Ray Besiga A Personal Website

Connected East Africa Summit 2015

NTF III Project Representatives and Companies at ConnectedEA 2015

What is Connected East Africa?

The summit is a brainchild of the Kenya ICT Authority in consultation with ICT industry players and key government decision makers. It initially started as Connected Kenya but has since grown to offer a platform in which top ICT executives in the public and private sectors in the region can network and collaborate on the use of ICT as a catalyst for service delivery to citizens. With the theme "The strength is in our networks" the objectives of the summit were to:

  • address gaps in ICT integration and shared infrastructure among shared infrastructure among East African member states.
  • speed-up harmonization of ICT regulation across the region.
  • build support on ongoing ICT integrated infrastructure projects across the East African region.
  • provide a platform for meaningful networking that will result in fruitful relationships that contribute to economic development in the region.

Government representatives from Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan were present.You can see more about the summit here.

Why was I there?

The Netherlands Trust Fund Phase III (NTF III). The NTF III or Export Sector Competitiveness Programme is based on a partnership agreement between the Dutch Centre for the Promotion of Imports from developing countries (CBI), affiliated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, and the International Trade Centre (ITC).

With a sought outcome of enhancing export competitiveness of selected sectors in target developing countries, in this case Uganda and Kenya, the core objectives of the project are:

  • employment generation.
  • women and youth economic empowerment.
  • regional integration.
  • poverty reduction.

And it did not take long to realize why the conference was the right place to be in regard to the four cornerstone objectives. The project has a huge focus on women and youth and it in manifested in the companies selected to represent Uganda at the conference. There were 3 women representatives and yours truly.

Natalie Kimbugwe, CEO at BDE Consults, a company with a mission is to provide organisations, companies and individuals in East Africa with ICT Research, ICT Events, BPO Services & Training. They have a Transport and Insurance Expo coming up in July 2015 with a theme "Technology driving safe mobility".

Sherry Tumusiime, CEO at Zimba Women, a project that believes in development driven by the private sector and is passionate about women-led SMEs using e-commerce as a vehicle. Now is a perfect time to get more women in STEM. Get involved and do your part. #equalitycantwait

Joanita Nnvanungi, Content Exec at Node Six, an Internet Solutions provider. I highly recommend them for social media management.

Me, CEO at Sparkplug, a software development firm that uses open source technology to develop web and mobile applications, integrate with client teams, design interfaces and experiences, and consult on projects large & small.

I like to think we represented the project, its ideals and hopes for the outcomes.

General Observations

  1. Governments are displaying commitment to improving regional connectivity through national backbones by promoting access and use of terrestrial cross border fibre optic networks, and exploring strategies for closing infrastructure bottlenecks. By the looks of it, it's not all cosmetic. SEACOM recently launched a direct presence in Uganda.

  2. The regional industry is keen on talent pool and workforce development through ICT Innovation. There was a showcase of different technology-enabled innovations shaking up different sectors. The Medical Concierge Group with its new take on Telemedicine. Fundi Bots, a robotics non-profit with aims to inspire and create a new generation of problem solvers, innovators and thinkers. Gearbox, Kenya's first open makerspace for design and rapid prototyping of hardware among others.

  3. Progressive Service Delivery is a Public Private Partnership and can no longer be left to government alone. Big multinationals are partnering with government to foster development of SMEs. One really impressive outcome is the Biz4Afrika by conference title sponsor Microsoft Kenya. It is an online hub for Kenyan small and medium enterprises to grow their networks, and drive social development and youth employability. It does this by aggregating online solutions, freemium offers and relevant services with valuable information in one place. I really liked this one. Other initiatives like Konza Techno City were pretty cool too.

  4. Leadership is almost everything. Looking back, I realize now that Kenya is not too far ahead of Rwanda and Uganda. Citizens in all three countries are zealous about ICT and it's role in development. However, that mileage is limited if the steering committee does not have a pulse on the needs of the people, the standards of technology required to fulfill them. I was quite impressed by majority of the ICT sector leaders in the different arms of government, and their willingness to listen to and empathize with their private sector colleagues. And of course the clever banter put on public display by ministers Fred Matiang'i and Jean Philbert Nsengimana of Kenya and Rwanda respectively.

Wrapping Up

All in all, dialogue around regional integration, export competitiveness and workforce development is essential and this should only be the start of something good. I hope more conferences of this kind can be organized to engage the different stakeholders in the industry. Until next time.

Designing for least astonishment

Papa Shabani's Beatbox Dancer

Only recently, I came across a Wikipedia page talking about "The Principle of Least Astonishment". I was quite intrigued as to what it alluded and so decided to explore the tenets of it. We shall hence forth refer to it as POLA. POLA applies to user interface and software design, from the ergonomics standpoint i.e. the law or rule of freaking out your users the least.

A lot of the time, we are faced with systems and software that that does not match a user's expectations or mentality, despite having seemingly skilled designers and engineers following the 12-factor app rules. This problem arises from a failure to design around a user.

To combat this problem, not only in the design of software but also solutions to social challenges, we have seen the rise of Human Centered Design in developing user experiences. With a user at the center of the design process, focus shifts away from user interfaces to the rhetorical situation of the information medium in development. This is the process we use to build and improve Akabbo, our localized crowdfunding platform.

We used the three elements of the rhetorical situation, Audience, Purpose and Context, to guide us. Our audience at the moment is largely Ugandan and is only getting started with online crowdfunding as a concept. Based off early user feedback, we have had to break down interfaces and borrow heavily from similar applications to which users are familiar, rather than the natural expected behavior from knowing the inner workings of the application. Since we already new the purpose of the application, our next main focus was the context. Context was a tough one as a crowd funding platform can mean different things to different people. To put it simply, context is subjective. We however decided to narrow it down to a peer to peer fundraising platform for a Ugandan audience. On locking this in, our system started to evolve to meet the need of our users.

Good design is as little design as possible - Dieter Rams

Besides generic functions, we had to add features such as offline fundraising. A number of users wanted to meet up with campaign creators and give them cash directly as adoption of credit/debit cards is still low. This meant that we had to capture these contributions as per creators' demands. These contributions now add previously unseen momentum to campaigns. Thanks, in a great part, to focusing around the user.

Are you focusing on users in the development of your applications? Care to share your experiences?

Technology and The Sharing Economy

Raymond Besiga speaking at TEDx Kampala

On January 9, 2015, I was honored to speak in the changemakers session at TEDx Kampala, under a theme titled "Owning Our Destiny". As broad and cheesy a theme as they come, but it had me pondering the question of what I could possibly talk about as a technologist and change enthusiast. Something to elicit interest, fill with curiosity, suggest opportunity, and possibly trigger action long after the talk was done. Ultimately, it came down to social networks, technology, and new-age economics. All the things a twee almost-millennial could care about. And thus the title, "Technology and the sharing economy".

I do not have all the information regarding how the sharing economy started but I believe that it had something to do with the global financial crisis, the rise of the millennials as a consumer demographic and an altruistic albeit late shift from the "this is mine" to "what is mine is yours, for a fee" economy. During the economic downturn, there was a need to minimize expenditure, optimize personal costs and create new income. The ubiquity of social networks allowed for people to trust strangers if only due to the shared hardship. Tools such as Craigslist and E-Bay were a boon to peer-to-peer transactions. Why buy a saxophone, or a tuxedo when you can rent one from a stranger online? Fantastic, right?

Amazing Carpool

These experiences, however, are largely western. That does not mean that the sharing economy is lost on us here in Uganda and sub-Saharan Africa. Our history suggests that we have always had a sharing culture. It is happening on a small scale each day and with the right technology in place, the volume can grow. Case in point is a shared experience I had with my colleague, Moses Mugisha, CTO at our company Sparkplug, while on a road trip in Bushenyi District, Western Uganda. The farmers in this area do not have enough income to buy a tractor each to till their pieces of farmland. When we asked how they got about it, they intimated that it all came down to community. They formed a trust in which all the farmers contributed to a fund. Once they had accumulated enough, they time-shared a rented tractor over the course of a week for a not-so-great sum.

You are forgiven for your happiness and your successes only if you generously consent to share them - Albert Camus

It was this experience that gave us the idea for our latest product, Akabbo. Launched in November 2014, Akabbo, which derives it's name from the Luganda word for a collection basket, is a localized crowdfunding platform that allows users to create campaigns and pool funds effortlessly using the far-reaching mobile money wallets. We created Akabbo to provide a venue for individuals and organizations to actualize their dreams and ideas through a shared fundraising model on a national scale. We are currently working to add international online payments processing for wider reach. You can explore the different campaigns on Akabbo here.


I digress but I will leave you with this: The economy of the future is people-powered and will be driven by peer-to-peer transactions. If opportunity knocks, open the door. If it does not knock, build a door.

The entirety of the TEDx Kampala talk is now available: