KAMPALA, Uganda [SHIFTMEDIA] Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media, regardless of frontiers.
As Ugandans joined the rest of the world in celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information on Friday, September 29, the right to free expression remains highly contested.
Minister State for National Guidance, Hon Kabbyanga Godfrey Baluku said as citizens mark the day, they should be appreciative of the government’s efforts in shaping digital literacy in the country. The theme of this year’s commemoration is; ‘The importance of online space for access to information.”
Kabbyanga who was represented by Kakonge Kambarage, a commissioner at the Ministry of Information, Communication, Technology and National Guidance told the participants at the Africa Freedom and Information Centre (AFIC) organized event that the internet has become a critical means to access information.
“As we celebrate, let’s also continue to work harder towards improving access to information, to continue celebrating,” said Kambarage.
Charity Komujjurizi the Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator at AFIC noted that the internet, especially social media platforms like Facebook has become the country’s largest shopping mall where thousands of youths sell and buy their products and services without worrying about office rent or being stuck in Kampala’s crowded streets. “While the internet is only a part of the wider access to information, it is reasonable to say that without the internet access, the enjoyment of the right to information is significantly challenged,” said Komujjurizi.
Komujjurizi who represented the Gilbert Sendugwa the Executive Director Gilbert AFIC, said a recent International Telecommunications Union (ITU) report indicates that 33% of the world’s population (2.6 billion) can’t access the internet. “In Uganda, 33.8 million people (75.8%) of the population do not have access to the internet because of where they live, or what they are doing for a living,” she said. “While the government has made significant efforts to reduce the cost of the internet, it remains unfordable for many who have to make a difficult choice between data, or a meal due to the high cost of the internet,” Komujjurizi pointed further.
She told the participants at the Institute of Information and Communication Technology in Nakawa that the internet is critical for access to information before, during and after elections.
A study conducted by AFIC on the state of Access to Information in Africa established that many State Parties to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights had violated Article 62 by not presenting respective State Reports on measures they were undertaking to promote and protect the right to information and other rights protected by the Charter. Uganda is late by 3 reports. She observed that there is a declining state of press freedom in Africa, Uganda inclusive.
Robert Ssempala, the Executive Director Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRN-J) argued government to lift the ban on Facebook. “Since January 2021 when the government shut down the internet, Facebook remains closed and only used stealthily by Ugandans through VPN including the cabinet ministers who also feel the decision by their chief executive was wrong,” said Ssempala.
Human Rights Boss Speaks Out
The Chairperson of Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) Mariam Wangadya said the internet has emerged as an immense gateway to knowledge. “Currently Uganda has 11.8 million (26% of the population) internet users. Reading her speech, Crispin Kaheru a commissioner at UHRC said online and social media platforms have enabled citizens to air out their voices and grievances. “But we must strike a balance between access to information and privacy,” he said.
Twaweza Findings On Media and Freedom of Expression
The findings revealed that citizens’ media habits are evolving indicating that much as radio remains the dominant, the love for it is dwindling fast. The report shows that the decline is part of the wider fragmentation of the media environment, in which different demographic groups are increasingly using different forms of media as their sources of information.
The study also showed that Ugandans trusted information released by religious leaders, than from other politicians. TV, newspapers, the internet and social media are also significant sources of information for some social groups, such as younger citizens, wealthier Ugandans, and the better-educated.