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Facebook has announced that it is building a 770-kilometer fiber backhaul network in Uganda

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While Google is using MWC to show off some of its advances in native apps on mobile devices — specifically in chat apps — the world’s biggest chat app company is doing something completely different. Facebook announced early this week that it is building a 770-kilometer (500-mile) fiber backhaul network in Uganda, in partnership with India’s Airtel and wholesale provider BCS, carriers that both have networking businesses in the country; and its Telecom Infrastructure Project is leading a call to invest $170 million into telecoms infrastructure startups.

Alongside this, the company is also making headway on its other efforts to play a bigger role in the infrastructure behind how people connect to the internet (and specifically to Facebook) through its Telecom Infrastructure Project. Facebook’s own Voyager optical networking transponder is now being deployed and tested by the carriers Telia and Orange in Europe.

Facebook said it expects the Uganda project — which will see “tens of millions of investment” from Facebook — to cover access for more than 3 million people (that’s not how many will use it, but how many can potentially be covered). As a backhaul network, the purpose will be to provide more capacity to wireless carriers’ base stations so that they can offer 3G and 4G mobile data services (in many places in the developing world, carriers still can offer no more than 2G or 2.5G).

The Voyager project, meanwhile, is one of a number of updates from the TIP, which was created by Facebook last year but (like Facebook’s other connectivity project, Internet.org) counts a number of other members — in this case, over 450, including large and small, regional carriers; equipment and software vendors like Intel and Microsoft; and more.

Other news from the TIP today included the announcement that TIP is expecting $170 million in investment into startups that are building or working on telecom infrastructure solutions. This, in my opinion, is an interesting development, considering how so much of the recent period of development in startups and their funding has been focused on software solutions.

Facebook and the TIP are not revealing too many details yet on which companies would be the recipients of this funding — we have asked and will update as we learn more — but it notes that investors that are contributing to that $170 million total include Atlantic Bridge, Capital Enterprise, Downing Ventures, Entrepreneur First, Episode 1 Ventures, IP Group plc, Oxford Sciences Innovation and Touchstone Innovations, along with other investors, incubators and institutions.

“We believe this focused investment direction from these innovative investors will bring new infrastructure solutions to the industry,” Facebook said in today’s announcement.

To be clear, this is not a fund; it’s more of a conceptual idea of how much these investors are willing to invest in startups in the area of communications infrastructure: they will have their own funds and commitments that will, in theory, get them to that total.

During a meeting at MWC, Facebook VP Jay Parikh offered a for more details on how Facebook is involved. “Facebook is not actually investing in that in terms of actual money. That’s the VCs. We are lending our expertise in mentoring, we help them understand how to do hackathons, how to build out their space, we will offer any expertise we can if they decide to use our open source hardware and software.”

He added that the company is essentially helping to bring the knowledge it gained from running its production environment at scale and its culture to these centers. “It’s more sustainable this way,” he noted.

The academic groups in the TIP will meanwhile put their emphasis on investing in university spinouts or those using university IP for comms infrastructure solutions. Some of the technologies will include stuff like smart antennas and wireless energy transfer.

To that end, there are also two new “acceleration centers” getting launched in the UK, spearheaded by BT, for carriers and Facebook to consider and deploy infrastructure solutions from startups in the field. This is on top of a first center that Facebook launched in South Korea last year with SK Telecom. You can read more about TIP’s other projects, which are largely in the very technical, piloting phase of networking technology, here.

Network connectivity, and Facebook’s “mission to connect the world,” have been longstanding side themes for the social networking company, whose bread and butter continues to be advertising on its social network, which includes Facebook, but also Messenger, WhatsApp and Instagram.

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Whereas Facebook usage is nearly ubiquitous in regions like North America and Western Europe, in developing markets, especially in places where the infrastructure is lacking for good internet access, it’s less used, and so Facebook’s connectivity efforts are in part a way of creating the right circumstances to attract more business.

But those efforts, while having an overtly charitable and good goal of bridging the digital divide, have had very mixed results up to now. Internet.org — the project where Facebook has partnered with several other companies to provide essentially “free” mobile internet in selected countries — backfired when it got blocked in India over net neutrality concerns (specifically that Facebook’s initiative was helping Facebook more than anyone else). It’s still managed to connect 40 million people with the initiative, which has continued to expand.

Parikh noted in today’s press conference that the company is currently focused on the Express Wifi project in India and that we should “stay tuned” for any further announcements.

And a test of its Aquila drone, a “plane” that beams down Internet access, had a crash as a result of a structural failure.

And while today’s news is about how Facebook appears to be focusing more on building the exact physical infrastructure that it has said in the past was too costly to deploy, it’s also continuing to explore further wireless options, such as this plan to offer access in Africa via satellite. That plan faced a setback when Facebook’s first satellite was destroyed when SpaceX’s rocket exploded last year. Parikh, however, believes that satellites are something the company remains to be interested in and that it is the best solution for remote areas (and potentially a complimentary technology to its Aquila drone efforts).

The Internet.org situation in India shows how governments, businesses and the general public are indeed raising questions about what the full benefits or detriments are of companies like Facebook getting more involved in areas like connectivity. These are questions that will continue to be raised as Facebook provides ever-loftier presentations of its vision. Meanwhile, on a more basic level, there are ongoing questions of just how beneficial more connectivity is without better understanding of what’s being shared. The rise of fake news, for example, coupled with freshly minted surfers, is a scary prospect.

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Uganda

This Woman Has Designed a Map for Visitors to Explore Kampala with Confidence

Kirsty Hendersen is an accomplished explorer. She now has three African city maps to her name that are making foreigners settle in their new cities with ease. She is the brains behind Map of Kigali, Map of Addis and now Map of Kampala.

“Many cities of the world are well mapped, and often you’re given an excellent map on arrival at the airport. This isn’t the case with most African capital cities and I wanted to create quality maps aimed at new arrivals for the cities in the region that I know and loves.” Kirsty explains

According to Kirsty, capital cities of African countries have been neglected a bit by the world of mapmakers who focus on fun, tourist-oriented maps – something that she is working hard towards changing.

In 2010, she started Living in Kigali, a popular website in Rwanda that is fills a hole in online information about Kigali for both expats and tourists. The site is a one stop centre for all things Kigali and Rwanda in general. From there, she saw a need for a good map of her adopted city and she created The Map – Kigali, the first in what has become a series of maps in the region.

The map has almost all significant landmarks in the city. (Photo by Kirsty)

After the success of The Map – Kigali, she then turned to Ethiopia and did ground work to create a map of Addis Ababa. Ethiopia proved to be a very difficult place to do business, so the map wasn’t printed in as large numbers, but it was still a success and won a ‘Highly Commended’ award from the prestigious British Cartographic Society in 201.7

“The Map – Kampala is the third map (after Kigali and Addis Ababa) in what I hope will be a series of maps of African capital cities aimed at making life a little easier (and more fun!) for foreign residents, tourists, and even lifelong locals.” Kirsty explains.

The Kampala map took around a year and a half or work involving a baseline survey of the city, moving around the different corners of Kampala to get to know neighbourhoods and discover interesting places, asking the locals about key restaurants, lodges, tourist attractions, landmarks and learning about everything in the city that might be helpful to a new arrival or someone who wants to get to know Kampala a bit better.

“I’ve tried to make this map professional, user-friendly, fun, and super useful. It’s the map I wish I had when I arrived as confused a visitor many years ago.” She explains.

The map is sold at key shops around the city (Photo by Kirsty)

The map has hundreds of pieces of handy information crowd-sourced from all kinds of Kampala residents and researched in-depth. It aims to show a whole new side of Kampala including eating recommendations, information on what to do, tips for new arrivals, and anything that will give people the confidence to get out and explore the city in the hopes that visitors will venture beyond the usual expat and tourist hangouts.

“It’s printed on water- and tear-proof paper, so that that it doesn’t disintegrate in your hands as you wander around town. I hope that it’s clear that the map shares my passion for Kampala and I’ve put a lot of effort into making it a beautiful product worthy of a place on your wall,” Kirsty explains.

The map costs 30,000 UGX and is available in major bookshops, restaurants and coffee shops around town for example Endiro Coffee Shop, Bushpig, Prunes, Definition Africa, Aristoc, 22stars, Fang Fang Hotel, Design Hub, Explorers Hub and Kona.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Uganda

How Kakooza is changing perceptions about mental health in Uganda

Liz Kakooza has struggled with depression herself.  She has had it ever since she was a child. She never knew depression was a very big issue until 2015 when she was diagnosed with it and had to be in constant monitoring by a psychiatrist.

However when she recovered, she realized that there were no organizations doing work to address the mental health issue in Uganda at a time when many cases of depression were on the rise.

“I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder and having experienced stigma first hand and with the lack of access to adequate mental health care in Uganda, I made it my life’s purpose to raise awareness around it which in turn will address the issue of stigma.” Liz notes.

The mental health situation in Uganda

In 2006, The Principal Medical Officer in charge of Mental Health at the Health Ministry, Dr. Sheila Ndyanabangi, had predicted that there was going to be a significant increase in mental health illnesses over the next years. In 2016, The IOGT International reported that there had been 500% increase in mental disorders in Uganda.

Globally according to the World Health Organization, One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.

Stigma associated with mental illness also is a significant barrier to care. People with mental health problems are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, live in decent housing and be socially included in mainstream society.

Liz Kakooza’s past experience fighting depression inspired her to start Tumaini Foundation

Founding Tumaini Foundation

“I started the Tumaini Foundation after identifying a need in the Mental Health space in Uganda and the continent as a whole.” Says Liz Kakooza, the Founder and Executive Director of Tumaini Foundation, World Economic Forum Global Shaper for Uganda, A Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow 2017 and a LéO Africa Institute‘s Young & Emerging Leaders (YELP) Fellow. 

Tumaini Foundation’s approach is threefold aimed at raising awareness and address the stigma around mental health, improve access to health care for people living with mental health issues and influence and implement policy and legislation around mental health.

“In my journey of recovery, I have learnt that true recovery comes from helping others going through the same challenges which is why I started Tumaini Foundation.” Liz states as she recalls her story.

Tumaini Foundation’s focus is also on addressing stigma. Liz through her foundation believes that stigma comes from a place of ignorance and by educating people about mental health, everyone will be able to address the stigma around mental health which will have a ripple effect and open doors for our initiatives.

However the journey to launching the foundation and starting her work has also not been easy. Liz has not yet been able to identify many stakeholders in the mental health space in Uganda as the topic remains not talked about

Uganda on the other hand, has only one psychiatric hospital to handle all mental cases from across the country which becomes a very big challenge for individuals like Liz.

As Daily Monitor reported, Butabika National Referral Mental Hospital (commonly known as Butabika hospital or Butabika) is Uganda’s second largest hospital and the centre for mental health treatment and education in the country. The hospital may house anywhere from 700 to 800 patients at any one time, although it was built for a capacity of 550 patients.

Kakooza is giving hope to people going through depression to open up for help.

But that has not stopped her from achieving her goals.

“I have used crowd funding techniques and engaged partners in my networks to get the ball rolling to change the conversation around mental health in Uganda. The message has spread further than anticipated to even different parts of the continent.”- Liz notes.

Currently, the foundation has a number of projects it is running. Recently, the foundation was able to start work on its first treatment center Africa Retreat Center (ARC). ARC is an intensive out-patient facility and rehab center. It offers different treatment and rehabilitation programs for people living with mental health disorders and addiction issues.

Other programs by the foundation include; Tumaini Combat whose aim is to work with the army, Tumaini Woman which addresses mental health issues prevalent among women, Tumaini Ingane which addresses the onset of mental health challenges among children and Tumaini Lifeline; Which is a suicide & crisis counseling hot-line.

“We plan to roll-out an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) where we will work with employers (corporations & private businesses) to address mental health challenges in the workplace and to develop mental health policies.

With the Tumaini Foundation, Liz believes that it is through sharing of personal stories that the foundation will be able to change the conversation around mental health. In this spirit, the foundation is slowly rolling out several communications initiatives e.g. a blog that will be live soon to share stories about mental health that are within the African context.

Like this story or have something to share? Write to us: info@thisisuganda.org, or connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Uganda

Meet the Ugandans on the TEDGlobal 2017 Fellows list

A playwright, an Investigative Journalist and a former refugee living in Uganda are among the new class of the TED Global Fellows class of 2017.

The three are among the 21 fellows, ten of which are from African countries like Somalia, Nigeria, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Egypt and Liberia that will each, deliver a talk at this year’s TED Global gathering this August in Arusha, joining 436 other fellows from 94 countries around the world.

Below, get to know the new group of Fellows who will join us at TEDGlobal 2017, August 27–30, in Arusha, Tanzania.

Judith Adong

Adong is a Theater/Film Creative Director, Writer & Producer, who creates captivating plays and films that provoke and promote dialogue on social issues affecting underprivileged groups. Judith’s outspokenness has led her to create work that provokes dialogue and social change on issues ranging from LGBTQ rights to war crimes. She is also the artistic director of Silent Voices Uganda, a not-for-profit performing arts organization.

 

Yasin Kakande

Kakande is a Ugandan journalist working undercover in the Middle East to uncover the human-rights abuses of migrant workers. His autobiographical novel The Ambitious Struggle, is a fascinating and gripping account of life in the United Arab Emirates, as seen and reported on by a Ugandan journalist resident for over a decade in Dubai. The first such account of its kind, in outlining the duties he was assigned (in print and broadcast media) and the news events that made it (or did not make it) into the print and and broadcast media, one gains a keen look at the points of sensitivity in the complex society of the UAE.

Robert Hakiza

Hakiza is of DRC origin. He is the Co-Founder of Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) an NGO based in  Kampala that is uniting urban refugees through avenues like sports, English classes, and vocational skills training in order to address social issues like ethnic conflicts, unemployment, public health, and lack of access to education.

Refugees that YARID serves mainly come from the Great Lakes Region: Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Burundi.Hakiza and his colleagues are helping these urban refugees learn new skills.

 

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