Following an investigation into the status of Uganda’s national backbone infrastructure project prior to the third and fourth stages of the network’s rollout, the chairperson of the ICT Parliamentary Committee, Paula Turyahikayo has said that the government might be forced to re-invest in the project for the backbone to be functional. According to Bikyamasr, the report said that only 43% of the deployed cable was protected from damage, and 122 connection points of the 299 installed were safe. Turyahikayo said that ‘phase one is in such a sorry state…all contractors of this phase must be blacklisted,’ and went on to blame the condition of the network on poor workmanship and the lack of supervision. James Saaka, executive director of the National Information Technology Authority, Uganda (NITA-U), claimed that the problems with the project were not the fault of the NITA-U, as the body had not been created until 2008, whereas work began in 2006-2007, and as a result ‘the entire first phase…was run without supervision.’
As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, the difficulties surrounding the backbone first surfaced in 2009, and an investigation was launched in July 2011. The UGX201 billion (USD106 million) project was funded by the Export and Import Bank of China, which recommended Huawei for the installation: it is not known whether Huawei’s involvement was a compulsory part of the loan, but no tender was held. Following the completion of the first phase of deployment in January 2009 – the project already far behind schedule – it emerged that Huawei had installed cable inferior to the preferred type, and only 24 cores, rather than the 96 specified by the Ugandan ICT ministry. To make matters worse, the government claimed that it had been significantly over-charged, comparing its own project to a similar one in Rwanda. Uganda paid USD61 million for the installation of 2,100km of the out-dated cable, whilst Rwanda paid USD38 million for 2,300km of the preferred cable type. Further, the ICT ministry reported that it believed the actual installation had been flawed, as confirmed by the recent investigation, with the majority of the cable deployed less than 15m from the centre of roads and buried less than 1.5m from the surface thereby leaving the infrastructure vulnerable to accidental damage, vandalism and theft. In mid-2011, the government feared that as a result of the shoddy workmanship, it would be left with infrastructure that was less than required, and would require constant repairs that Uganda can ill-afford.