bought all 6 DVDs and went home to watch them. For the next few weeks I watched 2 or 3 episodes per day (initially I was stretching it until I found a supplier of other English language DVDs) and before long Tony, Carmela, Meadow, Junior, Chris, Silvio, Paulie and all the other characters became close acquaintances.

So that's why Gandolfini's death brought back all those memories of those first few weeks in an empty Beijing flat with only The Sopranos to keep me company.

RIP Tony Soprano you made this Ugandan's life a lot less dull

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Anti-gay bill claims more collateral damage

Victoria University Kampala
The controversial anti-homosexuality bill before the Ugandan parliament has claimed more collateral damage. The latest victims of this bill are the students of Victoria University in Kampala whose academic future is uncertain after the University of Buckingham in the UK has suspended its validation of Victoria University degrees because it is becoming "increasingly concerned about the proposed legislation in Uganda on homosexuality and in particular the constraints on freedom of speech".

The full University of Buckingham statement reads:
Over the last few months, the University of Buckingham has been in discussions with our partners, Edulink, who own Victoria University in Kampala, Uganda, about our continued validation of some of Victoria University’s courses. We have both become increasingly concerned about the proposed legislation in Uganda on homosexuality and in particular the constraints on freedom of speech in this area. In the light of this we have agreed to suspend our validation on the assurance that Edulink would produce viable arrangements for existing students on our validated courses to complete their studies. We will of course assist Edulink with any validation support needed to achieve this
From the above it appears that the UK university has decided to pull out of a collaboration agreement with Victoria University based simply on the premise that a bill whose content it has misgivings about is likely to be passed into law by the Parliament of Uganda.

First of all, as the full title of the controversial piece of legislation makes clear, it is just a bill. It is a private members bill (tabled by a backbench MP as opposed to one tabled by, for example, a cabinet minister, which would suggest government's endorsement). It has not been debated and passed as law and as such it is unfair for Buckingham University to use it as the basis of evaluating its relationship with an academic institution in Uganda.

Secondly, the law on homosexuality in Uganda is still the same as it was in 2011 when University of Buckingham and Victoria University entered into an agreement where Victoria University awarded undergraduate degrees accredited by the University of Buckingham. At the time of this agreement the bill in question was almost two years old and had already gained notoriety worldwide. So what has changed since?

Victoria University has also released a slightly more detailed statement on the issue in which it presents the current situation as the result of "fundamental differences between the two nations’ respective 
laws regarding equality and diversity, which cannot be reconciled". However, given the fact that the University of Buckingham is not the only British university that gives accreditation to degrees and other qualifications obtained in Uganda its reaction hardly seems warranted.

The situation appears to be a case of an institution that has nothing to do with the anti-gay bill being unfairly made to suffer the consequences of the bill by another institution that, pushed by zeal to show that it opposes a bad law in another country, reacts without giving much thought to those that are actually being affected by its actions. Sort of like the misguided defacement of the Uganda Law Society website by Anonymous in protest against the same anti-gay bill.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

AFCON 2013 is upon us, but gosh what a terrible theme song

Today I realised that the Orange Africa Cup of Nations 2013 AFCON 2013 (or CAN 2013 if you are Francophone) will be kicking off in exactly 2 weeks in South Africa and unlike most guys my first thought was not towards how the teams are getting on with their preparations but about what theme song was chosen (my beloved Uganda Cranes where very narrowly prevented from qualifying by the Zambians, which explains my lack of enthusiasm for the tournament).

I thought of the theme song because I liked the one for AFCON 2012 (and I even had a few nice words to write about it) so naturally I expected another catchy and uplifting tune-the kind that makes you feel good and makes you want to be part of the whole football experience. Sela Sela by Zahra Universe and Wes Madiko is not such a song.

I cannot seem to find anything to like about it. From the "tribal"dances (when will people get over this) to the bland uninspiring lyrics to .....You know what? You guys make up your minds about it. Maybe I am just grumpy this morning, but I doubt its just me.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Uganda Law Society website hack: Wrong target Mr. Anonymous

The Uganda Law Society website has been hacked by Anonymous, a Hacktivist group that has made a name for itself over the past few years, who claim they want to bring to the world's attention to the Uganda government's violations of human rights specifically in relation to some pending anti-gay legislation.

"We have gone to the trouble of compromising the Ugandan Law Society's webserver to bring to your attention, and to the attention of the world, your government's gross breaches of human rights and justice" 

The group had released a statement last year threatening some kind of action against Uganda government's network infrastructure and they have followed through by exploiting a vulnerability in the ULS website's security (which they cheekily pointed out).

Ironically, the target chosen for the first attack happens to be one of those organisations at the forefront of fighting the anti-homosexuality bill that is before the parliament of Uganda. The Uganda Law Society has been on record as being against the anti-gay bill and its members have been quite vocal in the support of activism against the bill.

I am guessing the the social justice hactivists at Anonymous probably saw the name of the organisation and assumed it was a government agency. The fact is that the ULS is an association of lawyers charged with ensuring high levels of professionalism among lawyers in Uganda (granted it was established by an act of parliament but strictly speaking its not a government agency).

I guess that really doesn't matter to the guys at Anonymous. The important thing to them is that their point has been made and they have shown that they are gearing to take on the government of Uganda.
"If nobody else will take action and the government of Uganda refuses to see reason, Anonymous will adopt a scorched earth policy towards Uganda's network infrastructure. They should expect us, for we do not forgive and we do not forget. Your networks are not secure, you cannot protect against us"

Under Anonymous's #OpUganda (which I am guessing means Operation Uganda) the ULS website hack is just the beginning and it seems many more Uganda government websites are going to be targets over the coming months if the list at the end of this press statement is anything to go by.

Judging from what these guys have to say about the internet security of most Uganda government websites this might be these guys'easiest operation yet. 

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year 2013

As I settle into 2012 I have decided to pay some long overdue attention to this blog of mine. In fact, one of my (many) resolutions this year is to be a more active blogger. I happen to think it is quite an achievable one but that remains to be seem. The blog realignment is under way and my Idle Cogitations will start taking on a less random nature as the year goes by (I hope).

Here's to a Happy and Prosperous 2013. May it be full of whatever you all want it to be full of.