Media Technology develops mobile services in Uganda
The project People's Voices is to increase citizen participation in local and political issues.
Mobile phones have brought a revolution to many African countries. Even traditional tribes like the Maasai have embraced the new technology. At the same time, the differences are huge compared to Sweden, which leads to great challenges in collaborative projects, like the one in Uganda that Media Technology is part of. In Uganda there is slightly more than one mobile phone subscription for every three inhabitants, but the distribution is uneven and the phones are not exactly smart ones.
– In places like the capital Kampala, almost every person has a mobile. In the three districts of northern Uganda covered by the project, they have what we Swedes would call ”ancient” phones, which cost around USD 20 and are used only for calls and texting, says Marcelo Milrad, Professor of Media Technology at Linnaeus University.
People's Voices – making your voice heard
So how can you get people to use mobiles to increase democratization and involvement in the community, and not just to keep in touch with family and friends? That's what the project People's Voices is all about – to explore how to develop mobile services that can increase citizen involvement in local and political issues, and to enable the citizens to manage, control and report how public services work.
– In rural areas they recharge their phones using solar panels, or go to places where there is electricity and pay 20 cent to recharge. However, there is 3G, and AM radio everywhere, so we are investigating how to connect mobile phones and radio. Perhaps a person who sees a collapsed road can call the radio station and report this, and then a text message is sent out to people who can call a toll-free number and get the latest news read by synthetic speech, exemplifies Marcelo Milrad.
Speech for sure, and not text, is likely to be an important ingredient in the mobile services that will be developed – the literacy rate in the districts where the project takes place is pretty low. Another challenge is that you often have to pay more for mobile services every month than the entire mobile has cost you, at the same time as a normal wage for a farmer is around USD 600 per year.
About the project
In the project, researchers in Media Technology and students from the Master Programme in Social Media and Web Technologies at Linnaeus University collaborate with researchers and students from Makerere University in Uganda, as well as representatives from WOUGNET, Women of Uganda Network.
The project, partly funded by Spider, was launched this spring and will last until spring 2013. Six researchers and students from the university visited Uganda in August and one of the group's researchers will participate in the panel at a conference in Iceland on what's called ICT4D, ICT For Development.
The project website, with texts, pictures and movies: http://peoplesvoices.org
Spider, The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions: www.spidercenter.org
Facts about Uganda: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ug.html