Opinion: Gold could make Uganda a powerhouse in the technology industry

By Denis Jjuuko

For a certain generation of Ugandans especially those who are above 40, the most common electronic gadgets they grew up with were a radio set and maybe a TV set and telephone landline for the well-off. Communication was largely through letters, faxes in offices, and such other things that are today on display in museums.

Banks employed people whose jobs were to count money! Only 21 years ago, I could have written this article by hand and sent it to the newspaper for somebody to type it on a typewriter where to delete a letter they had to use some white paste. Sometimes, I write this column on my smartphone in my bed!

Today, electronics are everywhere. Children in urban middle class homes study online, play computer games and adults spend an enormous amount of time on smartphones, laptops and in cars. Cars are increasingly becoming communication gadgets and some smartphone makers are switching to or adding making electric vehicles on their product lineup. A car should be able tell you where the next restaurant is located, give you historical background about nearby places, and guide you through Kampala’s unnamed roads without asking everyone you meet along the way for directions.

For example, if you drive around Kasubi Royal Tombs or the Lubaga Cathedral, its infotainment system should turn into a tour guide and tell you everything about these sites. It could also tell you who is selling what and where. Already, as you drive in traffic-clogged Kampala, a car informs you the bodas that may scratch your taillight. If your tire is low on pressure, it will inform you. More data than ever will be emitted in real-time to you. Controlling this data that cars will be producing is key and a goldmine as well.

Talking of gold, Uganda last week launched the country’s biggest goldmine in Wagagai in eastern Uganda. Details from the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development indicated that Uganda exports USD450m worth of refined gold and the figure is set to increase to USD800m. Gold is increasingly becoming what it is exactly meant to be – a precious commodity to the country’s Vision 2040 ambitions.

But refining gold isn’t enough. Gold is a key component in electronics – smartphones, laptops, smart TV sets, car infotainment and such other gadgets. As the world increasingly relies on data and such other related technologies, the gadgets that enable this multitrillion industry to exist rely on this precious metal to function.

African countries usually simply export these raw materials to the world. In essence, they aren’t only exporting these minerals, they are taking away precious jobs that would turn Africans into middle class and wealthy people. We need to think of exporting electronic components than just refined gold.

That would mean significant investments in human resource, industries and systems that can turn us into makers of these components. Enabling policies would have to be implemented as well.

We already have ambitions to make vehicles in Uganda and Kiira Motors and other brands could rely on these locally made components. The culture of exporting raw materials for others to make the finished products needs to be addressed in Africa. Our cotton can’t be exported as a raw material for us to end up paying premium rates for the clothing that we gladly show off.

Africa has the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world. By 2050, there will be more young people in Africa than the combined population of India and China. How will this population be fed?

An increasing population can’t survive on land alone as that is a finite resource. Already, land has become a big issue across the country. The major reason is because of an increasing population. Imagining what the future needs in terms of technology is infinite.

But it isn’t only electronic components that we can make, jewelry is another. I don’t think you need a lot to make rings and such other ornaments. They have been made for centuries. Our forefathers ornamented themselves. How can we today be exporting gold as a raw material so that we can import inspid wedding bands? We even have the audacity to import fake ones that end up damaging our skins.

The writer is a communication and visibility consultant. djjuuko@gmail.com.

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