Impact of cybercafes on information services in Uganda
First Monday

The impact of cybercafés on information services in Uganda by Samuel Gitta and J.R. Ikoja-Odongo



Abstract
This study assessed the impact of cybercafés on the provision of information services in Uganda. It focused on café users only. Findings revealed that 69.8 percent were in the age group of 20–39 years. Eighty–seven percent were not registered with particular cafés. Fifty–seven percent indicated they were satisfied with the service. A little over thirty percent used the Internet daily. All female respondents indicated e–mail as one of their Internet applications. The hypotheses were tested using the Chi–square statistic and resulted into retaining the first null hypothesis while the second null hypothesis was rejected.

Cybercafé use demonstrates a tremendous future for the Internet society in Uganda. The potential for meeting user needs in Uganda is high. The application of the Internet in the various disciplines and professions is hampered by low user skills, limited facilities, lack of support for the rural community, low downloading speed, high charges, and a lack of monitoring. Recommendations suggest that ICT policies be instituted and computers and the Internet be made part of the school curriculum to equip Ugandans with the necessary skills and to extend these new Internet services to the Ugandan rural community as well.

Contents

Introduction
Literature review
Methodology
Results
Conclusion and recommendations

 


 

Introduction

The prospects of information communications technology (ICT) for Uganda are tremendous. Its utilisation in development programs is increasing. The information revolution is creating new opportunities to address societal problems and the implementation of policies supporting projects geared to poverty eradication and rural development, disease control and human survival, environmental protection and nature conservation, decentralisation and grassroots empowerment. This is an achievement made possible for even rural communities through the telecenter facilities established in villages such as Nakaseke, Buwama and Nabweru, though more are needed. This affirms what Bangemann, et al. (1994) remarked about modern information technologies continuing to change the way people live, work and play.

“Throughout the world, information and communications technologies are generating a new industrial revolution already as significant and far–reaching as those of the past. It is a revolution based on information, itself the expression of human knowledge. Technological progress now enables us to process, store, retrieve and communicate information in whatever form it may take, unconstrained by distance, time and volume.” (Bangemann, et al., 1994)

Computer networking has aptly been defined as the marriage of two or more previously separate technologies — computers, communications, and microelectronics resulting in a single entity with significant advantages. Networking in turn has made the the Internet possible, founded upon the Transmission Control Protocol/Internet Protocol (TCP/IP). These protocols support transparent interconnection of data stored in machines spread across networks around the world. Today, there are literally millions of computers connected to the Internet, exchanging packets of data using TCP/IP. The Internet can be said to be the freest and most flexible form of communication that exists today. Contact can be made with anyone around the world who is connected. “The Internet is so big and growing so fast that it cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, it has flaws, notably serious problems.” (Bangemann, et al., 1994)

Most importantly, the Internet is not really about computers; it is about people, communication, and sharing information and knowledge. It is about overcoming physical boundaries to allow like minds meet. “Information is critical to the social and economic activities that comprise the development process. Telecommunications, as a means of sharing information, is not simply a connection between people, but a link in the chain of the development process itself.” (Hudson, 1995)

ICT in Uganda

Uganda has made remarkable improvements in embracing ICT but particularly the mobile telephone. Besides radio technology, telephony access is one that has penetrated many rural communities much more than other forms of ICT, such as those involving traditional personal computer technology. Factors involved include the relatively lower costs of purchase, installation and the skills required for use, specifically for mobile phone service. Fixed lines are expensive to maintain especially in rainy seasons and poor terrain. Presently, only the Mobile Telephone Network (MTN) provides a wireless fixed phone service.

The telecommunication sector was liberalised in 1996 by a policy framework and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) was established in 1997 to spearhead the development of the telecom industry. It also operates the Fund for Rural Communications Development (FRCD), which is likely to require telecom operators to provide 2.5 percent of their gross revenues for rural communications. Telecommunication operators also have an obligation to deliver telecommunication services to the local county level by legislation.

UCC is a public sector organisation under the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications, legally established by the Uganda Communications Act (1997), with a mission to comprehensively regulate and facilitate development of communication services in Uganda.

 

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Stakeholders in ICT in Uganda have developed national IT policy guidelines to regulate and guide the evolution of ICT. A conceptual framework has been developed on which the policy consultation and development process is based. The following areas are being focused on: 1. Universal access (for all sectors of society); 2. Human resource development; 3. Support for good governance; 4. Promotion of cultural heritage; 5. Appropriate infrastructure development; and, 6. Support for business development.

Uganda is well known for its policies and institutional measures to create an environment that aims to increase rural participation in the development process. ICTs are widely perceived by many in government as important for the development of rural communities. The International Development Research Centre’s (IDRC) Acacia programme is focusing on Uganda as one of its priority countries and has begun implementing a number of telecentres and other initiatives. A Multipurpose Community Telecentre at Nakaseke in Luwero District, north of Kampala, was developed as a joint effort between the ITU, UNESCO, IDRC and the Uganda Government.

Internet in Uganda

Uganda was one of the first countries in sub–Saharan Africa to obtain a full Internet connection. The Private company InfoMail (IMUL) was the first supplier, establishing a VSAT–based service via an InterSputnik satellite to MSN in the United States. Since then ISP has merged with a second ISP to start up Starcom, which is a venture of U.S.–based Starlight Communications. The new company is called InfoCom. The IMUL link has been maintained, providing two redundant international links with a total of 1,024 Kbps international bandwidth. Starcom’s VSAT link connects via Norway. Subsequently SwiftUganda established an ISP but in April 2000 AfricaOnline purchased the service. By April 2001, the Uganda Communications Commission had licensed over 15 Internet service providers including Africa Online (U) Ltd., Africa.com (U) Ltd., Bushnet Ltd., Datanet.com Ltd., Dehezi International Ltd., Global Electro–comm (U) Ltd., Infocom (U) Ltd., MTN (U) Ltd., MultiChoice (U) Ltd., NTTC (U) Ltd., Sanyutel Ltd., Spacenet International Ltd., The Monitor Publications Ltd., UTL (U) Ltd., Warsun Network Solutions (U) Ltd., and Wilken Afsat (U) Ltd. Almost all were already providing Internet access services in Kampala. Users at some distance from Kampala had to log on using dial–up through telephone lines, making it expensive because of high telephone tariffs.

 

Table 1: Uganda’s growth in Internet infrastructure since 1996.
Source: National Information and Communication Technology Policy Framework, August 2001.
Service Year
  1996 1998 1999 2000 2001
Internet Access Service Providers 2 7 9 9 8
Wireless Access Internet/E–mail subscribers       500 1,200
Dial–up Internet/E–mail subscribers       4,000 4,500
VSAT International Data Gateways       4 8
Public Internet Service Providers   3 8 14 24

 

A wireless ISP providing broadband line–of–site services via spread spectrum systems and HF radio–links for long–distance narrowband/e–mail services was established in 1997 by BushNet. The HF–radio service mainly supplies facilities to large development agencies with field operations in the region, especially in the Congo area [1]. By 1999, Uganda had 0.5 computer users in every 1,000 people [2]. Today, the Internet has grown relatively rapidly in Uganda, one of the reasons being the government has liberalized the VSAT and wireless data markets.

Problem statement

Internet cafés or cybercafés are a significant means for many to access the Internet in Uganda, especially in urban areas. The total number of cafés, having increased tremendously, has led to stiff competition in form of advertisements and price wars. Some cafes are charging U SHS (Uganda shillings) 25/= per minute. Even if some cafés are charging as low as that, queues are still seen in even those cafés charging as high as U SHS 100/= [3].

 

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Despite some organisations initiating ICT projects to benefit rural communities through telecentres, Internet service has just recently begun to spread all over the country. It is still confined to major towns, such as Mbarara, Masaka, Jinja, Mbale, Soroti, and Gulu. Few prominent schools in villages have Internet facilities, which only benefit the staff and students, many of whom come from towns and cities where services are already established. When these schools close, the facilities are never opened to the community even if Internet skills are locally available.

Aim of the study

This paper attempts to assess the contribution of cybercafés in providing information services to Ugandans in areas such as education and research, trade and commerce, health and recreation. Since the research was predominantly quantitative, it necessitated testing the set hypotheses.

Scope and significance of the study

The study concentrated among Internet users in cybercafés around the cityo of Kampala, its administrators and users. It attempts to assess the contribution of Internet cafés in helping Ugandans access digital information via the Internet. It also assessed the major type of information disseminated through cybercafés.

Hypotheses

The study was predominantly quantitative. The following hypotheses were set and tested.

  • HO1: Most users go to cybercafés for only e–mail services.
  • HA1: Users of cybercafés have other information needs than e–mail.
  • HO2: There is no relationship between users’ education levels and their Internet use.
  • HA2: There is a close link between education levels and their Internet use.

 

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Literature review

Internet use in Africa

Telecentres are some of the areas in which Internet is used in Africa. These centre are in rural areas and serve models for integrating telephone access with other ICTs. A telecenter is a common point of access for the entire community, providing a variety of technologies such as the Internet, fax, software applications and other uses. They have been established widely over the world.

“Of the over 70 community telecentres established since 1997 by the South African Universal Services Agency, only 40 percent remain open today, with only three percent making enough money to cover costs. Many telecentres failed to serve their target groups;” (Caspary, 2002)

Caspany notes that some telecentres are being utilised disproportionately by tourists.

In Burundi, the Internet was introduced in April 1996. The Centre National d’Informatique (CNI) is the sole Internet service provider (ISP), with about 1,500 subscribers and perhaps up to 4,500 actual users. More than half the subscribers are employees of foreign non–governmental organizations. The rest are from the private sector (about 30 percent), government ministries and the university (about five percent), and individuals (about 10 percent). Most of the growth in Internet use is expected to come from the private sector.

CNI charges a set–up fee of US$65; a monthly unlimited access fee of US$150; and a fee of US$50 plus 20 cents per additional minute for 10 hours of connectivity per month. Local phone calls, which are not included, cost 75 cents for three minutes. The average personal comuter costs US$1,000 in Burundi where the average annual income is US$150 [4].

The South African business community is rapidly adopting Internet use, with most press, radio and television advertisements featuring a Universal Resource Locator (URL). Roadside billboards advertise the Internet, most television and radio shows have their own Web sites and about 20 daily and weekly newspapers have online versions. Electronic banking, events booking/ticketing and online purchases of some products are possible through local Internet service providers, many of which have established secure servers and electronic commerce facilities. Major dialup Internet Servers include Mweb, World Online, IBM, Intekom and CiTEC.

While the costs of access are lower in the majority of cities and towns due to the presence of local Points of Presence (POP), there is no low–cost method–of–access outside these areas. Cellular phone and Telkom’s dialup service with the 0800 number have reduced costs and expanded the area of coverage a little, but this has not brought costs down to anywhere near the levels of those with local dial access. And even then, local call charges still limit the extensive use of the Web for the majority of the population, especially during peak hours.

SchoolNet SA

SchoolNet SA is a national body that coordinates the linking of South African schools to the Internet. Its structure consists of a Transitional Executive Council with participants from the Department of Education, DACST and regional school networking organizations. Provincial "SchoolNets" is encouraged and supported while three advisory groups focus on issues of connectivity and technology, human resource development and training, and content generation and curriculum provide direction for SchoolNet’s policy [5].

Students Online

A South African Web–based student–teacher interaction system, it provides for submission and tracking of assignments and marks by the students and teachers, communicating with their lecturers and fellow students via e–mail and the cataloguing of the library [6].

East African Internet Association

Based in Nairobi, EAIA has a membership of 19 service providers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. The Kenyan branch is formally established as a not–for–profit body incorporated in Kenya. The group initially came together to promote Internet use including the idea of sharing an international link, but with the spread of commercial Internet and competition between members, this has not yet happened.

Internet use in Uganda

The Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) is a non–governmental organisation initiated in May 2000 by several women’s organisations in Uganda to develop the use of ICTs among women and address issues collectively. The mission is to take advantage of the opportunities presented by ICT to address problems of sustainable development, improve life conditions of women through collaboration and information sharing and how these technologies can be integrated with traditional means of information exchange and dissemination including radio, video, television and print media. Kezio (2002) mentions that many Ugandans practice text pornography and use a language that is so graphic that it discourages positive discussion [7].

New Vision, the Ugandan daily newspaper, reported that user prices at various cafés had gone up in 2000, due to high rates paid to different Internet service providers (ISPs). Operators of different cafés increased prices from U Shs 19-30/= to U Shs 50 per minute. One operator along Kampala road explained that a standard price had to be set to U Shs 50/= in order to make the business viable. The operator pointed out that Internet servers like UTL and MTN were very expensive to maintain a café at a charge below 50/= per minute. “The proprietors of 15 Internet cafés in the area signed an agreement to have their prices uniform and fixed. Our café was part of the agreement and so we have raised our rates to Shs 50 per minute.” He however added that when prices were changed, 20 percent of their customers complained and the number surfing the Internet decreased. ‘Kool Surfing’ rates were at U Shs 10/= per minute, believed to be the lowest at the time. He added that a dedicated line (a line that is used by only one café) is quite expensive, making many cafés resort to shared lines, which are too slow for downloading and are often interrupted. “A dedicated line costs $1,000 per month. The ramband depends on how many computers a café has. 32 rambands can be used for only 10 computers while 62 rambands can be used for only 20 computers. Many cybercafés can’t afford these rates and may soon have to pull out of this business. Some of the cafés have already closed down,” said one café operator.

BMI–T is an IT oriented organisation in East Africa. In its January 2002 report, it stated that the Web has yet to be recognised as a business tool in Uganda. “Existing Web sites can be recognised as static Web sites or ‘electronic brochure’ Web sites, providing limited information about a company with little or no interaction,” remarked the report. It added that although Uganda was an early adopter of the Internet in 1995, growth has been slow, but there have been a proliferation of Internet cafés in the country with an estimated 30 in Kampala alone. These cafés alone cannot create e–commerce for Ugandans.

According to the Minister’s policy statement on telecommunications in 1996 there was substantial growth in the usage of Internet services as evidenced by the proliferation of Internet service providers (ISPs) and Internet cafés with consequent increases in numbers of subscribers and users. There has also been increased use of Internet in the areas of education, medicine and business.

There’s need for focused intervention to create greater awareness of the Internet for both the business community and the public. The Ugandan government has encouraged the ICT market through its liberal policy in telecommunications, low taxes on ICTs and through being an active user of the Internet as evidenced by government ministries having e–mail capabilities and Web sites. Yet, the Ugandan government doesn’t offer any public services over the Internet. It however has many opportunities to promote Internet use in general and e–commerce in particular if it decides to effect its procurements over the Internet (Mugeere, 2002).

In its promotion of e–commerce and the use of the Internet in Uganda, Web City café recognised that e–commerce is a powerful business tool that had been ignored by Ugandans and the government. The growth rate of the e–commerce industry in Uganda is still very low. There is however significant hope for its development basing on the rapidly increasing number of Internet spots in the country. In the countryside where cybercafés haven’t yet taken root, telecentres have been set to provide training and exposure to computers and communication technologies especially to the communities around them.

Some experts see the increasing use of the Internet in Uganda as encouraging but not enough to support e–commerce. They too recommend government involvement in the deliberate promotion of e–commerce in order to encourage its more widespread use.

Farmers have been encouraged to explore online trading and to use telecentres to capture and disseminate information about local farming techniques and crop prices. Even with a poor banking system, electronic trading still has potential in Uganda, and when e–commerce becomes significant, there will be a huge growth in the information technology sector.

“The importance of the Internet communication in enhancing relationships among nations, transacting business and creating a better understanding cannot be over emphasised. The Internet in particular has transformed the manner and level of business and social transactions. It is now possible for one to sell products to a customer thousands of miles away without the need for physical contact.” (Odong, 2001) Though some have argued that the Internet does not help poor economies, others have stated that through the Internet, developing countries may be exposed to more innovative approaches to development. Odong argues that if the Internet is such an unavoidable part of life in both poor and wealthy economies, then the Uganda government should devise means of preparing its citizens for this new ‘lifestyle’. However, Dr. Godfrey Kibuuka — the Commissioner for communications at the Ministry of Works, Transport and Communications — remarked that “As a ministry, our role is to support the industry through policy guidelines that promote the sector and encourages investment in Internet infrastructure such as fibre optic cables and wireless access for rural areas.” He adds that there are other challenges to make Uganda access and utilise Internet facilities efficiently. These include inadequate infrastructure, lack of training, low investment in Internet infrastructure development and the high cost of technology. He says that with East African cooperation in place, a bigger market has been created, something that the Internet providers and investors can take advantage of.

“We are now faced with the challenge of introducing in the country advanced information services based on the Internet. I am aware that several cybercafés are operating in Kampala and in other big towns that are being used as public Internet access points. Several people nowadays use Internet services in their offices and homes for various forms of interaction.” (Nasasira, 2001)

Nasasira says that basic facilities like education, health and business are being supported by the Internet, such as the tele–medicine pilot project in Mulago and Mengo hospitals and Schoolnet, the electronic–based teaching at Makerere University. He also outlined the measures through which the government plans to transform Ugandans into an information–based society through the benefits of the Internet by;

  • promoting the industry by demonstrating support for Internet applications at the highest levels of government;
  • stimulating active public awareness campaigns;
  • providing suitable technologies leading to affordable Internet access charges;
  • encouraging adequate investment in the Internet infrastructure especially backbone and switching centre networks;
  • encouraging the production of local content through creating and enforcing a legal framework to protect intellectual property and copyright;
  • increased training in technology and computer skills not only for those at school but for all members of Ugandan society so as to build an Internet culture; and,
  • providing special low–cost access for schools, universities, libraries, multipurpose community centres and public service institutions;
“ … Policy makers, business and even users will have to find ways to rise to a number of challenges. The very first challenge is to expand access to the Internet at affordable prices. Today, the high cost of the service in many countries remains one of the main buriers to Internet diffusion in addition to that of the shortage of phone lines.” (Utsumi, 2001)

There’s a need for more facilities since the number of users is also increasing as evidenced from the queues seen at some cafés. However, some surfers have complained that the Internet speed in many cafés is too slow. The implication here is that they have to pay more and surf less (Matsamura, 2001).

According to the mini–survey done by the Monitor, on 4 August 2001, there were over 35 Internet cafés in Kampala alone but only 20 were licensed by UCC. UCC’s public relations manager, Francis Ojjede, informed the Monitor that the legal licensing body was doing everything to control the rising number of unlicensed Internet operators and illegal phone vendors. Operators who talked to the Monitor attributed the ‘unfortunate’ drop in prices to the ever–increasing number of service providers (Kamagara, 2001). This mini–survey noted that some Internet cafés were less affected because of their prime locations. Cafés located near big hotels, frequented by the rich and tourists, had generally kept their prices fixed because their clientele could afford it. Web city café, located near the Imperial Hotel, Sheraton Kampala and Kampala Casino, has kept its minute rate at U Shs 100/= ever since it had opened four years ago. The café however gives occasional discounts to attract people to subscribe for membership (Kamagara, 2001).

The cost of Internet services, e–mail and others has now fallen by more than 100 percent to the range of U Shs 25 to 100 per minute, from U Shs 200 in August 1998. However, a shared wireless 64K bandwidth cost US$250 per month so profit margins are very thin, if they exist at all.

 

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Methodology

Study design

This study predominantly took mainly a quantitative approach with a few elements of qualitative nature since some aspects called for human judgment and subjectivity. The enquiry aimed at finding out the predominant use of cafés by the respondents, which results could be generalised about the entire user group around Kampala city.

The choice of a quantitative approach was also based on the fact that the study was using predetermined hypotheses to test. It did not aim much at discovering new information but to reject or fail to reject the already perceived mentalities.

The study involved both methodologies because there were aspects that called for qualitative analysis such as user comments and problems and the information that might be captured through direct observation. Internet cafés are private business establishments set up to provide Internet services to the public. They are located in urban areas especially in Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Masaka and Mbarara. The cafés are supposed to be registered with the Uganda Communications Commission, a body that was established in 1997 to spearhead the development of the telecom industry. By January 2002, a report obtained from the Commission showed that only 24 cafés were licensed and registered. The exact number of unlicensed cafés was not known.

Method

This study used a survey method of enquiry. This is because cybercafés are scattered throughout the country. In Kampala, there are about 30 cafés.

Research procedure

A questionnaire consisting of 14 questions was distributed to 30 cafés in Kampala city. The questionnaire was used because it provided privacy for the respondents, which was in turn believed to have produced viable information. At each café, questionnaires were distributed to respondents — male and female — depending on the relative number present. They were requested to leave them at the reception after filling, when their subscribed time is over. They were collected later for editing and coding. SPSS was used to analyse the collected information.

 

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Results

A total of 80 questionnaires were distributed out of which 63 (78.75 percent) were returned. The results in this chapter were derived from 63 valid questionnaires.

The study set out to test two hypotheses, i.e.

  • H01 Most users visit Internet cafés for only e–mail services.
  • H02 There exists no relationship between user education and Internet use.

Predominant group of users

Tables below show results from questions 1 to 4 — which were asked to support the first objective — to establish the predominant group age, type or class of individuals using cybercafés.

 

Table 2: Number of respondents by age.
Age groups Frequency Percentage
1–19 2 3.2
20–29 25 39.7
30–39 19 30.2
40–49 4 6.3
Unknown age 13 20.6
Total 63 100.0

 

Table 2 shows that most café users are in the age group of 20–39 years, contributing 44 respondents (69.9 percent). Thirteen (20.6 percent) respondents did not indicate their age. Respondents were grouped by age to measure if age had an influence on café usage.

The following table however shows the general population distribution by age in Uganda by 1997.

 

Table 3: Number of respondents by gender.
Gender Frequency Percentage
Male 41 65.1
Female 34.9 39.7
Total 63 100.0

 

Respondents were also grouped by gender to measure if gender had an influence on café usage. Of the 63 respondents covered in the study, a little over 65 percent were male. We assume that Ugandan females usually shy away from technologies and are not usually adventurous.

Respondents by education level

Of the 63 respondents, 36 (57.1 percent) had attained university education, 16 (25.4 percent) had reached advanced level of secondary education, and five (7.9 percent), had attained ordinary level of secondary education. Only one (1.6 percent) had not been to school while give (7.9 percent) had reached other levels of education.

The greatest number of users had reached university level in their education and among those students represented the largest number. We can conclude that educational level influences the use of cybercafés.

Cybercafés are used by individuals from different professions including students. Students (15.9 percent) ranked highest, followed by teachers and business people (14.3 percent each), then those involved in media services (12.7 percent). Those working in construction (2 or 3.2 percent) and agriculture (1 or 1.6 percent) were the least represented.

Students and those who did not indicate their status contributed 15.9 percent each. The question requesting employment status was open for each respondent to fill any status of interest, which was later coded into 10 subgroups. Although students, teachers and businesspeople dominated the study, there is still widespread use of cybercafés in professions. It is highly expected that under the “Not indicated” group, there were many more students and the educated unemployed.

The table below shows respondents by income ranges. National population income estimates were not available for comparison. Because of privatisation and liberalisation, the majority are employed in the private sector and their salaries are not registered.

 

Table 4: Number of respondents by monthly income estimates (in US$).
Income levels Frequency Percentage
1 to 30 3 4.8
55 to 100 6 9.5
100 to 150 12 19.0
150 to 250 10 15.9
>250 7 11.1
Not indicated 25 39.7
Total 63 100.0

 

A question on income was asked to find out whether income influences use of cybercafés. The above table shows that the largest number of café users (39.7 percent) did not indicate their salary ranges because many were students. The number however, includes non–students but unemployed, those with no defined salary, as well as those who simply chose not to indicate their earning particulars. In the same way, the “Not indicated” group is expected to include more students and the unemployed. It could also be that some respondents earned so little that they were not comfortable indicating their income. In general, we might conclude that middle–income earners dominated the cybercafés.

User frequency at Internet cafés

Virtually every day, cybercafés were in use. Of those surveyed, 30.2 percent used them daily, 27 percent used it twice or twice a week, those who used it more frequently represented 25.4 percent of the sample.

Use of the Internet

Twenty–seven percent of the respondents indicated that they were using the Internet in cybercafés for education; 31.7 percent for research; 25.4 percent for trade and commerce; 30.2 percent for entertainment; 23.8 percent each percent each for sports and news; 88.9 percent for communication such as e–mail; and, 3.2 percent for other purposes. Multiple answers were permitted.

Those using the Internet for “education” did not indicate the exact nature of educational uses. All respondents who used the Internet for research were students at a university level. The findings also indicate a relatively small number of respondents using cafés for business. The number would be expected to be even much less but some respondents are believed to have indicated ‘business’ because they send business–related communications to their suppliers. Additionally, there are very few business–related applications in Ugandan cybercafés.

Sports is a reasonable activity on the Internet in these cybercafés since they are largely dominated by males in the age group 20–39 years old. This was expected because this age group is mostly interested in sports. Of the large group using the Internet for news were most were employed in the media sector and many were university–level students.

Service satisfaction

A large number of those in the same, or 85.7 percent, demonstrated their satisfaction with Internet café services. Only nine (or 14.3 percent) respondents showed dissatisfaction. One of the respondents was dissatisfied because “We lack the privilege to communicate verbally on the Internet in Uganda.” Others were not happy with the speed of their connections.

Subscription scheme

Pay as you use was the most convenient arrangement. Of the 63 respondents, only nine (14.3 percent) were registered members with the cafés in which they access Internet services, and 85.7 percent paid for only the time they used. Registered members usually pay a discounted rate per minute whereas the “pay as you use” customers pay a rate that is not discounted.

Internet café rates

Findings indicate that 63.5 percent of the respondents found charges moderate or adequate. This was depicted by a frequency (40) on this response. Only one said they were very low and two answered that the rates were very high. Their response on this question depicts a normal distribution. Hence, we can conclude that most respondents thought that the average cost of using cybercafés was reasonable.

Importance of Internet cafés

The largest number of respondents (57.1 percent) answered that the Internet cafés are very important in providing information services to Ugandans and 34.9 percent said that they are just important, whereas there was no response suggesting cafés as not being important. This means that every respondent justified the existence of these cafés and they satisfied their information needs.

Users’ problems

Complaints about cafés include low downloading speed, limited facilities, poor customer service, limited privacy, congestion, high charges and the use of cafés for idling and gossiping.

Users’ views and suggestions to improve the service

There was a lot of non–response to this question about improvements in cybercafé service. Some noted that exposure to pornographic sites is inappropriate; noise from radios in the cafés disturbs surfers; and, idlers were viewed as not welcome. Improvements could include separate sections for children; Internet courses from primary six upwards; more spacious rooms; an increased number of attendants; creating greater awareness of the services of the cafés in local communities; providing comfortable facilities; opening more cafes in the country; lowering charges; providing users with webcams; and, increasing privacy.

 

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Conclusion and recommendations

Café users demonstrate a tremendous future for the Internet in Uganda. The application of the Internet is still hampered by problems like low user skills, limited facilities, lack of support for rural communities, limited bandwidth, high charges, and a lack of monitoring of content. The potential of the Internet to meet user needs in Uganda is still high. As Bangemann, et al. (1994) noted, the first countries to enter the information society will reap the greatest rewards. They will set the agenda for all who must follow. By contrast, countries, which temporise, or favour half–hearted solutions, could face disastrous declines in investment and a reduction on jobs.

On the basis of those conclusions, we would like to make the following recommendations:

Information and Communication Technology Infrastructure Initiative (ICTI). The efforts made by the government and its ministries and departments in support for ICT should be governed by a national information and communication development plan. This plan should involve the formulation and implementation of a national ICT policy, which is currently due for discussion. This would provide a more firm ground for the application of Internet technologies. Emphasis should be placed on education and research, business and to production in other sectors such as farming and tourism.

Domestic and international commerce is increasingly becoming dependant on modern technology. The capabilities of the Internet have drastically enhanced the frequency and accuracy of e–commerce transactions between government agencies, businesses and individuals. This is expected to reduce administrative costs as well as providing convenience on a daily basis for Ugandans. It is recommended that Ugandans, through programs sponsored by the government, corpoarations, and non–profit organisations, learn more computing, acquire computer equipment and ready themselves in e–commerce and e–business.

In education, the Internet will encourage a more educated society that will contain the most skilled and financially rewarded workforce in the country. The results suggest that ICT policies be instituted and computers and the Internet be part of the school curriculum to equip Ugandans with the necessary skills so as to enjoy the proven benefits of these technologies. In particular, the government should lay strategies to electrify all the country as well as to improve the infrastructure in all schools. It will in turn enhance the quality of education in Uganda by providing for access to geographically distributed information sources via the Internet.

There is a need to include more computer–based programs in the school curriculum, to allow students acquire basic and Internet–specific computing skills. Trainers and academicians should also be aware of the Internet resource–exchange reciprocity that users will contribute to resource development if they too derive some benefit from the service. Internet training courses need to be organised at all levels, advertised and implemented in all disciplines and for all kinds of work. Training is necessary to equip Ugandans with the necessary skills so that maximum usage can be derived out of this evolving technology.

With policies instituted to support the use of the Internet, the usage itself should be monitored to guard against deterioration of Uganda’s rich cultural heritage. The Internet environment has great potential still for many societies. Some tend to shy away from the technologies they do not seem to comprehend. The computer literates should take the lead in teaching and convincing others about the ease in learning how to use computers, as a starting point for instilling in the people the desire to use, work and play with the Internet. End of article

 

About the authors

Samuel Gitta, B.STAT (Compting), MSc. (Inf. Sci), is at Legacy International in Kampala, Uganda.
E–mail: gittas [at] cyberworld [dot] co [dot] ug

Dr. J.R. Ikoja–Odongo is at the East African School of Library and Information Science at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda.
E–mail: ikoja [at] easlis [dot] mak [dot] ac [dot] ug

 

Notes

1. From http://www.bushnet.net/html/bushnet.html, February 2002.

2. African computing and communications yearbook, 1999–2000.

3. For reference, late in March 2003, 1,760.00 Ugandan shillings were equivalent to one U.S. dollar.

4. From http://www.globalknowledge.org.my/, February 2002.

5. From http://www.school.za/, March 2002.

6. From http://sol.unisa.ac.za/, March 2002.

7. However, Kezio did not provide any source to back that statement.

 

References

M. Bangemann, E. Cabral da Fonseca, P. Davis, C. de Benedetti, P. Gyllenhammar, L. Hunsel, P. Lescure, P. Maragall, G. Thorn, C. Velazquez–Gastelu, P. Bonfield, E. Davignon, J.–M. Descarpentries, B. Ennis, H.–O. Henkel, A. Knutsen, C. Makropoulos, R. Prodi, J. Timmer and H. von Pierer, 1994. “Europe and the Global Information Society: Recommendations to the European Council,” at http://europa.eu.int/ISPO/infosoc/backg/bangeman.html.

G. Caspary, 2002. “Information Technologies to Serve the Poor: How Rural Areas Can Benefit from the Communications Revolution,” at http://www.dse.de/zeitschr/de102-3.htm.

H. Hudson, 1995. “Economic and Social Benefits of Rural Telecommunications: A Report to the World Bank,” at http://www.usfca.edu/fac-staff/hudson/papers/Benefits%20of%20Rural%20Communication.pdf.

A. Kamagara, 2001. “Illegal operators hurt Internet café business,” The Monitor, number 216 (4 August); see also http://www.myuganda.co.ug/categories/business_guide/companies/cafe_story/4-8.htm.

K. Matsamura, 2001. “High speed connection at Cool surf Internet café,” The Monitor, number 215.

A. Mugeere, 2002. “Get set for e–commerce,” New Vision, volume 17, number 20.

J. Nasasira, 2001. “Transforming Uganda,” New Vision, volume 16, number 118.

J. Odong, 2001. “Internet solution for development,” New Vision, volume 16, number 118.

Y. Utsumi, 2001. “The Internet: Challenges, opportunities and prospects,” New Vision, volume 16, number 118.

 


Editorial history

Paper received 3 March 2003; accepted 24 March 2003.


Copyright © 2003, First Monday.

Copyright © 2003, Samuel Gitta.

Copyright © 2003, J.R. Ikoja–Odongo.

The impact of cybercafés on information services in Uganda
by Samuel Gitta and J.R. Ikoja–Odongo
First Monday, Volume 8, Number 4 - 7 April 2003
http://firstmonday.org/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1043/964





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