Democracy & Freedom of Expression in Uganda – A BIG JOKE!

7 08 2013

Uganda has a unique culture where people convene for anything and when people convene they talk about anything and everything – food, beer, money, corruption and politics. This happens everyday in bars, markets, mosques, churches, and weddings and along the streets.

Together with friends, we have managed to pull-off some of the most fruitful tweetups in the country. We basically convene a group of 15 to 20 tweeps at a coffee shop to discuss topical issues and inform our Twitter conversations.

Yesterday the parliament of Uganda passed the controversial Public Order Management Bill amidst serious criticism from human rights activists, opposition members of parliament and the civil society.

“The objective of the Bill is to provide for the regulation of public meetings, the duties and responsibilities of the Police, the organisers and participants in relation to public meetings; to prescribe measures for safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

The Bill defines a “public meeting” as a gathering, assembly, concourse, procession or demonstration of three or more in or on any public road.

A few months ago anti-riot police was used to forcefully end two meetings – one convened by gay rights activists and another by the Black Monday Movement. Both meeting were held in closed places. This Bill posses a greater threat that police will actually continue to break into “private” spaces human rights activists use to convene meetings.

This Bill is actually NOT only the end of the road to public protest and freedom to assemble in Uganda; it also further controls people and constrains (access to) public debates. Exercising this Bill gives the government a law that will stop Ugandans from petitioning or pressuring the government.

But what does this mean for my friends and I who have always believed that tweetups are a peaceful way for young people to participate in this “democratic” process? Obviously the Bill shattered our hopes and further violates our freedom of speech and participation.

State of Freedom of Speech/ Expression in Uganda

Strong regulations and monitoring are already in place to ensure that “political” discussions are not brought to public spaces – such as public meetings, media (especially TV and Radio) extra. Especially meetings aimed at demanding government accountable or reveling the ruling party’s dirty linen to the public. In the recent past media clamped down left media houses closed for days and months.

Apparently the government is also seeking to monitor social networking spaces. Not that this was not expected. However, this is a shame because the government has so far not done a good job in investing in Internet infrastructure.

A few months ago President Museveni warned religious leaders and told (yes told not asked) them to stop talking about politics in churches or mosques.

Museveni has also branded media houses that give airtime to opposition leaders “enemies of the state”. As a result, media houses such as the Nation Media Group’s Daily Monitor have suffered the wrath of the NRM regime and trust me; they have not been the same since. “According to the semiindependent Daily Monitor newspaper….” Al Jazeera quoted in a recent article.

Last year political and human rights activists suffered serious injuries, imprisonment without trial and others charged with treason when antiriot police brutally cracked down “Walk To Work” campaign. Since then Uganda Police and Military Police have become an influential arm of the government in terms of brutalizing instead of protecting Ugandans involved in peaceful protests.

A few months ago General Aronda Nyakairima was appointed Minister of Internal Affairs. Prior to this appointment, General Aronda was Chief of Defense Forces.

President Museveni has not once or twice praised the Inspector General of Police, General Kale Kayihura as one of the most loyal NRM cadres. I think there is a conflict of interest here. Whose interests does the IGP serve; the people or the President?

Therefore it’s rather ironic that this Bill mentions “safeguarding public order without compromising the principles of democracy, freedom of association and freedom of speech.”

According to Clause 7 of this Bill, “an organizer shall give notice in writing signed by the organizer or his or her agent to the Inspector General of Police of the intention to hold a public meeting at least seven days but not more than fifteen before the proposed date of the public meeting.”

Clause 9 of the Bill states that “subject to the direction of the Inspector General of Police, an authorized officer or any other police officer of or above the rank of Inspector, may stop or prevent the holding of a public meeting”.

When you give one or two men the power to (forcefully) determine the fate of a group, you are exercising dictatorship NOT democracy.

Many Ugandans think that this Bill is part of President Museveni’s plan to oppress opposition leaders in preparation for the upcoming 2016 general elections (and beyond).

Personally, my quest to find the REAL definition of the word “Democracy” beyond the (manipulable) ballot continues.

Advertisements




Internet connectivity & Landlocked Countries: Counting on Marine Cables

26 02 2012

Saturday morning, I am all in my working mood, I plug my 3G modem into my computer and booom – internet is NOT working!! Usually when my internet fails I trying to fix it. I try to fix my own internet because I don’t like wasting my time calling customer support – who often doesn’t even know how to help! After over 14hours of trying my service provider sends me a text message:

Over 36 hours of limited internet connectivity and I must say that these have been some of the longest hours of my life. You know one of those days when you badly need to read your email but you can’t because the internet is down – Why is the internet down? You basically do not know. And just when you are about to go to the internet café you learn that the internet is down because apparently the marine cables which are supposed to be delivering a link of fast internet connectivity to your country are broken. The Marine cables are undersea optic fibre cables which were installed to deliver a link of fast internet connectivity to different corners of the world.

3G Vs Broadband Vs Dialup

At times like this I am very pissed at MTN (my internet service provider) and at the same time thinking, life was so much easier when we used to have broadband or that little dial-up connection. It is for that reason why I keep Orange as my other internet service provider on standby – this time Orange didn’t do any better. Back in the days dial-up and broadband internet was much slower than the 3G but much more reliable in terms of uptime.

The completion of the installation of the marine cables is the best thing that has happened to the internet speeds in Uganda as this was very much anticipated. Hoping that the fibre optic cables would bring fast internet to Uganda – I couldnt wait! Yes, to a certain extent the long wait was worth it; with 3G+ internet speeds in Uganda have greatly improved. But people like me are already seeing the cost that the failure of these marine cables will impose on our work/ businesses and economy at large.

Uganda like many other landlocked countries in East Africa are currently investing huge amounts of money to ensure that 3G internet connectivity is widely distributed but I must remind you all that we need to have backup plans for times like this when the marine cables are broken or malfunctioning. Many districts in Uganda don’t have access to broadband which means that when 3G is down, they are (almost) completely unplugged.

Recommendations to service providers about Customer Care

Oh and I probably forgot to remind MTN – I know that your services suck so much but can please send the SMS much earlier next time so I don’t waste a lot of my time “trying to chase the wind”? Thank You!

And to Orange Uganda – my other service provider, what happened to those timely SMS notifications? I used to be so proud of you but I now I am thinking that you have been in Uganda too long that you are already forgetting that Customer Care is key!

And again, broadband and dialup internet connections should still be considered as very strong substitutes to our “beloved” 3G!





DISCONNECTED: The Digital Divide in Apac District Exposed!

24 08 2010

When the local Television channels will not broadcast without a DSTV connection, no Broadband, and no radio – except for one Community Radio! What would do you do?

Exposing the Digital Divide - Local TV NOT working, No Broadband, Just one Community Radio and Mobile Phones!

This week I am in Apac District – Northern Uganda facilitating a Website training at Kubere Information Centre (KIC) a project of Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET).

Apac town is one of the disconnected towns in Uganda. People here; need DSTV (Dish Television) to watch local TV channels. There are no telephone lines – which means you cannot access broadband internet. They only have one community Radio (Radio Apac – 92.9) – this means that the rest of the local and international radio stations wont broadcast here.

During the lunch break, we went to one of the local restaurants, the TV set is playing in DVD Move – we are watching a Nigerian movie (they are very famous here). Do you have a TV set at your house? – I asked one of my friends.  “No”, she replied. “I don’t need it, TV is only good when you can watch local TV channels. TV works very well in Lira (a neighboring district) but here, it won’t broadcast!”

Another friend I talked to said, “when I want to watch the news, I will just go to any of the local bars where they have DSTV.”

Life is very cheap and expensive here at the same time! Personally, I cannot imagine life without TV – I want to be able to watch the news on local Television when I can, I want to be able t listen to radio – both local and international (like BBC).

Information and communication technology continues to become popular in many corners of the world, even in the developing countries. Now, the Digital Divide is wider and more visible than ever!

This is not my first time in Apac but this time I have learned something new and rather very inconveniencing. But life here continues. Through out the day, I see people walking in and out of this information to read the daily newspaper, agriculture information material and to access the internet.

Its times like this that I get to appreciate the power of a mobile phone. My cellphone is working very well, and thats why I can use my Mobile Internet Dongle to access the internet via GPRS. The internet is pretty slow and unstable but at least thats the reason I am still connected  with my friends in Kampala and all around the world.

And Radio Apac ( the community radio) is really doing wonders here. Its the only working/ broadcasting FM radio station in this town. Everybody tunes into it. Last night, I tuned in to Radio Apac using my radio-enables mobile-phone. They use a mix of English and Luo (the native language here), playing some decent music and actually download a couple of podcast from Voice of America radio (VOA) and play them back for the listeners here in Apac!

Our stake holders should do better than this. The government should invest more funds in development of community radios, information centres (Telecentres) and infrastructure to facilitate communication not just in “big cities” – but also down to the grassroots.





internet Vs mobile phone: rural farmers to judge!

18 04 2010

Talking about social media and ICT. Today I am helping my friend Cissy to create a Facebook page for her organization. She works with Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In a humble setting lies the story of the Ntulume Village Women’s Development Association (NVIWODA). In June 1987 a group of women residing in Ntulume Village founded, Ntulume Village Women Development Association. NVIWODA operates in ten districts of Uganda, the organization equips women with skills, networks and shares knowledge and information with twenty seven women community based groups.

Apparently NVIWODA does not have an independent website, however they are hosted on a subdomain www.nviwoda.internnection.com – powered by Kabissa and also profiled on the women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) website – http://www.wougnet.org/Profiles/nviwoda.html

NVIWODA is one of the 99 or so women organizations profiled on the WOUGNET website.

As we chat she sparks a question, “So, how has the internet benefited the rural farmers in marketing their produce?”

Nice question – I think to myself. But the internet has not benefited the rural farmers that much when it comes to marketing their produce. The rural farmers have more or less benefited from the internet indirectly. As a matter of fact, access in rural areas remains a big challenge.

But this doesn’t mean that rural farmers have not used ICTs to commodity prices. The mobile phone has proved to be a

Women farmers testing use of Mobile Phones to access commodity prices..

very handy tool due to its flexibility in functionality and yet doesn’t require special skills to operate.

I telling her a living example on how Kubere Information Centre –  a project formed by Women of Uganda Network under the Information Sharing and Networking program has helped many rural farmers over the years on how to use ICTs to access agricultural information. Kubere Information Centre works with rural farmers from Lira, Oyam and Apac. These farmers are also trained on how to use the mobile phone to access commodity prices.

She was so excited to hear this; that the mobile phone can be used to access commodity prices. “I would love to share this knowledge with the rural farmers we work with.” I demonstrated to her how to access the commodity prices on her phone which is on the MTN service/ network. We request for the market prices for matooke – the sms charge is UGX220 (approximately USD 0.10). In just a few seconds she has the commodity prices for matooke in various districts around Uganda – “Interesting now I know how to use my phone better! I will be using my phone to send market prices to my colleagues in rural areas.”

Apparently she is working on an idea which involves the use of a notice board. On this notice board the farmers write their market prices prior to the communal markets in their rural areas. She says once implemented this idea would help reduce on exploitation of rural farmers. She says that this idea will first be implemented in Kabarole and then to other districts. She will also use her cell phone to access the commodity prices which she will then pass on to rural farmers to write on their notice boards prior to the market day.

“Many farmers in rural areas sell off their produce not for profit but to get necessities like kerosene to fuel lamps in homes.”

Become a Fan of NVIWODA on Facebook!!





Provide skills NOT just finished technologies.

3 03 2010

Most of the current problems in Africa are being solve by the few “experts”. On top of being expensive, it takes them a bit of time to do the necessary research and studies before they come to a conclusion. In my opinion, it would be a lot easy if the local people are given the skills to investigate solutions to the problems affecting them. This makes them feel more involved hence taking up the obligation to find solutions to their own problems and “make it happen”/ innovate. Its the same with the technologies. Once people get the technologies, they don’t feel the urge to work hard or improve on the current technologies or even look for cheaper solutions. But when the solution to a problems affecting a wider community comes as a result of skill the locals have earned. They get more involved in applying the required skills – more innovative too!! Give skills not technology.





internet governance in Uganda

20 09 2009

The idea of the Internet Governance Forum (IGF) recently hosted in Kampala is to popularize IG issues and to galvanize critical regional issues, which are then elevated to the global internet governance forum.

Status of the internet in Uganda

According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator, an increasing number of Ugandans are accessing the internet. In a recent market update, the regulator reported the there was continued growth in mobile (wireless) internet access, with a total of 214,293 active accounts reported by the end of December 2008 compared to the 166,621 in September 2008. Fixed line internet connection was estimated at 22,000; while the total number of internet users was estimated to be 2.5 million.

Internet users in the country continue to suffer low speeds and high costs. However, with SEACOM in progress, consumers highly anticipate improved services and speeds at lower costs.

Following issues that emerged at the National face-to-face consultation (NIGF) held in Uganda and the EAIGF in Nairobi – Kenya last year, the Uganda online IG discussions were initiated. The discussions were also aware of the developments and discussions which had been held by the internet/ ICT fraternity in the months preceding the discussions.

Discussions held during April and May 2009 partly lead-up to the 2009 Uganda National Internet Governance Forum. The discussions were primarily held on the i-Network discussion group.  A key objective of this year’s IG discussions was to focus on consolidation the understanding of the priority issued and to state positions that may have been previously ambiguously defined.

Recap of the 2008 Discussions

The main issues identified in included improving access and affordability , control of the national code top-level domain ccTLD (.UG), interception of communication and its implications on freedom of expression and on the “public good”, control of spam and pornography, the need for cyber law, and promotion of local content/ Ugandan languages on the web.

Fast forward

From the 2009 discussions, the following emerged as some of the major issues in Uganda:

*need to contribute to the national IGF debate. This was partly to establish whether the Ugandan ICT community considered it a useful exercise to continue such discussions, or felt enough had been said on the issue.

*promoting access. Discussants wanted to know what is being done by the government, the private sector and NGOs to promote the effective utilization of the bandwidth once it becomes available.

*affordability. It was observed that while the implementation of the RCDF policy has generally improved rural access and it is praised worldwide, there were limitations which needed to be revisited to expand and guarantee access for the majority. The poor are not yet reached because the RCDF policy follows a market model which does not maximize social returns and benefits. The rural electrification program also remains a big challenge because of its deficiency.

*critical internet resources. Management of the dot UG (.UG) domain and IPv6 transition in Uganda were identified as the most critical internet resources.

*cyber security and trust. With the internet being accessed on mobile phones, protection of children from pornography has become a more critical issue. Under the proposed computer Misuse Bill, Clause 20 concerns concern child pornography. However, it’s not clear whose role it should be.

*IG and gender. Discussions went further to explore the gender issues in Internet Governance and how these could be addressed. Apparently, men still have better access to telecentres and internet cafes as compared to women.

Uganda is a landlocked country so the current internet connections are based on Satellite which is very expensive. The best way to afford this type of connection is using less bandwith (shared 64Kbps in  most cases which costs USD90 per month). Many internet users in Uganda today are counting days till the marine fiber starts to work in the country. It is anticipated that the link will become faster and the bandwith will become cheaper. The work on the fiber is in progress.