The Reality of Creating Alternatives to Facebook in Uganda

In 2021, the Uganda government blocked Facebook after the social media giant deleted some accounts of the NRM supporters that they suspected to be fake. Different discussions between the government and Facebook have not yielded success.

Who is the loser in the closure “game”?

One hard question to answer is this but let me throw an honest opinion. Facebook is not just an app; it’s a bustling marketplace and a space where livelihoods are created. It serves as a global meeting ground, connecting people from all corners of the world. The platform empowers young entrepreneurs to set up online shops that have helped them earn an extra income.

Turning to Tourism, Facebook plays a key role – It is a powerful platform for tourism promotion, engagement, and information sharing.

Could we think blocking Facebook in Uganda has contributed to the decline in revenue for the first time? In 2022, the revenue generated by Meta Platforms (formerly Facebook Inc.) amounted to roughly 116.6 billion US dollars, down from around 117.9 billion U.S. dollars in the previous fiscal year.

As of the first quarter of 2023, Facebook parent Meta Platforms returned to growth by a 4-percent increase. From that, it is clear it is not Uganda’s closure at play but rather issues like TikTok and other factors.

After throwing that light, I leave you to answer the question of who is the loser.

Should Uganda design its Facebook?

While I watched and listened to the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi respond to the question at the hearts of different youth that the solution to Facebook closure is opening our own “Facebook” stating that “Facebook didn’t come from heaven.” While this sentiment may seem idealistic and empowering, it’s essential to consider the complex reality of developing alternatives to a global tech giant.

Responding to the Minister, the Deputy RCC of Nakawa Division, Burora Herbert Anderson had this to say, “When we discuss the need to develop our own apps or platforms, we must recognize that this goes beyond merely creating local alternatives. It’s about the potential for local consumption and economic growth, reducing dependence on foreign markets, and ensuring the survival of our own products and services.”

Tweet by Burora Herbert Anderson

First and foremost, the suggestion to create a homegrown social media platform is not without merit. Encouraging innovation and entrepreneurship among the youth is a commendable goal. However, it oversimplifies the incredible challenges and barriers young Ugandans face in the quest to build a successful alternative to platforms like Facebook.

  1. The Overwhelming Dominance of Facebook: Facebook is not just another social media platform; it’s a global tech giant with billions of users worldwide. Its resources, infrastructure, and reach are unparalleled. Building a competitive alternative requires a level of investment, technical expertise, and scale that is beyond the reach of most individual young entrepreneurs or even small startups.
  2. Technical Challenges: Creating a social media platform involves complex technical aspects, from software development and data storage to cybersecurity and scalability. Young developers face significant hurdles in terms of infrastructure, knowledge, and access to resources. Imagine just access to the internet in Uganda is a hurdle!
  3. User Trust and Adoption: Gaining user trust and adoption is no small feat. Facebook’s success is not solely due to its technical capabilities but also its vast user base and network effects. Convincing users to transition to a new platform is a considerable challenge, particularly when their friends and connections are already on established networks.
  4. Financial Constraints: Developing, maintaining, and promoting a social media platform requires substantial financial resources. Young entrepreneurs often lack the financial backing required to compete in this space effectively.
  5. The Role of Government: While promoting innovation is essential, it’s equally important for our government to consider the role it plays in supporting local tech ecosystems. Policies that encourage investment in technology infrastructure, education, and startup incubators can be more beneficial than placing the entire burden on young entrepreneurs.

In conclusion, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi’s call for young Ugandans to design their own social media platforms is certainly rooted in an encouraging belief in the potential of the youth. However, it is essential to acknowledge the immense challenges that come with such an endeavor. The development of successful social media networks requires a concerted effort that goes beyond individual or small-scale entrepreneurship. It demands support from the government, access to resources, and a conducive regulatory environment. While the closure of Facebook in Uganda has sparked this debate, it’s crucial to approach the issue with a nuanced understanding of the complexities involved in creating alternatives to global tech giants.

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