22 years of internal strife by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has led to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people living in the northern part of Uganda. In 2007 a total of 31 IDP camps (which now are called Community Centers) with all together 214,908 people have been administrated to which food aid was being distributed. Now that the situation is stabilizing, many inhabitants are leaving the camps to return to the land that was once their home. But in doing so they encounter a new array of problems and difficult challenges to overcome. I visited two different IDP camps along with 2 different organizations that were active and carrying out projects to sustain the community and improve the lively hoods of the people i.e. BOSCO Uganda and SOVCO Uganda.
Coope – BOSCO Uganda
To provide innovative ICT solutions using a collaborative, web-based approach to foster social and economic development and peace building in rural communities in Northern Uganda.
Allong with Kevin Bailey I visited the Coope IDP camp. Here, and at 5 other IDP sites, BOSCO Uganda (Battery Operated Systems for Community Outreach Uganda) has implemented an ICT project with which the aim is “to turn dependency into self-advocacy through the use of innovative and collaborative ICT technologies”. The site is equipped with a low power, solar powered and highly durable Inveneo computer, connected to a high-speed and long-range WiFi connection which provides access to the BOSCO intranet and the internet. Next to that a VoIP (Voice over IP) telephony is also set up, making free telephone calls to the other IDP sites and America possible. Yet, upon arrival at Coope the internet connection was cut off because the monthly fee’s weren’t paid. The assistant told me that that is the biggest problem. He is happy with the system and sees much potential in its use, he uses it to write emails, read news, connect to others and write posts on the intranet, but raising the monthly fee for the internet has been hard. Normally income could be generated from charging telephones through inverting solar energy, but the inverter was broken. Next to that, people don’t want to pay to use the internet he told me.
Kevin also told me that MTN has taken some of the BOSCO equipment that was installed on the telecom towers about 60 kilometers away from Coope. MTN argued that BOSCO was competing with their business and therefore took drastic measures in removing the equipment. But, as Kevin explained, BOSCO is in a sense rather helping them out than competing, since they provide people in these rural areas with internet and give them the chance to use and learn the ways of the computer almost entirely free. These future computer and internet users would never get this chance if MTN was the only internet service provider in the area with its explosive internet prices and sadly slow internet connection (as of june 2009).
Apart from this prevalent problem facing the users and maintainers of the BOSCO system at the Coope site, the projects has an enormous potential in influencing the lives of a wide variety people positively. The BOSCO team focuses on:
- ICT and computer Education for rural communities
- ICT for Human Rights and Peace Building
- Research and Installation of Innovative ICT technologies for Rural Areas
- Research and concept development for “ICT in Development”
By structurally focusing on these points, the BOSCO team envisions the establishment of open and peaceful rural communities, ready to face the challenges and opportunities of the globalized world in the 21st century. With the high account of Intellectual Property within the organization, and above all, the clear vision and the determination of its workers, BOSCO Uganda shows the potential of becoming a showcase model for the concept of ICT4D in rural, post-conflict Uganda.