Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, December 10, 2012

Michael Cecire defends the new Georgian government of Prime Minster Bidzina Ivanishvili against allegations of undemocratic behavior.

Sarah Kendzior argues that using the term "civil society" can obscure the reality in authoritarian countries.

Peter Passell explains how Western governments can boost developing countries by making it easier for migrants to send money home.

In this week's column, Christian Caryl ponders Russian and Chinese attempts to regulate the global Internet.

Magda Kandil reports on how Mubarak's legacy continues to weigh down the Egyptian economy.

When it comes to corruption, Besar Likmeta writes, not all Balkan countries are the same.

Jackee Budesta Batanda reports on the latest triumph for Uganda's upstart tech entrepreneurs.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

As the crisis in Egypt continues, the Council on Foreign Relations offers an updated version of its useful primer on the Muslim Brotherhood. CFR's Reza Aslan reflects on the role of political Islam in the Arab Spring.

The BBC reports that the situation for women is worsening in Libya as female ex-rebels are targeted by Islamists. In a commentary for Now Lebanon, Rafif Jouejati urges Syrians to uphold women's rights in their quest for revolution.

Time's Rania Abouzeid tells the story of a Syrian sniper who defected from the military to join the revolution.

Jeremiah Magpile, writing for CogitAsia at CSIS, takes a look at how Indonesia's Bali Democracy Forum is struggling to maintain its legitimacy.

The Carnegie Endowment's Thomas de Waal and Anna Dolidze explain why a Truth Commission can help to put Georgia on the right path to a democratic future.

In a piece for Project Syndicate, Harold James reports on a recent New York court ruling against Argentina that has dramatically increased the stakes of sovereign default and bankruptcy.

Writing in The Egyptian Independent, Nancy Messieh explains why Egyptian Christians should not be referred to as Copts.

And National Geographic's Peter Gwin presents a vivid portrait of life in Timbuktu, where Islamists now hold the reins.


Democracy Lab

Uganda celebrates its tech entrepreneurs

Three students from the Makerere University College of Computing and Information Sciences have won the Microsoft Imagine Cup Grant worth $50,000 for their project WinSenga, a smartphone app that performs ultrasounds on pregnant women and can detect problems like ectopic pregnancies and abnormal heartbeats. The winning, Team Cipher256, consists of Aaron Tushabe, Joshua Okello, and Josiah Kavuma.

The Daily Monitor reports:

Apart from the cash prize, the three will receive software, computing services, solution provider support, access to local resources, among others. Microsoft will also connect grant recipients with its network of investors, NGO partners and business partners and will work with the grant recipients to tailor individual support as needed depending on the progress each team has made so far with its project. The program is expected to reduce the maternal mortality rate, which currently stand[s] at 16 mothers a day in Uganda...

The purpose of the Imagine Cup is to bring together and support student innovators from all over the world. These days many Ugandans are choosing to focus their endeavors on mobile technology. Mobile technology is one of the fastest-growing industries in Africa, and young Ugandan techies are tapping into this potential. Telecommunications companies like Orange Uganda have held competitions to encourage the creation of mobile phone applications. Every year, Orange Uganda organizes the "Community Innovations Awards", a competition which recognizes the most impressive ideas in mobile app developments. These awards allow young developers in Uganda to create new technologies that can be used in agriculture, health, or education.

Earlier in the year, another student from Makerere University, Abdu Sekalala, gained international prominence with the success of his mobile phone applications on the Ovi Store. Wordbook, one of his nine applications, has been downloaded over 300,000 times. Wordbook is a 99-cent dictionary download that provides its user with a randomly chosen word of the day, including definitions, examples, and a selection of related words. He had participated in the Nokia East and Southern Africa competition at the College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) in 2011. He has been featured in local and international media (including FP -- I blogged about him in April).

Another group of students -- Christine Ampaire, Samuel Remo, James Muranga, Gerald Odur, and Jjingo Wasaka Kisakye -- won $10,000 for their mobile phone applications, MafutaGo. The application assists motorists in locating the nearest petrol station in their vicinity selling the cheapest fuel at the time and also related car facilities like washing bays.

29-year-old Solomon King is another young tech entrepreneur and businessman. He has founded several startups and business including animations for lead companies in Uganda. He was featured on the BBC for his company Fundibots, a robotics company that uses locally available materials to build miniature robots.

Young and upcoming Ugandan tech entrepreneurs meet at Hive Colab, an open collaborative space. It offers them the opportunity to meet with others of similar interests and to learn. It also offers mentors and helps in the start up and growth of businesses through networking. Jonathan Kalan captures the tech-hub boom in East Africa for the BBC in a photo essay. He writes that there over 50 hub labs, incubators, and accelerators across the region.

Innovative entrepreneurship is on the rise in Uganda, especially in information and communications technology. Makerere University's College of Computing and Information Sciences is working hard to raise the profiles of its students. It is important to note that the general atmosphere in supporting start-up techs is on the rise, with young tech gurus having access to facilities and international competitions. Many young people are developing applications that are relevant to the communities and address social needs. WinSenga is an example of an app that can be put to great use within the health sector in Uganda, and clearly shows that supporting entrepreneurs financially to fund innovations can lead to the greater good of the country.

While the Ugandan government is keen on supporting science and technology at universities, and claims to be prioritizing these areas, it is important to note that most of this technology development is funded by organizations. Governments throughout the region should be working hard to promote technology. But so far they don't seem to be doing much.

Jackee's twitter handle is @jackeebatanda