Uganda – the Pearl of Africa – is a country that regularly features in international development cooperation agendas. Uganda has set impressive, yet attainable goals, which are largely fuelled by the use of new technologies in governance, business and education; hunger for innovations and the ambition of the young population to drive the country towards a more inclusive, just and transparent society. However, the country still grapples with human rights issues and has recently taken a political stance that is not aligned with the EU when it comes to the war in Ukraine. This has left many development partners in a tight spot and struggeling with how to engage with Uganda on a governmental level while adhering to the European values.
Uganda may not be the first African country to come to mind when talking about Estonian interests, but when delving deeper into it the connections become seamlessly apparent. Estonia may be a small country in the arena of international development, but our reputation as a digitalisation giant precedes us across the African continent, including Uganda, and Ugandans are keen to learn from our experience while building their own digital nation.
Technology empowering democracy
The government of Uganda has set a vision for 2040 – a country that makes full use of technology in streamlining public services, leading to data driven decision-making and transparent use of resources. The plans are grand and the whole country from the government to private to NGO sector are on board and have embraced various e-solutions with great enthusiasm, which is a clear show of readiness to become a more inclusive and transparent society.
The current and new generations in the country are growing up with mobile money, they get news from Twitter and they get their government services online. The number of innovation hubs in Kampala alone speaks for the fact that this country is brimming with ideas, fuelled by technology and new trends in education. It must be noted that there is an increasing public debate on good governance, fuelled by the importance of inclusive access to online platforms where conversations are held.
“We are uniquely placed to play an important role in displaying how technology
can work as an enabler of democracy, education and economic growth“
– Katrin Winter, East-Africa Advisor
Ugandans have already built the foundations of what fulfilling the ambitious digital vision will take, and most importantly, they are ready to let go of legacy systems and replace them with agile solutions that can grow with the needs of the country and its population. This is where Estonia with its own transformation experience can support. We are uniquely placed to play an important role in displaying how technology can work as an enabler of democracy, education and economic growth and thus give our own experts and companies an outlet to share Estonia’s experiences and lessons learned.
The importance of the informed public sector
However, digitalisation does not work without education and continuous capacity development. One of the reasons why a delegation of Ugandan public servants visited Estonia in March 2022 was to gather input into training programmes that are about to take off in various Ugandan ministries. Public servants, including teachers, are increasingly realising the value of digital tools at their disposal and their role in driving the use of and access to these tools all the way to the “last mile”.
The delegation members commented on how passionately Estonian public servants spoke of their work and with a sparkle in their eye seamlessly saw how their role plays an important part in making this country a better one. The delegation noted that such enthusiasm could only come with a deeper understanding and long-term vision of where these new tools and processes can potentially lead an institution and a country.
Public-private partnership to fulfil the vision
When a delegation from ESTDEV paid a return visit to Uganda in May 2022, it was very clear that both the private and public sector in the country are on board and ready to cooperate to build Uganda’s vision for 2040. We met with government organisations, international organisations and drivers of the local innovation ecosystem. It was unique that while there was some criticism towards the government and its slow pace of getting things done, all sectors spoke the same language. In a country like Uganda, struggling with poverty and mismanagement on many levels, it was refreshing to see that the country has truly set its mind towards a better future.
A couple of months later, ESTDEV is ready to launch two bilateral projects in Uganda – a testimony to our agile mindset, even in the sometimes arduous world of development cooperation.
Estonia may be small, but we are nevertheless part of the global economy and affected by events as far away as Uganda. We are uniquely positioned and skilled in digitalisation and education, which happen to be some of the most strategically important areas in many developing countries’, including Uganda’s agenda. The momentum to instill our position as a small yet mighty leader in transformation is now, and the ground in Uganda is extremely fertile.
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ESTDEV is a state foundation that organises and coordinates Estonia’s participation in international development cooperation and humanitarian aid programs with the aim of increasing Estonia’s contribution to global security and sustainable development.