Open letter to the President;

Why we must move faster on the digital front

Professor Lawrence Muganga

Your Excellency, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni,

In a recent speech at the 2024 Pearl of Africa Tourism Expo, I shared an exciting vision for how Uganda’s tourism sector can harness emerging technologies like A.I., virtual reality, blockchain, and robotics to revolutionize how we share our country’s wonders with the world. Picture AI-powered virtual safaris where digital guides narrate breathtaking encounters with our iconic wildlife, from the majestic mountain gorillas to the elusive tree-climbing lions. Immersive cultural experiences could transport virtual tourists into a 360° Ugandan village, where they can join in traditional dances, savor authentic cuisine prepared by virtual chefs, and learn our rich histories from local storytellers.

Uganda has an unprecedented opportunity to make our tourism experiences accessible to everyone, fostering global connections and driving sustainable growth in the sector. We can break down barriers and share the Pearl of Africa with the world, tapping into the projected $300 trillion global GDP of the future

We live in an era that is witnessing unprecedented technological change, with innovation accelerating at an amazing velocity. For Uganda, this moment represents a turning point when we, as a nation, can harness this wave of technology as a springboard for growth and development.

Throughout human history, technology has advanced at an ever-accelerating pace. More astounding is how many rapid breakthroughs occurred during the 20th century alone! Man’s first powered flight was only 66 years away from the moon landing in 1969. 1974, PCs were already available in the market, and by 1989, the Internet was launched. We have moved from horse-drawn carriages to autonomous electric vehicles even within the span of a single human life or from wired telegrams to phones with touch-screen communication.

Autonomous taxi platforms, combining robotics, A.I., and energy storage, are projected to create an $8-10 trillion revenue opportunity within the next 5-10 years. This alone could represent a significant portion of the global GDP, currently at just over $100 trillion.

The valuation of disruptive and transformative innovations in the global equity markets is expected to grow from $13 trillion to over $200 trillion, representing a 40% compound annual growth rate.

In our current era, often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Information Age, Artificial intelligence, Immersive Technology, Blockchain, and other cutting-edge fields are moving at a fantastic speed, with breakthroughs occurring almost daily. Where is Uganda in this race of technology? Have we set off or we are passive watchers?

Your excellency, Uganda has potential to leverage on the opportunities presented by technology but we must do the following;

Artificial Intelligence (A.I.), commonly known as machine learning, is a rapidly evolving discipline that enables computers and machines to perform tasks typically requiring human-like intelligence, including visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and language translation. This disruptive technology is already transforming various sectors globally and has great potential for changing lives in Uganda.

In Uganda, where over 70% of the population is employed in agriculture, A.I. could increase productivity, lower costs, and make farming more sustainable. A.I. optimizes yields, reduces waste, and makes farming more efficient. For instance, AI-operated systems can study weather patterns, soil conditions, and crop health to advise farmers on irrigation, fertilization, or pest control. Picture a Ugandan maize farmer receiving an alert on her phone that a portion of her field is showing signs of fall armyworm infestation, thanks to A.I. analysis of a recent satellite image. She can then take swift, targeted action to control the pest before it devastates her entire crop.

For a country like Uganda, where agriculture is the backbone of the economy, we can accelerate agricultural transformation and build a more resilient, food-secure future by putting these cutting-edge capabilities in the hands of farmers.

Another area in which A.I. has significantly impacted is healthcare. Doctors’ diagnoses can be supported by artificial intelligence algorithms, with some being able to predict potential health risks while others suggest the most appropriate treatment plans.

Access to quality education is now a possibility with the current technology. A.I. can power humanoids or even digital teachers that can reach every part of the country, and students can now learn from almost the same experts. A.I. has the potential to personalize learning and improve access to quality education.

The financial sector, too, experienced transformation due to the introduction of A.I. into its operations.

A.I. is already being used across industries. Seeing what technology can do for Uganda as it advances is impressive. Think about AI-supported systems that will optimize traffic flow in Kampala, thereby reducing congestion and pollution. Or where AI-controlled drones are delivering essential drugs to remote village areas. Or when Ugandan ecosystems are threatened by climate change, A.I. can advise on how best to predict and prevent such impacts.

Immersive technologies, such as virtual Reality (V.R.) and augmented Reality (A.R.), are changing how we experience and interact with the world. V.R. replaces a user’s surroundings with a digital environment using head-mounted displays, offering a totally immersive experience. On the other hand, A.R. overlays virtual objects on real ones, blending the digital world with the physical one without any evidence of separation. These technologies go beyond gaming and entertainment, transforming industries from education to healthcare to tourism.

In education, immersive technology is responsible for fascinating and personalized learning experiences. For instance, V.R. can take students to historical sites, facilitate the performance of virtual science experiments, or even allow them to travel through space.

Imagine classrooms in Uganda where students can virtually dissect frogs, visit ancient ruins, or collaborate on projects with peers worldwide without leaving their desks. The value of A.R. in education was expected to reach $5.3 billion by 2023, while V.R. in education was predicted to grow to $640 million.

Tourism in Uganda stands to benefit immensely from immersive technologies. V.R. can offer virtual tours of Uganda’s beautiful national parks, historic sites, and cultural heritage centers, attracting potential tourists globally. A.R. can enhance these experiences by providing real-time information about wildlife, history, and culture at these sites.

Blockchain is a revolutionary technology that enables secure, transparent, and tamper-proof record-keeping. It’s a decentralized distributed ledger that records transactions across multiple computer networks. Each block also contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, forming unbreakable chain data. This unique structure ensures that once data is recorded on the blockchain, it cannot be altered or deleted without consensus from the network.

Governments are also exploring blockchain’s potential. Dubai aims to become the world’s first blockchain-powered state, with initiatives across health records, shipping, business registration, and preventing the spread of conflict diamonds. Estonia has partnered with Ericsson to create a new data center to move public records onto the blockchain.

By adopting blockchain technology, Uganda can address long-standing issues such as land ownership fraud and disputes by digitalizing land titles, creating an unalterable record of ownership.

Quantum computing is a revolutionary technology that harnesses the principles of quantum mechanics to solve complex problems beyond classical computers’ capabilities. Unlike traditional computers that use bits (0s and 1s) to process information, quantum computers use quantum bits, or qubits, which can exist in multiple states simultaneously through a phenomenon called superposition. This allows quantum computers to perform specific calculations exponentially faster than even the most powerful supercomputers today.

In healthcare, quantum computers could accelerate drug discovery by simulating complex molecular interactions, leading to the development of personalized medicines and treatments for diseases like cancer.

By investing in quantum research and education, Uganda could develop a skilled workforce capable of harnessing this transformative technology. Quantum computing could help Uganda tackle pressing challenges such as improving agricultural productivity, optimizing energy grids, and enhancing public health through data-driven insights.

Machine learning (ML) is a rapidly advancing field of artificial intelligence that focuses on developing algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to learn and improve their performance on a specific task without being explicitly programmed. By training on large datasets, ML algorithms can automatically identify patterns, make predictions, and take actions with minimal human intervention.

ML is used to analyze medical images, diagnose, predict patient outcomes, and accelerate drug discovery. Imagine a future where ML-powered systems can detect early signs of cancer from a simple blood test or personalized treatment plans are generated based on a patient’s genetic profile and medical history.

Imagine a Uganda where farmers can access ML-powered tools that help them optimize crop yields and adapt to climate change, where healthcare workers can use ML to diagnose diseases accurately and provide personalized care, even in remote areas, where students have access to adaptive learning systems that enable them to learn at their own pace and reach their full potential.

If Uganda does not act fast and adopt A.I., blockchain, and innovations, we will remain behind in global markets, adversely affecting our nation’s future. One of the biggest dangers that arise from technological stagnation is increased unemployment and a high brain drain rate. Another imminent danger is economic stagnation. Countries failing to adopt innovation would miss out on growth and development associated with emerging technologies.

Your excellency, I implore you to make adopting emerging technology a national priority that guides Uganda into the future.

The writer is the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University

For God And My Country