Uganda, UAE to sign innovation MoU as tech giants fund local startups

ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze says Uganda is set to sign a parternship with the UAE government ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze says Uganda is set to sign a parternship with the UAE government. Image credit: Huawei ICT Academy Uganda/Twitter.

The government of Uganda that of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will in 2020 sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that will see the two countries collaborate on a number of things, including innovation.

On behalf of Uganda, the MoU will be signed by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, according to ICT and National Guidance Minister Frank Tumwebaze.

“A bilateral M.O.U btn our countries will be signed early next year at the visit of our RT Hon PM,” Minister Tumwebaze tweeted on Sunday.

In that tweet, Tumwebaze also mentioned that he had met with UAE’s minister of state for Artificial Intelligence Omar Sultan AlOlama at the sidelines of the World Economic Forum.

Some of the key areas of partnership are supporting hardware and software developers by developing a tech hub at the Uganda Institute of Information and Communications Technology (UICT).

“On the sidelines of here in Dubai, WITH my delegation, I met the State minister for Artificial intelligence H.E @OmarSAlolama and we discussed potential collaboration in areas of supporting young coders, establishment of a robotics centre in Uganda at @uict among others…”

On the sidelines of @wef here in Dubai, WITH my delegation, I met the State minister for Artificial intelligence H.E @OmarSAlolama and we discussed potential collaboration in areas of supporting young coders, establishment of a robotics centre in Uganda at @uict among others… pic.twitter.com/OqTlNa5q9m

— Frank K Tumwebaze,MP : Psalms 124 : 1-8 (@FrankTumwebazek) November 3, 2019

This move comes as Uganda continues to prepare futuristic policies and earmark more funds to boost the innovation sector.

Some of the notable developments are construction of innovation hubs, including one that will be unveiled in Nakawa soon (see tweet below), setting up a startup fund that has grown from supporting 12 projects to 60 in just a year.

Happy to note progress thus far in completion of the Government Innovation and Incubation Center @uictug in Nakawa, With seating capacity of 500 +, the centre will offer free: space, internet, mentorship, funding opportunities to Innovators @NIISP_ICT @MoICT_Ug @FrankTumwebazek pic.twitter.com/ZexzAm3cnV

— Joshua Akandwanaho (@akajosh1) June 14, 2019

In 2018, during the State of the Nation address, President Yoweri Museveni revealed that the ICT sector was the fastest growing sector in Uganda’s economy, beating agriculture, which is the biggest employer of Ugandan citizens.

ICT was growing at 7.9% per annum and agriculture at 3.2%, according to Museveni.

Local startups have also started gaining funding to implement projects in emerging technologies.

For instance, Google this year supported two projects working on AI.

AirQo, which is based at Makerere University, is tackling climate change while CHI AI Lab is trying to ease the process of diagnosing cancer.

Ketty Adoch also scored a multimillion funding deal with Microsoft for an AI project that will detect, quantify and monitor land cover change in the area surrounding Lake Albert and Murchison Falls National Park, Uganda’s largest and oldest national park.

Adoch is a Geographical information systems specialist.

In his tweet, Tumwebaze highlighted this.

“Very happy that our humble initiatives of supporting innovations are being recognized & attracting a lot of partnership interests,” he wrote on Twitter.

A bilateral M.O.U btn our countries will be signed early next year at the visit of our RT Hon PM @RuhakanaR .Very happy that our humble initiatives of supporting innovations are being recognised & attracting alot of partnership interests..@Tybisa @kwamw pic.twitter.com/iuIaocM8kp

— Frank K Tumwebaze,MP : Psalms 124 : 1-8 (@FrankTumwebazek) November 3, 2019

Earlier this year, President Museveni inaugurated a 32-member team of experts to spearhead Uganda’s journey in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

It is chaired by former ICT minster John Nasasira and the members are from media, civil service, startup ecosystem among other sectors.

Reactions

After seeing the tweet, Ugandans took to Twitter to thank Minister Tumwebaze for closing such deals for Uganda.

“You are truly a visionary icon who works all his life changing the course of the ICT history by inventing & implementing things that can improve young people’s lives, of course your vision and works shall forever be remembered,” Dickson Namisi replied to the tweet.

You are truly a visionary icon who works all his life changing the course of the ICT history by inventing & implementing things that can improve young people’s lives, ofcourse your vision and works shall forever be remembered.inspiring leaders you & @Tybisa . Salute!!

— Dickson Namisi (@dickson_namisi) November 3, 2019

Seasoned journalist Muhereza Kyamutetera wrote: “Great job @FrankTumwebazek. A state minister for AI is quite visionary. Me thinks we should start directorates of such futuristic areas in our own @MoICT_Ug.”

Great job @FrankTumwebazek. A state minister for AI is quite visionary. Me thinks we should start directorates of such futuristic areas in our own @MoICT_Ug.

— Muhereza Kyamutetera (@StKyamutetera) November 3, 2019

There are others like Gad Agaba who challenged the minister, pointing out that the selection process for startups to get government grants is rigged.

“Challenge is that as ICT min. your team chooses to only support those you know & have affltns. to and majority of p’ple working bottom up can’t even get your atten & support etc. I guess crypto savannah (Mr RK in ur pic) has been identified as ur partner for the MOU implementation,” Agaba wrote.

However, Tumwebaze has previously said that the process is conducted by a team of experts hence those complaining about bias are misleading others.

Aside from the deal on innovation, Uganda is already involved with UAE in a number of sectors.

For instance, Uganda is among 180 countries that will participate in the Dubai Expo2020, which puts Uganda at a good stage to market its products.

Bank of Uganda statistics show that in the financial year 2016/17 Uganda’s exports to the Middle East were only worth $505.26m (about sh1.8 trillion, compared to imports which were $761.24m (about sh2.7 trillion).

The permanent secretary in the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Cooperatives, Ambassador Julius Onen, says this could grow exponentially in the region, with a gross domestic product of $504.403b, if exploited.

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