Can airtime expenditure data tell us about your level of income?

Can airtime expenditure data tell us about your level of income?

Photo Credit Ninno Jack Jnr

Money for airtime has inevitably crept into the budgets of 19.5 million Ugandans that subscribe to various telecom companies in this country. But the question is,  can airtime purchase data tell us about vulnerability to poverty?

As the United Nations sits next week to launch the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs),private and public partners are rolling up their sleeves to see how these goals can be achieved. As the curators of the SDGs hope that nobody will be left behind, every piece in the puzzle will count.

According to the UN Resident Coordinator in Uganda, Ms. Ahunna Eziakonwa-Onochie , “A data revolution is underway in Uganda. New technologies are leading to an exponential increase in the volume and types of data available, creating unprecedented possibilities for planning, measuring and achieving the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Uganda can become a champion of data analytics  using and leveraging data to create business opportunities.”

To that effect, Pulse Lab Kampala is working with Airtel Uganda for real time analysis to leverage telecom data that will deal with various development issues in emerging economies. One of the proxy indicators of poverty is airtime and service fee for owned mobile phones.

The project hopes to work through providing insight to support smarter service delivery, real-time trend monitoring for adaptive course correction of data, informing predictive analysis for implementation, identify imaging crisis with data visualizations and give a platform for public private sector partnerships to work together towards achieving the sustainable development goals.

For instance, Airtel has nine million subscribers whose information they can use to tell which village “has more Arsenal supporters over Chelsea supporters.” Airtel has instead decided to use this information for not only for business opportunities but also to support the development works to tell if for example people in Bundibugyo have used less airtime compared to those in Masindi, then the analysis will conclude that the levels of poverty are higher in  Bundibugyo for appropriate interventions.

Sounds like a great tool to analyze data, but what about when there are promotions by telecom companies in a certain area and consumption is higher? How about those that are earning transfer payments such as students? How about those who are excited about their new phone and cannot stop calling all their relatives? How will this tool discriminate the data in terms of gender and age? If in Bundibugyo, the subscribers people used less airtime, how many are female how many are male? and in what age groups so as to address issues such as maternal health that are unique to women?

The good news is that the Pulse Lab Kampala is there to see how all these questions are answered as the tool evolves.  I cannot deny that this lab is a great initiative which government agencies such as the National Development Authority will most definitely benefit from as they implement the Uganda’s National Development plan and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Dear Uganda’s First Lady

Dear Uganda’s First Lady

A mother sails across lake Bunyonyi to carry out her daily activities. Photo Credit: Arinaitwe Rugyendo

Dear Uganda’s First Lady,

You are an ardent reader of the good book. I have heard you quote this good book many times. Did you by any chance land on the verse that says “But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak…” ?

You were quoted saying that the women of Uganda  should stop over depending on their husbands because it promotes laziness.  I am sure these statements were well intentioned because yes women ought to be the Proverbs 31 woman that is hard working and obviously men are not some sort of Automated Teller Machine. But what was the basis of this utterance madam First Lady of Uganda (FLOU)?

Ma’am the food you and I  eat is the sweat of Ugandan women. Agriculture is the backbone of Uganda’s economy and 90% of those involved in agriculture are the women of Uganda. Have you by any chance traveled upcountry lately?  You will realize that the women are toiling away in the gardens only to be ripped off by middle-men that take away all the profits because someone close to you thought that cooperatives were not an in-thing.

The women wake up in the morning going to the markets. They pay a significant part of the taxes that this nation depends on including you ma’am. The women you called lazy make up at least 25% of entrepreneurs in Uganda.

FLOU, I totally understand where you are coming from. After 30 years of being driven around in expensive cars with escorts and sirens, eating 5 course meals daily and travelling wherever you want to go anywhere in the world, I would think so too. And as you said your job is tough “If it was not because of prayer, it would be too hard for me to be the wife of the President,” you told the women.

But do you perchance know what it means for a child to cry in the middle of the night and you feed them on water because the day didn’t go as expected? Do you know what it means for a relative to die in hospital because they could not afford quality health care? Do you know that mothers die giving birth in this country because of poor maternal health care ? Do you know that primary teachers both male and female who work their asses off to raise the future leaders of this nation are paid 200,000 – 300,000 Uganda shillings a month? about 57 US dollars with the new exchange rates? Do you know that the policewomen that direct traffic in the scorching sun and keep our streets safe live in dire conditions? Do you know that there are midwives that stay awake all night help mothers bring life to this world with tadoobas? I am also sure you know that there is the issue of unpaid care work.

Ma’am do you know what it means to go for a job interview and you are rejected because the company thinks that even though you were good many turned up for that Job? Have you ever known what it means to write a business proposal and your idea is stolen? Do you know that sexual harassment at places of work is real? Well that is part of what Ugandan women go through everyday.


Used with permission from @thisisuganda_