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4 Learnings About Access to Information in Uganda

By Guest Writer on June 14, 2013


Beyond Access recently visited Uganda to learn more about local development priorities, how people are accessing information, and libraries. It was a fascinating time of learning and getting to meet with current Beyond Access Member teams from the National Library of Uganda (NLU) and Kitengesa Community Library.

We were also fortunate to host a salon discussion in partnership with the NLU on March 7. The discussion brought together representatives from government, libraries, international agencies, and civil society to discuss how to ensure citizens have access to information they need to improve their lives. We also visited libraries and communities around the country where we were able to talk to people about the kind of information they need and want.

Here’s four things we learned about development and access to information in Uganda:

1. Availability isn’t the same as accessibility.

During the Beyond Access Salon, the group kept coming back to one theme – available information isn’t the same as accessible information. Participants noted that there is a lot of information technically available to citizens in Uganda. But the central problem is that even when information is public, those who need it most are often unable to access it because they don’t have the tools necessary to do so, aren’t aware of the information, or don’t know how to apply it to their lives. This is where we agreed that libraries have a vital role to play — in maximizing the usability and accessibility of public information and resources.

2. Low-resource environments spark innovation.

One of the major information challenges for rural communities in Uganda is infrastructure. We visited with rural libraries and community centers in places where the electric grid is not available, much less wired internet. In place of easy access to public infrastructure, we saw libraries that were using solar panels to power public access computers and internet, using mobile modems to bring the internet to their communities, and even WiMAX technology to make internet available to low-income urban neighborhoods. Seeing the solutions that these communities were applying to local challenges reminded us that some of the best innovation happens in places with the greatest need.

3. Communities are passionate about local space.

We were fortunate to visit our Beyond Access Member team from the Kitengesa Community Library near Masaka. The library creatively addresses so many of its community’s immediate needs: Health information, women’s empowerment, ICT and technology opportunities. We also observed how the community holds the library’s community space is such high regard. Upon entering, users remove their shoes to make sure the library is clean and welcoming. Families use the library together on weekends. Local partners are eager to present workshops and programs in partnership with the library and even rent the space as a venue for private events. What we saw was that community members see the library as a dignifying, respected space. They know the value of their library. This is true across Uganda: More than 100 communities have independently started their own community libraries.

4. Mobile is not enough.

Mobile usage is exploding across Sub-Saharan Africa, and Uganda is no different. But while mobile growth has been impressive, we also saw that people really do need other ways to access information. In Zigoti, where mobiles are common, we visited a community where the nearest public access internet was almost 15 Km away. But residents there still feel they need public access and are willing to bike or take public transit across those 15 Km when they need to use email to communicate, or when they need to access information that isn’t well-suited to a handheld device.

This was originally posted as What Beyond Access Learned about Access to Information in Uganda and is republished here with permission

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One Comment to “4 Learnings About Access to Information in Uganda”

  1. Very useful! I loved the final points about community spaces and mobile. I hink this is such an important point