Archive for June, 2007

Update on the Internet Access Troubles…

Thursday, June 7th, 2007

So I received a quote from one of the satellite companies…eh, no thanks. I figured the equipment prices would be insane, and they were. I guess we’ll have to go with U.S. $100/month for 64kbps. It’s a start, no? And most of the equipment they require is something I already have, or I can at least ask the CFU team to bring it from the U.S. at a cheaper price.

But there is good news because this insane price is temporary. Very temporary.

John informed me today that the Chinese were actually close to finishing the National Internet Backbone. I thought they had just started recently, but apparently they’re working very quickly. Not all things are on African time here. Anyway, the backbone should be finished in about two months! The prices for Internet access should go down dramatically within the next year now that companies outside of MTN and UTL aren’t forced to use those privately-owned backbones. MTN saw this coming. They were crying foul at the Ugandan government for putting together this project—”It’s a waste of money, we already have a backbone!” Oooh, I just want to smack the CEO in the face for taking advantage of the Ugandan people. I won’t really—I’m not that violent…but, sheesh. Anyway, MTN will get their retribution.

So let’s focus on what’s ahead!

John has some excellent plans for this country. First, I’m very glad that he pushed hard for the National Backbone. Infrastructure is number one, then you can address the rest of the issues. I really like his idea of opening up free wireless access points for people—perhaps that will spark a greater interest in IT. He should also open up a very cheap Internet cafe as soon as the backbone is installed for people who don’t have laptops, as the cafes now are much too expensive for the average Ugandan to visit at any sort of regular basis. Oh, this is getting exciting (as if it isn’t so already). The computer refurbishment center, the first of its kind here, will be an excellent addition to what will soon emerge in this country.

I am outraged…

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

So talk about a monopoly…

The refurbishment center is looking at Internet access…no wonder they were waiting for me to help them decide, the prices here are outrageous.

The main Internet backbones in the country right now are owned by two telecom. companies: MTN (Mobile Telephone Network), and UTL (Uganda Telecom). The monopoly that these two companies currently have on Internet access should hopefully change once the Ugandan government finishes their own Internet backbone within the next year or so.

Anyway, I’m looking at prices from UTL
US $300 per month for a 256 kbps connection.
Oh, and along with the fixed IP (which is nice) you can register a domain name for $50/year! Wow, I can register a domain name without their help for $8.

Plus they have all sorts of ridiculous equipment fees.

So I knew that these prices were very high before, but these companies are just robbing these people. No wonder no one can access the Internet easily.

This needs to change. You’re going down MTN and UTL. Down, down, down.

/end rant

State of the Center

Monday, June 4th, 2007

I spent most of my day in John’s old office, testing out the incredibly slow Ugandan Bureau of Statistics’ Internet connection. My top speed got around 5 kB/sec. And it certainly doesn’t help after being spoiled by MIT’s insane Internet connection. Since John’s Ministry (ICT) is brand new as of last year, they had to construct a new building, and right now everyone is in the process of moving. John tells me that he hopes to get a faster connection in that building…no one really wants to deal with the mess at the Bureau of Statistics. In any case I tried out a few tools in Linux which I think could help out with the annoying connection.

John's Office

John also showed me the new Inveneo computer which the Ugandan government has already placed an order for quite a few of them. The PC is extremely light in terms of power consumption, which will definitely help with Uganda’s current electrical power situation. In fact I’m writing this on my laptop which is currently running on battery because the power went out…yet again.

Also, I know many of you are probably wondering if Uganda will ever address their infrastructure issues so that an Internet connection is more accessible. Satellite is currently one of the only ways to get the Internet here, but last year the Prime Minister of China visited Uganda to talk about installing a countrywide fiber backbone and laying down undersea cables which will supply Uganda directly. The construction for this is currently underway (you can see all the empty tubes for the cables waiting to be installed at most of the construction sites), and it should be finished roughly within a year or so.

Yesterday evening I got the chance to go up to M.T.A.C. to visit the InterConnection Uganda refurbishing center and take note of what I have to do. From the pictures I saw earlier this year, it was clear that the staff had done a lot of work cleaning up, but the center is still pretty bare. There’s a lot of work left to do.

Uganda vs. Nigeria

Sunday, June 3rd, 2007

I woke up this morning to the rain gushing down. It sounded like someone had turned the faucet on in full, and I was slightly confused because it was still sunny. It’s Sunday…you can hear the whole village singing at church. It’s nice to wake up to. Last year when I stayed with the Computers for Uganda team at Bukalasa Seminary we heard bells and singing every morning.

Anyway, on to the football game that happened yesterday…

So John, Teep, Alissa, Brenda, Ronnie, and I all piled into John’s car and headed off to the Ugandan Parliament building to catch a convoy that would take us straight to the Mandela National Stadium. All of the Parliament members, ministers, and their friends were invited as VIPs to attend the football match between Uganda and Nigeria.

Nigeria is currently the best team in Africa. Their coach is the same coach who coached the German team to victory at the World Cup, so everyone was pretty intimidated by this guy and his team.

When the teams got onto the field, you could definitely tell the difference between the plays. Nigeria’s team members were all much larger and muscular than Uganda.

The kickoff came and for most of the first half, the teams were pretty much head to head. The stadium crowd was yelling at the top of their lungs. Uganda’s fans had these little yellow MTN horns (MTN is the largest phone company in Uganda…think giant, eh, monopoly) and they were all making quite a racket. Nigeria’s fans (huddled together in a small section) kept a constant drum beat going for their players.

Then Nigeria scored. The Ugandan crowd cringed. It was over…they knew it. The stadium, though not completely silent, stood still (except for the Nigerian section).

The first half ended. All of us were afraid what the second half would bring, but we still clung to a bit of hope.

The second half started out pretty rough. For several times it looked like Nigeria was going to get another goal. The players looked tired, disappointed…their enthusiasm was gone.

Then Uganda got a penalty kick at the goal. 1:1

Then they got another kick. 2:1

The stadium was roaring. I could not hear a single thing outside of total deafening noise. We did it. We can win this game now!

Uganda was back in full swing. The players were alert and ready for anything. Nigeria came back at them with full force. They attempted several goals, but Uganda fought back. They kept their lead.

The final minutes came. Nigeria fought back harder than ever. But Uganda was equally resistant. They wanted to win. They were thirsty for a chance at the World Cup.

Then the game ended. The crowd went absolutely insane. People, thousands of them, swarmed the field. Dancing, singing, crying. It was a win for their country.

Then we got out of there, fast. We jumped into the car, but by the time Ronnie had pulled out of the parking space, the traffic jam had turned into a giant traffic mob, and we lost all hope of catching the convoy back to the Parliament.

I wish I had brought my camera to this…ah, I wont forget it again. It’s quite difficult to describe what I saw…but I can say this: Football makes men crazy and silly.

We got out of the giant traffic jam (New York, you’ve got nothing on this) and made our way back to the heart of Kampala. It was all incredible. Absolutely incredible.

Arriving in Uganda

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007

Well I’m in Uganda right now. It has been quite the journey over here.

The flight from Boston to Amsterdam was pretty calm. There were 40 empty seats (one of them was next to me), so I at least got to relax a little. This stroke of luck, however, kind of ended when I hit Amsterdam. In typical African fashion we boarded the plane at around the time it was supposed to have left already. My other carry on bag (a small suitcase) was then taken by one of the flight attendants because it was “too heavy” and they didn’t have enough room. I spent the entire flight worried about the health of the two laptops in there which Fredrik had given me for the refurbishing center.

Then I threw up. Hah, okay, so I timed my malaria pill so that I could take it at around noon Ugandan time…but of course this created a slightly sketchy situation as I was boarding the plane. I had to drink all my water that I bought at the Amsterdam airport because the security check happened right as I boarded the plane (joy), so I took my malaria pill with about half a bottle of tap water from the bathroom (I figured it was Amsterdam, probably safe…I wasn’t in Uganda yet), but oh boy my stomach didn’t like that.

Malaria pill + Amsterdam tap water + empty stomach = …well, you know

And I should have known this! But I guess my judgement was slightly impaired since it was around 5:00 am EDT by this time.

But it all eventually worked out. I took my pill again with dinner (I figured it probably all came out during *the incident*), so I’m fine now.

One good thing I did though: brought my own comfy blanket! As a result, I slept like a baby all the way to Entebbe.

Right before we landed I looked out the window and noticed this giant plume of ominous-looking black clouds. I also noticed that these clouds were emitting giant flashes of light! Turns out it was a tropical storm (eek!). I’m glad we didn’t have to go through that frightening weather…

Anyway, I arrived in Entebbe alright at about 8:30 p.m., got my visa, and then picked up my luggage–all bags in tact and everything perfectly sound and working. I made my way out of the baggage area…then I started to become worried. I couldn’t find anyone I knew. Aaah…did John or Brenda get my message? I was able to use someone’s phone to call Brenda, and she told me that Teep (John’s brother) and Ronnie (Mr. Bourne himself…kidding), were on their way. A couple minutes later and there they are! Whew, was I glad to see them!

We made it to John’s house, and had some time to eat dinner, with Matoke (cooked banannas) of course. And just as a reminder that I was in Uganda, the lights went out just as we ended. Luckily I had a headlamp (thanks mom), so I was able to get around the house and unpack alright.

I woke up this morning at around 9 am, surprisingly with little jet lag (oh, I’m sure that will settle in sometime later).

Anyway, I’m off to go see a football (soccer) game between Uganda and Nigeria with Teep and Alissa (his girlfriend from Pennsylvania). Along the way I’m going to pick up a SIM card, and hopefully my (hopefully unlocked) T-mobile phone will take it…