No warnings had been issued that a heavy military presence would form part of the festivities. Walking confidently past a couple of patrons that I had assumed were setting up early on the morning of the festival’s second day, I headed for the main entrance to the common Hall at Victoria University library where the day’s events were about to kick off with several keynote speeches and was to be graced by the president himself.

epic scare on day two

Just a few feet from the door, a well-built man clad in full military attire stopped me in my tracks and asked if I had been cleared.

 “Cleared by whom?” I wondered,

“What exactly am I being cleared for?”

Confusion checked in, as I silently and curiously looked him over, taking stock of his guns and armor.

“Please come with me,” he politely pulled me aside.

I decided that day would be as good as any to be a law-abiding citizen. Anyway, it had to be protocol, right? However, when he began to venture into some intrusive and prodding questions, I realized then this was no ordinary protocol; this was definitely an interrogation.

The nation’s president ought to have officially opened the conference earlier in the day but arrived much later in the afternoon. In anticipation that he would be making an entrance any time in the morning until late in the afternoon, the presidential guard took over the programme.

I got thoroughly searched, my bag emptied onto the table and ‘quarantined’ for a while. They sought to ascertain that I was indeed who I claimed to be. Finding nothing ,he  looked me over one more time and decided I wasn’t a risk to Uganda’s national security, and let me go. He handed over my clearance and camera back to me. In haste I scrumbled together my belongings and walked back out into the sunshine . My was I thankful to have that over with ,Freedom is made of moments like these.

back to the festivities

Ten months ago, I was introduced to the nascent world of open data and citizen engagement at Code for Africa, particularly in matters governance. Since then, I have been exposed to tools and programmes that are truly unique. They have ranged from the exercising of new building technologies, the implementation of code regulations and design standards, community involvement and sensitization bootcamps.

In July this year, I represented Code for Africa at the Mozilla East Africa 2015 festival held in Kampala, Uganda. The festival is an annual convention held for the regional tech community of innovators, educators and technology enthusiasts who are united in their objective of using technology to find solutions the continents problems. Themed “Building Solutions for Africa’s Challenges, Together on the Web”, the organisers were overwhelmed by the unexpected massive turnout of tech enthusiasts and innovators who thronged the venue.

inspiring last day

MozFestEA gave a podium to emerging thought-leaders in the African #CivicTech movement. Ray Besiga’s speech was the most memorable for me. He championed passionately for the need for civil society, donor organisations and governments as well as the private sector working together in a rational manner to develop solutions to the problems facing the continent instead of duplicating programmes which ended up wasting resources.

The Edit-a-thon in Uganda was designed to give activists / coders a chance to help select some of the core content for these downloads, as part of a ‘core collection’. Outernet’s Thane Richard moderated the the initial sessions, targeting a number of contents to allow to reformatting books and other materials for the library in space.

Despite religious, ethnic, social, political and economic differences, most of the problems faced by people in different regions are similar. The only difference is how to reach the solutions that address these problems. Conversation such as those that went on during and after the convention are a first step. Sharing the different approaches taken is key to coming up with sustainable solutions to these problems which can be easily replicated.

“Democracy must be something more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner.”
                                                                                     — James Bovar

The obvious and most logical place to start is by ensuring that our governments collect, maintain and avail data  in a manner that citizens can easily access and interact with thus making it possible for citizens to participate in their own governance.

My encounters with the ‘guard’ notwithstanding, MozFest East Africa was an eye-opener that I had desired it to be. It made me realize that we in the continent are fully capable of using technology in  applying it in our search for solutions to our problems.