Uganda Positions as Africa's Innovation Powerhouse
Africa ICT

Uganda Positions as Africa’s Innovation Powerhouse

Ambitious moves are underway to position Uganda as Africa’s Innovation Powerhouse of the future with the recently concluded Dubai Expo 2022 serving as the high-profile venue for the official unveiling.

The project is being masterminded by the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance whose senior representatives were in the UAE to also showcase what Uganda has to offer in Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and other related third party services.

In preparation for this, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, Minister of ICT and National Guidance told a gathering in Kampala, “The Government of Uganda is committed to fostering a trusted and vibrant business environment, where our businesses and workers are empowered to innovate.

We are cognizant that we might not be the largest from a geographical perspective nor the richest from a GDP perspective, but we do have Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) and Innovation that we can curve out as a niche amongst the many treasures that are resident in the nation.”

The expo theme ‘Connecting Minds, Creating the Future’ was based on the belief that bringing the world together can catalyze the exchange of new perspectives and inspire action to deliver real-life solutions to real-world challenges.

Delayed due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent international travel restrictions that followed, the Dubai expo finally opened in October 2021.

Nearly 200 countries displayed their best which happens every five years at a selected city frequently referred to as ‘the greatest show on Earth. Dubai won the bid in 2013.

By the end of March, an estimated 24 million people had visited the picturesque site spread over 438 hectares, dotted with futuristic pavilions that featured the latest technological products and other marvels.

Basically, it was all about showing off what your country offers the world in line with the chosen theme.

Notable popular attractions were the 150 robots that offered assistance or deliver food and the novelty of experiencing travel at high speed on a hyperloop, a kind of suspended train.

The Ministry officials were accompanied to Dubai by the founders and executives of a cross-section of Uganda’s technology and BPO companies namely Xente, PRISMS, Emvigo Technologies and Badaye Technologies.

BPO involves s contracting out your business processes (or back-office routine work) to some third-party either at a domestic or offshore level.

Mention BPO and most people immediately think of call centres.   Although bookkeeping, customer support, HR management, tax filing, and contact center services are among the more common forms, BPO involves a wide array of business functions and services.

BPO also allows organizations to develop new products or services that are complementary to their core business and appeal to their customers.

Apart from the United States, global leaders in this industry are India, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brazil, China and Mexico.

The global BPO market size was estimated at $245.91 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $261.9 billion in 2022.

According to a 2020 report published by financial services firm, Deloitte, the African BPO industry accounted for 1% of the global BPO revenue in 2014, but is expected to account for 4% of global revenues by 2030.

The 2021 Africa Global Business Services (GBS) Benchmarking and Market Report affirms the continent’s status as a rising industry powerhouse.

The report estimates that the continent’s GBS off-shoring market is expected to reach US$11.7 billion by 2023 from $8.3 billion in 2021.

According to the research, five countries are currently positioned as maturing and emerging GBS/BPO locations: South Africa, Egypt, Nigeria, Rwanda and Botswana.

Additional maturing and emerging African regions within the GBS/BPO space include Morocco, Tunisia, Kenya, Mauritius, Zimbabwe, Ghana and Senegal.

Speaking at the Uganda pavilion during the final seven days of the expo, dubbed ‘Innovation week’, Godfrey Kabyanga, the ICT state minister staked Uganda’s claim to become a major player.

He said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, ensuring a thriving tech sector is critical to the future of the Ugandan economy — it is critical to growth, critical to job creation and critical to raising our nation’s productivity.

It is a top priority for the whole government and we are determined that Uganda will be a science and tech superpower in Africa, and that is why we’re bold in inviting the world to Discover Africa’s Innovation Powerhouse.”

Dubai Expo 2020 provided an ideal opportunity for branding and marketing Uganda as a BPO and Innovation investment destination, engaging in a global conversation with other innovators from around the world and job creation through great partnerships.

It was a chance to showcase national aspirations in promoting digitalization, innovation and its ability to connect people.

Additionally, the physical presence of the innovators/BPO practitioners at the Dubai Expo will be an opportunity for marketing Ugandan innovations and position them to benefit export opportunities for the Ugandan enterprises in the global market.

Kabyanga said, “For us, BPO and Innovation are not mere buzzwords, their development is deliberate as we believe that is how we can ensure employment for our young people and importantly play our role in the development of the Country and region.

That is why, as an example, we started a program whose purpose was to identify and support innovators & BPO practitioners and provide growth opportunities for them.”

Before departure for Dubai, the ICT Permanent Secretary Dr. Aminah Zawedde, said, “We are committed to growing the innovators and BPO practitioners and providing growth opportunities for them.

The Dubai Expo 2020 is the ‘World Cup’ of innovation and BPO, having our young people present is an opportunity we couldn’t let pass.”

She said, “We thank the various partners Huawei Uganda, MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, NBS TV, UBC, Vision Group, Centenary Technology Services and TBWA Uganda, who joined us in making Uganda’s participation at the Innovation week a reality. Let us show the world that indeed, Uganda is Africa’s Innovation Powerhouse.”

The Ministry has set itself a broad range of objectives to make this happen. These include reduction of the cost of internet, an extension of the ministry ICT backbone to the government incubation and innovation centers, operationalization of the 1000-seater innovation hub in Nakawa, development of a mechanism to allow the youth already in innovation centers to access Ugandan made laptops and phones from the ICT assembly factory in Namanve and a government promise to use software developed by Ugandan entities.

With the growth in data usage and storage and the broader digital transformation of businesses and the public sector in Uganda, the Ministry set up the first tier 3 data centre and data recovery site supporting the growth and digitalisation of the Ugandan economy.

Government plans on building more data centres across the country, with regional points of presence to enhance the internet service experience.

During their stay in the UAE, Kabyanga and Dr. Zawedde were taken on a tour of a number of data centres in Abu Dhabi which is the administrative capital of the UAE.