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View the documentBackground Summary: SatelLife and HealthNet
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View the documentBackground Summary: A Global Computer Network for Change
View the documentBringing the Internet to Zambia

MUKLA: Evolution of a Homegrown Network in Uganda

by Charles Musisi

Charles Musisi is Network Manager of MUKLA (Makerere University in Kampala) and pioneer of electronic networking in He has an electrical engineering background. He has shared his networking expertise with colleagues in Kenya, Tanzania, Nigeria, and Ghana.


This paper tells the story of the establishment of the MUKLA Electronic Network in Uganda. There is much in the establishment and growth of an electronic network that can be learned from our experiences. MUKLA is an example of a sustainable network bred from a homegrown desire to network. I say this because:
· Our primary emphasis is on self-sustainability;· We are now in our fourth year of operation, with an increasing base of users, expanding facilities, and a financially viable operation;· Starting from a university and grassroots NGO base, we now have established strong working relationships with various levels of government and other sections of the community;· We are internationally connected to the Internet, the Association for Progressive Communications networks, United Nations organizations, major commercial networks, and facilities around the world; and· All of this was accomplished with very little donor funding and no government grants whatsoever to commence operations. A small team of dedicated individuals in a unique government institution is running a sound business-based electronic mail service.

The need to communicate across distances on vital issues is far from new. An ever-increasing range of technologies has been applied to this need, from rudimentary tools before the age of transport to the constantly emerging suite of sophisticated services offered by the information age.

The ESANET Project

The MUKLA node began with the Eastern and Southern Africa Networking (ESANET) Project. Inspired by the communication needs mentioned above, the IDRC-funded ESANET research project was aimed at investigating various microcomputer-based methodologies for communications. The countries of the five participating institutions are all members of the Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA) region. The participating institutions themselves were the Institutes of Computer Science at the University of Nairobi and Makerere University, and the Computing Centres at the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Zambia, and the University of Zimbabwe. The long-term goals of the ESANET project are given in Box I below; the specific objectives of ESANET were to:

· experiment with alternative techniques for data communications between the five nodes in five countries;· evaluate the technical, economic, sociological, and management aspects of the communication network experiments,· disseminate information to the research community within the region about the development and the results of the project with a view to increasing the awareness of possibilities, stimulating new and wider applications, and inviting feedback on related topics; and· make recommendations to the research community (users and telecommunications authorities in the region) on cost-effective data communication modalities, and appropriate network models and policies for specific environments and applications.

The introduction of electronic networking to the wider community in Uganda began in May 1991 as a natural spin-off from the ESANET project. MUKLA was mandated to provide email services to non-governmental organizations (NGOs) within the NGOnet-Africa project, which is described more fully in Fall's case study on page 142. We also sought collaboration with the HealthNet project whose aim was to facilitate communication among health professionals within the African region and with their peers elsewhere. (See information on page 153.) While the mode of communication chosen by HealthNet was a store-and-forward, lowearth orbiting satellite (LEO) with tracking ground stations, the regional interconnection of the ESANET and NGOnet nodes was to be across regular, dial-up telephones lines using Fidonet technology.

Activities of ESANET

A start-up meeting for ESANET in November 1990 brought together representatives from all the participating institutions, as well as those from IDRC, SatelLife, and the Nirv Centre/Web of Canada. The start-up workshop focused on identifying suitable methods of communication and on drawing up preliminary lists of hardware and software requirements. We decided that the project would support a series of workshops in the different participating countries.

At a design workshop held in May 1991, in Harare, Zimbabwe we formally adopted Fidonet technology as the technology of implementation. Our review of the status of licensing of the HealthNet ground station revealed only Zambia at the time had obtained a license. Other highlights of that meeting included confirmation of lists of requirements by different nodes and the topology of regional mail traffic exchange. The nodes in Uganda and Tanzania were to route their regional traffic and international traffic via Nairobi, while Zambia would poll (or generate a computer call to) Harare, which would in turn poll Nairobi for regional mail.

The University of Zambia (UNZA) hosted an experimentation and review workshop in November 1992. Our aim then was to enhance internode telephone calls (polling) and review the progress of the project to date. At the time of the review workshop, we observed that some interesting trends had clearly emerged and we realized that the assumption upon which the topology had been drawn was evidently unattainable. For instance, the interregional polling in East Africa was not possible due to several factors: delayed arrival of equipment purchased from overseas suppliers; wrong power specification supplied; or poor telephone lines at the node on an old analog exchange. Hence, while activity was well under way in Uganda by February 1991 and a little later in Tanzania, the MUKLA node only became operational in August 1992.

MANGO, the NGO network in Zimbabwe, was an established Fidonet bulletin board by the time the ESANET project began and so only needed to integrate the ESANET activity early in 1991. UNZA was also fully operational early in 1991 but routed its regional and international traffic through Rhodes University in South Africa. Interregional polling between these two was never reliably successful owing to poor interconnecting telephone infrastructure between Zambia and Zimbabwe. All of the ESANET participating institutions and bodies met in September 1993 at an evaluation and closeup workshop held in Uganda.

BOX 1 Long-term Goals of ESANET

The long term goals of the ESANET project were to:

· achieve more cost-effective and relevant data collection and assessment by better identification of users, in both the public and private sectors, and of their information needs at the local, provincial, national and international levels:· strengthen local, provincial, national and international capacity to collect and use multi-sectoral information in decision-making processes and to enhance capacities to collect and analyze data and information for decision-making;· develop or strengthen local, provincial, national and international means of ensuring that planning for sustainable development in all sectors is based on timely, reliable and usable information; and· make relevant information accessible in the form and at the time required to facilitate its use.


As it happened, Doug Rigby, a networking consultant at the Environmental Liaison Center in Nairobi but also working for the NGOnet-Africa Project, visited Kampala in February 1991. I was then a final year student of Engineering at Makerere University but on forced vacation as a result of student riots that caused the closure of the campus.

My meeting with Rigby was helped by the student riots as much as by my volunteer work at an environmental NGO, called JEEP, a grassroots network organization. JEEP staff asked me to meet Rigby at the Entebbe airport. This was perhaps my longest wait at an airport for any visitor coming from abroad - as the scheduled flight, I later learned, had been a phantom one. All the same, I persevered until he arrived on a late evening plane and took the 35 kilometer journey back with him to Kampala. After hearing his stories enroute, I never regretted the long wait and I slept that night dreaming about this intriguing new concept of electronic mail! The following week was to usher in many more exciting ideas that have led, as it turns out, to a new and unforeseen career.

With Rigby, we went through the drills of Fidonet: installing a modem; communication software for end users; and even basic DOS commands. The team of trainees had now grown to five: the then three folks from the Institute of Computer Sciences: one representative from the Developmental Network of Voluntary Associations (DENIVA), an umbrella network body for local and indigenous NGOs in Uganda; and myself. A windup workshop of Rigby's mission brought together the first batch of potential users from different organizations. Among them were people from CARE (the relief agency), the Centre for Basic Research, the Makerere Medical School, a handful of DENIVA members, JEEP itself, the Makerere University's Vice Chancellor, and other independent participants.

While I may not have been the most conspicuous participant, I had apparently caught the eye of some people and I was chosen as the person to carry the mantle of making it work.


The Critical Years

I quickly realized that my new role would have to be accommodated within my academic life when campus reopened. That I did by working at the node after classes, not an easy thing to do for an engineering student. The next thing was that I had to do to this work as a volunteer. There would be no pay at first. I still remember those first meetings with prospective users - environment groups, missionaries, and other NGOs. This was new to all of us. Even as I crawled under desks to connect modems to telephones, and even as I made test polls to Nairobi, not one of us was sure that we were not going to get enormous telephone bills. I wasn't all that sure that I wouldn't be able to pay the actual telephone bills even if they were not enormous! (See Box 2.)

The harder electronic networking seemed the more determined I was to prove that it worked. It was the best thing I could have done. The process taught me a great deal, refined my thoughts considerably, and led me into contact with many people whose expertise I would need if this was going to succeed.

Originally, I had planned to set up a non-profit network for NGOs to run parallel to MUKLA. That might have been ideal but, with my unfinished engineering degree in the way and a lack of clear institutional support from the NGO community, this seemed a formidable task. I labored to convince the director at the ICS that there was more to be gained in merging ESANET with NGOnet activities than there was in operating them separately.

Shortly after the university reopened, however, we reached agreement and installed the ESANET equipment and procured a dedicated telephone line. The MUKLA node got under way and the real fun began! At the end of our first year of operation, we had nearly 50 users, quite a remarkable achievement and a good omen for an exciting future. We were beginning to fulfill many people's dreams for use of this media. At this point, I stood as the systems operator (sysop) and manager of an ever-growing network. I was confident that I had established a sound management structure to introduce cost recovery. The director's secretary would handle billing and accounting while I concentrated on software and hardware developments as well as other technical matters.

Project Synergy

The ESANET project, with its idea of electronic networking at the Institute of Computer Science, took second place to the higher profile and better funded UNESCO Intergovernmental Informatics Project (IIP). The IIP was aimed at sensitizing decision makers in government and other sectors of society on the use of informatics tools in decision making and management. The attention paid to the IIP reduced high-level interference in the day-to-day running of MUKLA. Electronic networking nevertheless benefited from the many IIP workshops organized where email was always on display.

As the rush to sign on to MUKLA grew, so too did the pressure on the hardware - then a 386 SX, 2 RAM 80 megabyte hard drive personal computer. So, by July 1992, with the user base standing at well over 150, the node personal computer was upgraded to a 486DX 33 MHz, 8 RAM and 170 megabyte hard disk from the IIP project consignment.


At this level of expansion, MUKLA posed a real management challenge. With technical capacity to handle new installations and user support overstretched we made a decision to get more members of the teaching staff involved. One person was put in charge of documentation and promotions, while a technical assistant was assigned to help me. (See Box 3.)

Billing and accounting were firmly put in the hands of an accounts clerk who also doubled as the director's secretary. I believe that the stability of our network caught the attention of other regional networking projects, based mainly in Nairobi, and that they borrowed ideas from our experience. We then had over 10 groups or users dialing-in on long distance trunk phone calls from Nairobi and other parts of Kenya.

Around this time I was drafted into a number of regional initiatives. 1, for instance' participated in the design and implementation of the UNEP/Global Environment Facility (GEF) Greenhouse Gases project to link up researchers in six African countries, namely: Uganda, Tanzania, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco and the Gambia. I was also hired as an independent consultant for the CABECA project to setup and train systems operators in Uganda, Nigeria, and Ghana. (See CABECA box on page 147)

Between the UNEP/GEF and the CABECA project I have established a total of nine nodes in the above mentioned countries. I have also trained a score of incountry technical support people and have installed several end-user sites for access to email and the Internet. I have also set up email access for the UN's World Food Programme (WFP) offices in Dar es Salaam, Mombasa, and Kampala. Only recently I was on mission to war torn Burundi on an International Alert of London mission. There, l set up email so that the UN's special Representative to Burundi could access information and participate in discussions aimed at better informing the world and also the warring factions in conflict resolution.

Present Situation

From around mid-1993 to the present, we began routing Ml)KLA's international traffic through the GreenNet's GnFido node in London via four daily polls. This link works satisfactorily well, though disruptions in the past often occurred due to factors such as adverse weather conditions. Lately, the unreliability of the GnFido node can be attributed to over-stressed hardware facilities coupled with lack of support staff.

As of January 1995, MUKLA had an installed user base of over 300 sites. The majority of these are around Kampala but there are about 15 sites in Entebbe (35 Km from Kampala), five in Jinja (80 Km east), three in Mbale (150 Km east, close to the Kenya border), three in Mbarara (220 Km southwest), and three in Kabale (400 Km southwest, close to the Rwanda, Tanzania, and Zaire borders). The upcountry installations all have to make long distance calls to Kampala.

It therefore became imperative to set up local access points in these towns. In February 1995, a node was established in Entebbe at the Uganda Virus Research Institute with equipment supplied by the HealthNet project. Similar nodes are planned for Mbarara, Kabale, Mbale and Jinja during the first half of 1996.

Even now a few users call in from Nairobi, though the majority of regional traffic flows to MUKLA via Sasa Communications System. This company, based in Nairobi, is an initiative of the East Africa Internet Association. (See Box 4.)

Recent Developments

Throughout 1995, I consulted for a commercial enterprise (StarCom) to help establish a full Internet (JP) link for the Uganda market. In August 1995, another company (InfoMail) opened full IP access from Uganda - thus becoming the first site in East Africa and the Horn of Africa region to give full access to the Internet, including facilities such as World Wide Web. Starcom became operational in November 1995. It is noteworthy that both these companies implemented international access using very small aperture terminal (VSAT) satellite technology in preference to the overpriced and unreliable digital leased lines from the Uganda Posts and Telecommunication Corporation (UP&TC).

As seen from the information in Appendix A, the electronic network market in Uganda is now fully liberalized with not less than five providers with services ranging from email access to full Internet. However, the usage charges remain high. The charges given are accurate as of January 1996.

BOX 2 Seeing Is Believing

I really thought everyone would be so excited that they would just put in some money and we would be up and going in no time. Not so, I learned. There was a lot more to do - and the hardest lesson of all was that, until I could prove that this thing saved money, there was no chance of it getting off the ground.

BOX 3 Help from Some Friends

There are many funny stories from those first few months. l grappled with the establishment of a node facility for which there were no textbooks - only a concept and some guiding hands from friends abroad. Invaluable help and support handily came in from Doug Rigby at ELCI, Mike Jensen at WorkNet in South Africa, Karen Banks at GreenNet, and later Bob Barad in Washington. l had considerably underestimated the technical complexity of what we were doing.

BOX 4 The East African Internet Association

The EastAfrican Internet Association (EAIA) is a not-for-profit group formed in April 1995, seeking to promote and expand cooperative electronic communications and inter-networking in the East African region. Its members include the majority of electronic service providers, serving at least 3,000 users, in the following countries: Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Partner networks abroad are also members, as are a number of interested individuals. Membership is open to all interested parties for a nominal fee. The Association is in the process of being officially registered in each country.

EAIA's aims of cooperative internetworking in Africa are also supported by: Capacity Building in Electronic Communication in Africa (CABECA, UN Economic Commission for Africa), GreenNet (London), UN Environment Programme (Kenya), UN World Food Programme (Kenya), RIO/ORSTOM (France), Web (Canada), Wolfnet Communications (London) and SangoNet (South Africa).

Discussions take place on a private Internet mailing list.


Beyond Email

While the bulk of our traffic on MUKLA remains electronic mail, there is a new trend towards user participation in electronic conferences. MUKLA at the moment carries over 50 different conferences mostly from the Internet and APC networks, with a few specifically regional or local ones. Perhaps the most notable among these is a discussion list on Uganda-related issues and news, appropriately called Ugandanet. Through this conference, over 600 Ugandans from all over the world link with each other on a daily basis to interact with lively discussions on various topics ranging from the constitutional process, to entertainment, to sports and news.

Perhaps responsible for the bulk of growth in the beginning was the email/fax service that MUKLA provided. Users are able to send' at the price of email, faxes to destinations all over the world. Its popularity was mainly due to the exorbitant international charges levied by Uganda Post & Telecommunication.

Sectoral Involvement


Electronic mail has had a particular attraction for research activities to many researchers. Students are also increasingly getting to use email. About 25 percent of MUKLA traffic is for university related activities.

Non-Governmental Organizations

These form the single largest group of MUKLA users accounting for over 40 percent.


The involvement of government in any major way has not come yet, although from the early days government departments were interested in what we were doing and, in 1992, we were approached by many government bodies for connectivity. Presently, however, only isolated projects within government departments are connected, usually for very specific reasons, such as easy access to a donor office abroad. We have been approached by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to explore possibilities for linking Ugandan embassies, especially in particularly hard-to-reach places like Zaire and Rwanda.

Business Sector

This perhaps remains a weak and under-represented section of the network. Nevertheless, from the early days, business users concerned with sustainable development issues began to join us.


There are many other individuals and independent groups that MUKLA knows are interested in electronic networking. We have yet to tap this group.


Though MUKLA benefited from the ESANET research fund as seed capital, cost recovery was instituted at an early stage to supplement this. As of now, and at completion of the ESANET project, MUKLA is fully self-financing through fees levied on users. A check is put on users via shadow billing whereby an itemized bill for all users is prepared at the end of the billing quarter to check on excessive use and possible abuse of our lenient terms. There is no additional charge for the fax facility though strict monitoring is done for each of categories above. When excessive use is noticed, the user is upgraded to the higher billing group.


The ESANET project introduced the idea of electronic mail communication to researchers and other users at Makerere University campus - though the focus of the project was then on experimenting with various computer-based communication technologies and working out the technical bugs involved with poor telephone lines, erratic management of the telephone long-distance dialing system, and hardware and software equipment.

As of September 1993, most of these problems had been ironed out. The electronic mail system using the GnFido system has reached a level of reliability that surpasses that of fax machines. A cost-effectiveness analysis was carried out at the end of the ESANET project and this provided the evidence needed to prove that this venture could be sustainable, given the proper setting and management.

The ESANET project established that microcomputer-based electronic communication was a viable, sustainable technology and appropriate to the context of the region in which it has operated. There is a proven demand for electronic communication, both regionally and internationally. Following are the recommendations from the ESANET project:

To the research community, we recommended that:

· Relevant institutions be encouraged to consolidate and expand their user base.· We should undertake more research into improving and expanding technologies used.· Manpower requirements for this activity be consolidated into the establishment of the institutions concerned.· Appropriate mechanisms be established for operational cost recovery and institutional funding to cover system operation and expansion.· Cognizance be taken of the ever-improving nature of electronic communication worldwide and relevant upgrading be considered.

To the telecommunication authorities, we requested:

· Further investment be made in improving regional telecommunication links to enhance electronic viability of using national telecommunication infrastructure for modem related activities · Special tariffs be applied to the academic and research communities for packet switching and leased line facilities thus enabling greater access to computer based communications regionally and internationally.· Liberalization of user terminal equipment connected to national telecommunication networks be encouraged.· Pragmatic policies be established with regard to licensing of alternative communication methodologies such as packet radio and low earth orbit satellite.

To the donor community, we recommended that:

· In view of the fact that national communication networks are an indispensable component of national development, providing as they do for an efficient and effective information delivery system in diverse sectors, continued funding be made available for establishing infrastructure related to computer-based communications for capacity building in order to facilitate transfer of technology.

To regional governments, we recommended that:

· They recognize the importance of national and regional networks for all aspects of development and for human resource and manpower interactions. The final meeting of the ESANET project paid tribute to the invaluable contribution that IDRC had made through this project in furthering the case of electronic communication within academic, health, and other related communities. We accordingly asked IDRC to:

- Ensure that ESANET nodes be covered in any forthcoming regional electronic network support programs.
- Share the findings of this project with other donor and development agencies.
- Be receptive to future requests from ESANET community to consolidate and expand what has been achieved so far.


The ESANET project provided the participating institutions the opportunity to experiment with regional and international microcomputer-based communication. The aim of the experimentation was to establish the viability of the regional computer networking for data communication from the technical and management perspectives. We acquired data and experience from the experimentation phase of the project using Fidonet and packet satellite technologies. Based on this experience and data, we made the following specific observation on hardware, software, connectivity, network management and research activities.


For modems, we have observed that:

· 9600 baud or higher modems (e.g., Telebit Worldblazer) perform better for international connections, while 2400 baud modems (e.g., GVC 2400) are sufficient for local connections.· External modems perform better and are easier to handle than internals.· Modem power supply should be 240V AC.· Modems should be Hayes compatible.

For the node computer, we recommend a machine with the following specifications:

· 386 or higher,· a minimum of 4 megabytes RAM,· 120 megabyte hard drive minimum (max 12 ms cached),· dual floppy,· fast serial ports,· 220 V AC supply, and· UPS with stabilizer.

There is always a need to have a backup computer.


We used the following software packages in most of the our node operations

· FrontDoor 2.1+ - mailer· Gecho - conference mail processor· Msgtrack - mail tracker, ReDir - mail redirection GUS, Echovol - for conference tracking, AC - for accounting and billing


We observed that GnFido, Rhodes University, or WorkNet polling into ESANET nodes was cheaper and easier than direct polling between ESANET nodes This has been the case for regional as well as international traffic. We thus disproved the earlier assumption on which the interconnectivity topology had beer based.

User Base

We also observed that:

· A massive effort was required to develop and support a user base. We needed advertising, workshops, and maintenance visits.· There was a need to clarify to the users what installation and support imply and discourage frivolous requests.

Network Management

To sustain the network it is important to:

· train system operators and establish official positions for system operators at various universities and· put into place efficient and cost effective cost recovery mechanisms.

Some Fidonet management tools are available in basic node software. Additional software was developed during the project period to supplement these basic tools. Examples are: AC (accounting) from the Zimbabwe node and MTMON and HISMON (monitoring) from the Zambia node. However there is still need to develop more tools. Whereas there was sufficient documentation for point operation (the lowest level of the Fidonet hierarchy), there was need to develop more documentation for node operation. Nodes are the individual systems that belong to Fidonet. They are responsible for passing mail between the points and the next hierarchical level of Fidonet - the hub.

Research and Development

We need to encourage technical innovations to improve the system and we can use student resources for such projects. Technical innovations are required in the following areas:

· Terminal Node Controller (TNC)· The packet satellite upload program (PG)· Modems and modem testing/evaluation· Mailer interfaces

Beyond the ESANET Project: Future Developments at MUKLA

While the interest in using electronic mail among researchers is strong, the technical capacity to meet this demand remains severely constrained due to lack of adequate funding. Additional funding is needed both for the personnel involved in its spread and for the purchase of hardware upgrades for the present installation. Although a number of groups and individuals have expressed interest in using and learning more about electronic mail, there are no adequate pedagogical materials nor the funding to have technical experts available to advise on both hardware and software problems as well as to do the installation and training.

Given the lessons learned from the experimentation phase, with the outlined constraints' it is imperative that MUKLA seek to improve its institutional capacity to effectively spearhead a development plan. We will seek support for recruiting trainers whose job will be to build on the achievements to date and enhance the existing network amongst all these groups. We will also seek support to update the hardware at the existing nodes and to create a pool of modems to serve as seed investments in new areas where electronic communication is to be introduced.

Specific goals should be towards:

· upgrading the hardware and software at the MUKLA node to full Internet status via leased line;· developing appropriate educational materials and formats for workshops and short-courses,· providing technical assistance and training; and· facilitating communication via email amongst users within the country and region.

There are two sets of activities to look at in the process. The first would involve the acquisition of the necessary funding and identification and purchase of the necessary hardware for a full IP connection. Simultaneously, we would prepare training materials for the use of electronic mail, instruction on both hardware specification and troubleshooting, and hands-on training with the software. The second set of activities will include the provision of regular and ongoing technical support to users. This will be necessary both to iron out technical problems encountered in the daily operations of the electronic mail, as well as to sensitize and train new users.

New Nodes

We expect that the user base will have grown to an estimated 2000 installed sites by the end of 1996. It is time now to consider new nodes to improve services in areas outside of Kampala. Some possible sites for expansion of MUKLA are given below.

Entebbe is a major seat of government ministries and headquarters to many international United Nations bodies and NGOs. It is ripe to have a node established that could serve as hub to all users in and around Entebbe. This node would periodically poll MUKLA to transfer national, regional and international traffic. There is potential for up to 150 installed sites within one year; this would also relieve the pressure on MUKLA.

Kabale located about 400 Km from Kampala has good potential to play a node role for Rwanda, Burundi, and some parts of Western Tanzania that fall within the Kagera Basin. Kabale is the gateway to these countries that have traditionally used the northern corridor trans-Africa highway to link them to the Kenyan seaport of Mombasa. There is an automatic exchange that is part of a large telecommunications project linking the countries that comprise the Kagera Basin Organization (KBO): Burundi, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. With 3,000 lines, the exchange is the most modern to be installed in Uganda. The KBO regional telecommunications project consists of a microwave transmission system interconnecting the four countries. It is aimed at the promotion and development of agriculture, forestry resources, and telecommunications links between member states that share the river Kagera.

Goals of Expansion

The nodes in Entebbe and Kabale, together with a series of training workshops for users in Jinja and Mbale, would constitute the first phase of the expansion program.

Existing national and international mechanisms of information processing and exchange, and of related technical assistance, would be strengthened to ensure effective and equitable availability of information generated at the local, provincial, national, and international levels, subject to national sovereignty and relevant intellectual property rights.

National capacities would be strengthened, as would capacities within governments, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, in information handling and communication, particularly within the East African region.

Improved Services

MUKLA would offer its clientele the full benefit of a wide range of Internet services. Electronic mail and conferencing, public and private access to Internet mail and other worldwide networks might be provided via partnership with the Association for Progressive Communications. MUKLA can also provide consultancy services on network establishment for organizations and government departments.

Future Needs and Possibilities

One of the difficulties we face as we prepare for future developments is to clarify the role of what is essentially a well meaning private enterprise with the responsibilities in this area of various tiers of government and public in Uganda. The question of appropriate ownership structures for networks like ours is quite complex. Our decision to operate as a private company was indicated at the time of our birth. The people are sufficiently interested to devote time and financial energy to the project and do not have any particular philosophical attachment to a mode of operation.

However the structure has served us well amidst the politics of governments and NGOs. We have always regarded ourselves as the carriers of information related to these issues, rather than as a policy body or an arbiter of truth and best practice. In the early days, this structure and philosophy allowed us to engender cooperation between NGOs who did not see eye-to-eye on all issues. In later days, the same stance has allowed us to assist cooperation between tiers of government and government departments, which have been known to jealously guard their own interests rather than cooperate. And, more importantly, we have managed to remain credible with both government and its more radical opponents. It is probably our strongest point, that we can operate independent of the political will of any tier of government or its funding priorities.

The future holds many specific problems to address - questions of cooperation, questions of standards, and questions of access to information will have to be addressed. Much work will have to be done towards these ends by both ourselves and government bodies.

Regional Interconnectivity

There will be immense savings by sharing costs and collaborating with other regional providers. The East African Internet Association (EAIA) effort could be one way to foster further regional interconnectivity. (See Box 4 on page 164 for more information about EAIA.)


My experience suggests that there is far more to establishing a successful network than purchasing and learning the technology. Indeed, technology expenses have been a minor part of our budget. Outlined below are some basic principles I believe are essential in establishing viable networks.

User Friendliness

Experience indicates that the issue of user friendliness is one where there should be no compromise. Simplicity of interface is crucial; however, simpler interfaces, those that use graphics, for example, also require more computing power. It is important to have machines with adequate power, memory, and speed to perform the necessary tasks. This is where a full needs analysis is necessary. The simplest looking interface may not do the job; nor will old or obsolete equipment provide enough sophistication to run programs such as Windows.

Adherence to Standards

The only trade off in user friendliness that might occur would be in the area of adherence to standards. Here, important standards have to be considered if contact with global networks and global relevance of data collected are concerns.

Promotion and Education

The most common mistake we can make in large scale electronic messaging installations is believing that somehow the system will "introduce itself." Not so! You can only successfully train the converted. The network has to be actively promoted. Its benefits have to be known before people will use it. Its applications to work areas and advantages have to be received with enthusiasm. Without this, the basic aims will not be achieved.


Equally, training is an absolute must for a successful implementation. Links should be made to existing training organizations. Training materials must be available for any software used. (See Box 5.)

Product Champions

The concept of a "product champion" is often mentioned in sales literature. It essentially refers to enthusiasts who promote concepts and products willingly because they believe in them. All networks need them. Product champions sometimes create problems for organizations with their over-enthusiasm and are rarely popular with administrators. But they are totally necessary and need to be identified and supported.

Adequate Funding

An under-funded initiative that fails can delay a concept such as sustainable development networks in a country by a decade or more, and a few failures can ruin the concept altogether. It is far too easy to attempt to stretch available funds too far and to leave behind a string of underdeveloped projects with little chance of success. It is also far too easy to get carried away by enthusiasm and to start a project without sensible financial plans to ensure viability.

Appropriate Ownership Patterns

This is a difficult question for which there is no immediate formula. An appropriate ownership pattern has to be one which will not restrict the participation of any governmental or non-governmental body whose cooperation is needed.

Plans for Financial Sustainability

Unless the venture is to be a continual financial burden to funding organizations, a realistic business plan has to be adopted to ensure that the network is self sustaining within a given period (perhaps 2 - years).

Managerial, Sales and Technical Expertise - in that order!

The need for managerial expertise must be obvious, as is the need for technical expertise. What is less obvious is the need for sales expertise. Even if a facility is not expected to raise revenue, it surely is expected to engender use and that's a sales job.

In conclusion, I would state that the world is not a series of isolated ecosystems bearing no relationship to one another and capable of resolving their own problems. National sovereignty does not rule the atmosphere, nor the oceans, nor indeed the rivers that meander happily across borders with no care to the politics of the government of the day. Global cooperation is vital, and access to the experiences and knowledge of others is essential if we are to solve the problems facing us.

Indeed' this paper is written in the belief that what we have achieved and learned in Uganda is valuable, and may be of assistance to people in other countries wishing to establish similar facilities. We would be happy to assist and advise based on our experiences here.

Box 5 Training Needs

A typical mistake made in electronic messaging implementations is to spend all available funds on hardware, bandwidth, and software development and find that no funds are available for training. This has been noted in many universities where typically less than 13 percent of academics actually use systems. It's not surprising - they are presented with very basic interfaces, no help desk, no manuals, and only the very brave and technically-inclined actually make it.


1. MUKLA Institute of Computer School
Makerere University P.O. Box 7062, Kampala
[email protected]
Contact: Charles Musisi, Network Manager
Services offered: Electronic Mail, Listservs, APC conferences/Usenet, Faxing

Usage charges


$ 10

A monthly individual/small NGO

$ 30

A monthly corporate rate

$ 50

Big corporate/International

$ 100

2. StarLight Communications (U) Ltd (STARCOM)
Sheraton Complex, 14th Floor, Ternan Ave., P.O. Box 10524, Kampala
[email protected]
Contact: Kiggundu Mukasa, Internet Manager
Services offered: Email and email fax, World Wide Web, Telnet, FTP

Usage charges:

E-mail only (unlimited usage)

$ 30

Shell account

$ 50

SLIP/PPP account

$ 100

Full IP


3. Infomail (U) Ltd
Plot 2 Clement Hill Rd. P.O. Box 11465, Kampala
[email protected]
Contact: M.M. Otyek, Manager
Services offered: Email, World Wide Web, Telnet, FTP

Usage charges:






$ 50

3 hours





8 hours



Big corporate


20 hours



Very big corporate


50 hours



4. Transmail Ltd
Blacklines House, Suite 2B4, P.O. Box 7482, Kampala
[email protected]
Contact: Patrick Mawanda, Manager

Services offered: Email, Electronic Fax, Mail Broadcasting, Conferencing

Usage charges:

Traffic not exceeding 420KB


Traffic not exceeding 910KB


5. InfomaNet

4th Floor Impala House' P.O. Box 8945, Kampala
[email protected]
Contact: Christine Nantongo
Services offered: Email, Fax

Usage charges:

Quick start plan:



Email sending

$1.20 per page

Email receiving

$0.70 per page

Fax sending

$2.95 per page

Power user plan:



Security deposit




Email sending


Email receiving


Fax sending