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 semi–independent 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.