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Trusted data exchange is key to driving Africa’s digital future. Uganda’s approach offers many essential learnings.

6 mins read

Over the past decade, millions of people in Africa have gained access to the internet, with the number of internet users surging by 115% between 2016 and 2021, reflecting a significant leap in connectivity. This expansion has not only bridged geographical gaps, but facilitated the exchange of information, ideas, and services. This has also been championed by the Mobile Revolution that has played a pivotal role in Africa’s digital journey through the enabling of widespread adoption of digital services such as mobile payments and e-services.  

Consequently, as more individuals, organisations, and governments across the continent embrace digital platforms and services, the need for secure and efficient data exchange becomes paramount. Trusted data exchange mechanisms in Africa underpin various aspects of digital transformation, including e-government services, e-commerce, telemedicine, and digital financial transactions. These robust data exchange frameworks ensure the integrity and confidentiality of information and enable seamless interoperability between different systems and stakeholders.  

Moreover, as digital transformation initiatives drive economic growth and societal progress, they create a virtuous cycle wherein the demand for trusted data exchange fuels further investments in digital public infrastructure on the continent, cybersecurity measures, and data governance frameworks. Therefore, promoting trusted data exchange is not just a byproduct of digital transformation and digital public infrastructure; it is a fundamental prerequisite for realising the full potential of Africa’s digital future. 

Trusted data exchange can transform development efforts. With UGHub, Uganda is doing just that.

With a clear focus on leveraging technology to drive socio-economic change, Uganda has embarked on various initiatives aimed at enhancing digital public infrastructure, fostering innovation, and improving access to digital services. From the launch of UGHub, the country’s national data exchange platform, to the expansion of broadband networks and implementation of digital inclusion programs such as Uganda’s Digital Transformation Roadmap, Uganda has demonstrated a strong commitment to embracing opportunities presented by the digital age.

In late March, together with the National Information Technology Authority of Uganda (NITA-U), we organised a workshop on Trusted Data Exchange in Kampala, which brought together a diverse array of stakeholders, including government officials, policymakers, private sector leaders, civil society organizations, academia, and development partners, to enrich discussions and formulate actionable strategies to enhance data exchange practices.

At the heart of the discussions was UGhub, an integration systems platform by NITA-U that is enabling seamless sharing of data across Uganda Government systems and private sector in a rational, secure, efficient, and sustainable manner. The platform is greatly improving service delivery to citizens and reporting, planning, and decision-making across government and private entities.

To date, a total of 113 entities, both public and private, have been boarded on the UGhub platform. This inclusive approach is not only fostering collaboration but also enhancing service delivery across various domains, ranging from healthcare and education to finance and governance. Moreover, with an impressive over ninety (90) million transactions conducted through the platform as reported by NITA-U, it’s evident that UGHub is not just a technological solution but a catalyst for tangible outcomes. These transactions and engagements also indicate increased efficiency, transparency, and accessibility for citizens.

So, what can we learn from UGhub?

UGHub, Uganda’s pioneering data exchange platform, offers valuable insights into the country’s approach to digital innovation and collaboration. Through initiatives like these, Uganda showcases its commitment to harnessing local expertise and fostering partnerships across sectors to address complex challenges and drive social economic growth. Here are some of the key lessons we can glean from Uganda’s digital journey: 

  1. Built by Ugandans for Uganda. This homegrown solution reflects the nation’s determination to harness indigenous knowledge and creativity. By cultivating technology within its borders, Uganda not only fosters self-reliance but also ensures that the solutions are tailored to its specific challenges and requirements. This approach instils a sense of ownership and pride among Ugandans, as they see their innovations making a tangible impact on their communities and the nation. Additionally, by empowering local talent and fostering a culture of innovation, Uganda cultivates a sustainable ecosystem for technological advancement, creating opportunities for growth and prosperity. Thus, UGHub exemplifies the transformative power of people centered digital solutions in driving inclusive development and improving the well-being of citizens. 
  2. Prioritised a dynamic variety of stakeholders. The success of UGHub lies in its ability to bring together a diverse range of stakeholders, each contributing unique insights and expertise. Government agencies and private companies within the UGHub ecosystem, ensuring that the platform addresses multifaceted requirements. This dynamic mix of stakeholders ensures that UGHub is not merely a government initiative but a collective effort to drive socio-economic development through digital transformation.  
  3. Ensured strong private-public partnerships. UGHub exemplifies the power of collaboration between the public and private sectors. Through strategic partnerships, the platform harnesses the strengths of both realms to create a robust ecosystem for data exchange and service delivery. Combined, these partnerships foster sustainable growth and facilitate the delivery of essential services to Ugandan citizens. 
  4. Put in place a proactive and participatory engagement and onboarding model. UGHub’s approach to onboarding entities is characterized by proactive engagement and inclusivity right from the start. Rather than imposing solutions from the top-down, UGHub actively involves potential participants from the outset, ensuring that their voices are heard and valued. This participatory model encourages stakeholders to share insights, contribute ideas, and take ownership of the platform’s evolution. By fostering a collaborative environment built on trust and mutual respect, UGHub minimises resistance to change and promotes a culture of innovation and continuous improvement. In doing so, it creates a sense of collective ownership and responsibility among all stakeholders, driving the platform’s success and sustainability over the long term. 
  5. Established strong grievance redress mechanisms and the need for more awareness. UGHub’s success is not only attributed to its technical prowess but also its emphasis on accountability and transparency. The platform has implemented robust mechanisms to address grievances and ensure user satisfaction. However, there remains a need for increased awareness among stakeholders about these mechanisms and their accessibility. Strengthening communication channels and conducting outreach programs can enhance awareness and encourage greater utilisation of these grievance redress mechanisms. Additionally, proactive measures to address emerging issues and provide timely resolutions are essential to maintaining trust and confidence in UGHub’s operations.  

Despite notable progress, challenges such as institutional fragmentation, legal ambiguities, and limited digital literacy persist, hindering the platform’s full potential. However, proactive measures, including robust policy frameworks, institutional oversight mechanisms, and capacity-building initiatives, are crucial for overcoming these challenges and fostering a conducive environment for data exchange. 

Promoting trusted data exchange is not simply a byproduct of digital transformation, it's a fundamental prerequisite for realising the full potential of Africa’s digital future.

As Uganda navigates its digital transformation journey, there are invaluable lessons to be learned and shared with other African countries. Building trust, ensuring sustainability, and prioritising the rights and capabilities of individuals regarding their personal data are essential focus areas for maximising the impact of data exchange initiatives.  

At the Digital Impact Alliance, we believe peer-to-peer learning is key to fostering positive, equitable, and sustainable development. As a trusted convener, we aim to create collaborative environments, like our Africa Data Leadership Forum, where essential insights like these are shared, challenges are addressed, and innovative solutions are developed. Going forward, we will continue our efforts in promoting data exchange best practices and supporting capacity-building initiatives to further enhance data ecosystems inside and across borders. Through leveraging international best practices and fostering regional collaboration, we believe Africa can harness the transformative power of data exchange to drive inclusive socio-economic development across the continent.