Postings from the void of Banausia

  • Uganda, final comments

      • kaestel.dk

    I've spent 17 days in Uganda. I have mingled with the rich and the poor and done my best to see the world through their eyes, though what they see is painful to me in very different ways.

    I am left with a confused mix of hope and helplessness. The existing power structure is completely caught in its own need turning to greed. Everyone simply accepts "the way things are" and plays the game skillfully to leave the table with their pockets full. The ones who tries to do right, looses out. It's a dangerous game of everything or nothing.

    The powerful people we have talked to here, all seem very inspired with the prospect of collecting more taxes. When we talk about education and free internet they loose focus and quickly the topic close in on the "what is in it for me"-rhetoric. It appears no one will do anything here, unless they themselves benefit financially from the deal. Regardless of them being business men or appointed officials.

    It is not very surprising but still more extreme than expected. My initial thoughts on who to lube the chain wasn't nearly enough. Towards the end of our stay we were debating how to balance more direct means of bribery, without compromising the overall intention of granting free internet and education. It is tough being an idealist in Uganda.

    If Uganda established a government controlled internet provider, surely such an organization would have highly acclaimed positions ready for the willing aids of such a program. Establishing it as a private company might allow for purposeful distribution of ownership through stocks. And establishing free internet would surely accelerate the infantile IT industry of Uganda, allowing the entrepreneurial to acquire valuable stakes in this new and profitable industry of digital services and media. The market already has 17 million under-nurtured customers.

    I consider this initial research trip to be successful and I have a feeling I'll be coming back. Even if it is just to sit at the lake and write or having another Rolex at the intersection.

    Image: Strip mall

    Image: Jesus cares

  • Image: Mobile Money

    Uganda tomorrow
    - Ideas for a brighter future

      • kaestel.dk

    Before I arrived to Uganda, I had been working with some ideas. An attempt to inspire new approaches and unconventional solutions.

    A few facts about Uganda:

    • Population: 36 mio
    • People with sanitation: 12 mio
    • People with electricity: 3 mio
    • Life expectancy: 57 years
    • Dominant religion: 84% Christianity
    • Literacy rate: 67%
    • Fertility rate: 6 children born pr. woman

    And the finances:

    • Total tax revenue: 8 trillion shillings (US $3 Bn)
    • Estimated black economy: 50% of GDP
    • Fake notes in circulation: > 3 trillion shillings (US $1 Bn)

    In addition to all these somewhat saddening facts, surpricingly enough mobile penetration is extremely high and the Ugandan telecom system offers Mobile payments. Real mobile payments - transanctions between phone subscriptions, excluding the banks completely from the equation. They call it Mobile Money. This is primarily used by the broad, poor population, and most of them do not hold bank accounts.

    • Mobile subscribers: 17 mio
    • Mobile money transactions: 22 trillion shillings (US $8 Bn)

    Initial conclusion

    Uganda has lots of problems. We know that, they know that. It almost seems like the ones who knows this better than anyone, are the ones stealing all the money.

    And here is what we do:
    Hey, Uganda - why don't you just build more schools and sewers and make electricity available to everyone, - just like we did in Europe? We'll lend you the money, if you buy our toilets, employ our engineers  and sell us your powerplants (we think it is going to be a goldmine).

    It is a rude selfish offering, disguised as generosity!

    It simply doesn't make sense to increase the national debt, without growing the local businesses. Neither does it make sense to blindly repeat all our mistakes, when they have the option to skip them all together.

    They don't have the money to take on any real tasks on their own, regardless of how much it makes sense and they also want to. However, if they could increase their tax revenues and limit the financial corruption, then maybe ...

    New ideas

    To get anywhere, I decided to focus on these challenges:

    • difficulty in taxing the broad population
    • limited access to education and information sharing

    Here is what I came up with

    • Provide free internet in the entire country.
    • Build a digital education system, with a few educational hubs for specialized classes.
    • Introduce real-time transactions based taxation and remove all deductions and current taxes.

    Internet

    Free internet is simple. Free means free. Free for everyone. It costs a penny, but we'll get to that. First, think of the media value - everyone will look in awe. Then they will come. Most will bring money. Some will stay.

    Education

    Almost everyone who needs to learn, already has access to a mobile phone. If we give them free access to the internet, we can reach them and teach them. All study material is available online. When appropriate for your education, you will contribute to developing and maintaining the new educational system and Senior compendium includes creating study groups for the youngest students.

    Building a few educational hubs costs a fraction of regular schools distributed across the country. The hubs are open for external teachers and free to attend whenever you can to balance out survival and education.

    In my opinion this is an opportunity to build the educational system of the future. It could be implemented throughout the entire 3rd world. People will help. Open source is already here and this is what it is meant for.

    Ok, so we need some money to get started. My guess is, there is EU and possibly UN financing available for a project like this. And then there is the tax.

    Taxation

    Introducing a real-time financial transaction based tax across the banking and mobile sectors (all electronic financial transactions) of about 5%, would multiply current tax revenue, given the available numbers are credible.

    It is a complete replacement for all current taxes and deductions no longer makes any sense. Let cash be tax free for an easier transition, but stop producing new coins and notes. The modern way of making financial transactions for purchases already exist and has a broad market penetration even among the poor.

    A real-time transaction based tax implemented like this will remove the need for tax related administration (both public and private) and make it a lot harder for the black economy to thrive. Tax ovation is practically impossible as taxes are paid automatically and instantly on every transaction you make. It really is very simple.

    Leftovers

    The free internet and the online educational system, is the incentive the population needs to pursue the digital revolution willingly, and thus the reason it can succeed. A taxation plan like relies on a digital population.

    Even after building a revolutionary educational system and providing free internet, there is likely a penny left for investment in additional infrastructure. Spend it wisely.

  • Image: Kampala Hills

    Christmas Day dinner in Kampala

      • kaestel.dk

    We went for Christmas Day dinner with friends of the family. A lively critique of Ugandan progress and lack thereof were exchanged across the coincidentally male only coffee table. There is a clear understanding of individual problems and no coherent solutions. The president is mentioned in many sentences and it seems he is capable of being part of both the problem and the solution.

    No sight of Christmas, if you exclude the mix of 90's hits/pop version Christmas songs played by the hired DJ.

    Kampala sure is different :)

  • Uganda, first impressions

      • kaestel.dk

    Yesterday I ate the cheapest kind of street food on the dusty roadside and today I had a coffee with the daughter of the former president. I am expecting to see more of both for the remainder of my stay and several meetings have already been arranged.

    Today I ate fried grasshoppers and attended a traditional Ugandan engagement party, which is an adventure all on its own. Yes, I did wear a traditional Ugandan dress.

    Uganda is not unlike Kenya - the big difference for me this time, is being hosted by well connected locals. It really broadens the reach and thus the experience.

    My ambition for this visit is to explore the cultural differences first hand and attempt to understand the mechanisms at work here. With any luck inspire with new perspective, and leave with new perspective gained.

  • Kampala is ... Kampala

      • kaestel.dk

    I arrived to Kampala friday night and by now it already feels like I have been here for a week. New impressions are lurking around every corner. We've been eating with the rich as well as the poor. We've been waited on and lied to, walked in dusty sideroads and felt the warmth of honest smiles. It is a hard glimpse of a complex reality.

    Poverty is everywhere - privileges are for the few. Smiles are for everyone though and I have been well received everywhere, even if I am a muzungu.

    I'm going to stay here for the next 17 days.