Cyber Security: Access not yet denied in Uganda

One of my favorite modern day authors is Robert Ludlum. The first book of his I ever read, then as a somewhat agreeable 15 year old, was the Bourne Identity. From then on, I was hooked. Since then, I have read nearly twenty of his books – including all books about his famous characters Jason Bourne and Brandon Scofield.

Through the travels of Jason Bourne, Brandon Scofield and Vasili Taleniekov my teenage mind and now my adult mind has been able to partly comprehend the labyrinth that is cybersecurity and its role as a tool of counter-intelligence and espionage.

Today, by a rather strange twist of fate, I find myself as part of a rapidly changing media space. My work as a strategic political communications officer (I am not a journalist nor am I a reporter) has brought me into contact with Social Media and Cyber Security.

Doubtless, as we all are aware, social media in our Uganda first came to us not through MTN’s Kaziire shoe shiner or for that matter Netscape browser but rather through Facebook. Indeed, until they decided to play God and unfairly block National Resistance Movement supporter accounts in 2021, I was a proud Facebook-er for fourteen years..

Speaking of MTN, together with Airtel, they facilitate, through their networks, at least 73 trillion shillings worth of transactions (BoU Mobile Money Statistics report 2020). In any currency, this is a large sum of money that necessitates state security agencies to collaborate with reputable private sector players and ensure the security of transactions and clients. Which is why, the October 2020 hack of Pegasus Technologies raised more than eyebrows of citizens and intelligence agencies.

“System incidences” of this nature, on account of a fully computer networked world, if not properly studied and planned for can extend to our modes of transport, to our hospitals, to our schools et al.

And so to this effect, our Ministry of Information Communications Technology and National Guidance (MoICT&NG) has as a deliberate policy set out to grow the ranks of our indigenous cybersecurity crackerjacks. This is why, earlier this week, the ministry leadership led by the honorables Joyce Ssebugwawo and the ever unflaggingly enthusiastic and hopeful Godfrey Kabbyanga together with our conscientious Permanent Secretary Dr. Aminah Zawedde held a day-long series of conversations with members of our Parliament’s committee of ICT&NG led by their vice chair, Hon. Nathan Igeme Nabeta. For me, these conversations at the ministry’s Nakawa based Innovation hub are a clear signal that Uganda has fully embraced Digital Technologies and is well on the way to developing home-grown counter measures to the dangers from Cyber attacks. They are a clear signal, because by the ministry’s singular act to countenance and support budding cybersecurity crackerjacks at Nakawa and at the other regional Innovation hubs, it is building the safeguards to our routine.

An innovation hub, be it one or ten, is not nearly enough. And this is why the ministry continues to construct partnerships with private sector players, local and foreign, within the ICT space. These partnerships include but are not limited to the Innovation village in Ntinda, and MOTIV along Old Portbell road. Partnerships have been established between the Ministry and the government of Estonia (first in 2017 and strengthened again just this month), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) etc.

These partnerships are not meant to have Uganda have Estonians and Japanese fly into our country and take over our cyberspace. They are, as mentioned earlier, to grow the local skillsets of our cyber crackerjacks through training. They are to enable us to plan, develop and roll out our own cyber infrastructure and software including even in the secretive world of Military Intelligence.

In doing this, government service to citizens becomes more efficient and private enterprise flourishes. With this and other strategic political and economic interventions already happening, our government’s forward objective to create a “modern, integrated and self sustaining” economy is being realised.

When this is achieved, it becomes unlikely that it will be said of us, as was said of Ludlum’s villain Stepan Spalko and his Humanistas, “Deep with the bowels of Humanistas Ltd was a sophisticated listening station that monitored the clandestine signals traffic from all the various major intelligence networks.”

From here on out, the Road Ahead is a much clearer one.


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