Online freedoms hang in balance as we commemorate Internet Freedom Day #January 18th

Often people are only concerned with their offline rights, forgetting that their online freedoms are equally paramount especially as the world becomes one globe village via Information and Communication Technologies (ICT).


Whereas many people especially the elites in the urban centers are getting onto the World Wide Web (www) through different internet platforms, many of them are oblivious of their rights and freedoms online. On the other hand are a majority of Ugandans who do not even know that access to the Internet is a right of its own.


As the world marks #January18th as Internet Freedom Day, the unwanted witness talked to some of the players on the status of the internet freedoms in Uganda.


The representative at the office of the High Commission for Human Rights Ms. Birigit Gerstenberg says, the first and key limitation is the lack of access to the facilities, in addition of the right to access Internet which is not enjoyed by all as it is supposed to be.


She is also, quick to observe the low usage of Internet in Uganda.


“Due to certain circumstances like poverty, education, many people do not have access to the internet. So, I think that is one of the main factors that really hamper internet freedom” said Brigit.


She, adds that for the time she has been in Uganda, she had not seen at any stage that either a page or access to interesting data have been prohibited or closed so she thinks the Ugandan society in terms of freedom of the internet quite has a good record.


She, however, contradict her argument above, when she says that she can’t go without mentioning the case of the Uganda Record, an online publication, that was shut down in 2010 by government and subsequently, its editor and publisher, a renowned Journalist whose case is still pending in courts of law, Timothy Kalyegira was detained over charges of criminal libel arising from publications made over the internet.


Comparing Uganda to other countries across the World, Birigit believes in general freedom of expression in Uganda is not that bad, though she admits that there some incidences, but the normal press and other entities of the civil society can express themselves freely.


The Human rights icon, on the other hand, observes that it becomes very difficult for the politicians especially the opposition figures to express themselves in a free environment.

She could not hide her emotions over the controversial Anti Homosexuality Act passed by Parliament against the LGBTI community in Uganda and the Public Order Management Act that gags Civil Society Organizations and opposition politicians against talking of the growing graft.


She, however, applauds government for seeking to get into dialogue with such groups at least at the CSO level like the fruitful dialogue with the NGO Board and one can access information through the internet.


“You can ask for any statement of anybody and you can Google and they will appear, so I would say Uganda has made efforts to keep that window open”


On the future of internet freedom in Uganda, Birigit is optimistic that if government puts in place the right laws, internet freedom will continue to be enjoyed with minimal and necessary regulations to control social ills, cyber crimes like child pornography among others.


She said that there can be legal restrictions for example child pornography and other prohibitive sites that are promoting crime. Birigit stresses that these things are legal.


Referring to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19 and 20 on freedom of expression Birigit says, there are possibilities to legally restrain and limit the freedom of expression based in National security, on grounds of public morals, health and other concerns of the state.


“I think these (possibilities for restriction) must be discussed by parliament also in a way of not over limiting freedoms but keeping freedom of expression working. by  putting limits knowing that there is jurisprudence of international and regional Human Rights bodies upon how you can limit the freedom of expression” -Birigit noted


Politicians speak out


 Buikwe MP Dr Luluume Bayiga, argues that their right to privacy via the nternet is terribly abused by the government agents. Luluume who uses a lot of facebook, twitter and whatsup on his mobile phone, says as opposition politicians their online communication is always intercepted by the various state security agencies.


When asked how secure he feels while working online, Luluume said that he works in fear because his privacy online is usually easy to intercept.


“Yes I mean the right to privacy is under threat. It is very likely that hackers, even here at parliament am quite certain when they want to print my email they do it at ease and indeed they do it”-Luluume noted


The opposition lawmaker emphasized that government has all the capability to determine the information they want from any of his communications.


“They can download and print all previous communications not only on face book but also on  other internet platforms, Yes I know for sure that they have that capacity and they do espionage”-Luluume.


 It is on this note that Luluume suggests enactment of relevant laws to ensure data protection whether on the internet or mobile phone in this era of eavesdropping.


“We want to ensure that we review some of these provisions such as the interception of communication, the Anti-terrorism Act  and others which infringe on personal privacy that they are amended or even introduce new laws to ensure that the right to privacy is guaranteed, that is what we must do” he suggested.


Journalists’ take


The threats for internet freedoms are not restricted to the politicians, or civil society activists, but equally to the Journalists, Kenneth Lukwago a radio journalist who regularly engages colleagues in debates on current affairs through facebook says his ideas and opinions posted on his facebook page, have been viewed as negative criticisms towards the current regime by the NRM politicians.


Kelly Daniel Mukwano from the Ifreedom Network Uganda urges civil society groups to put parliament to task to enact laws that do not in any way affect internet freedoms. Mukwano gives an example of the Anti-pornographyAct which he says may affect the enjoyment of one’s right to privacy and access to information online.


“Because if the Anti-pornography Act is passed for example, some of us need this information for instance the health workers may need to download the picture of sexual reproductive organs for purposes of teaching….but they are going to be taken on the wrong side of the law”-Mukwano explains


Mukwano observed that civil society organizations need to focus at data security and maybe raise awareness on Internet governance in Uganda, because most people do not know about internet governance, yet it’s actually their right to use the internet.


Internet freedom’s rights activists weigh in


The Chief Executive Officer, Unwanted Witness Uganda, an organization focusing on internet freedoms Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebagala says the accessibility remains a big challenge to enjoyment of online freedoms.


He mentions that Uganda has the lowest internet bandwidth and speed in the region which further hampers internet access and utilization.


“Kenya’s internet speed and even that of Rwanda a small country is better than that of Uganda. And I think government is deliberately keeping the internet bandwidth and speed so slow” Said Ssebagala.


The passionate digital rights activist, stresses, that despite the limitations, Uganda is still ranked among the first ten countries with a reasonable number of Internet users in Africa.


After attending the Internet Governance Forum 2013 summit in Bali, Indonesia, Ssebagala said that to address the problem of internet accessibility there is need for a political will to put in place the necessary infrastructure.


According to Ssebagala the participants at the summit suggested that service providers are encouraged to merge to the extent that they use the same data cables or even opt for better satellite alternative to improve the speed and accessibility.


On average, Ssebagala said civil society organization advocating for internet freedoms need government support to put up infrastructure, and incentives to attract bigger companies that will close the existing gaps to eventually ensure the enjoyment of Internet freedoms and also benefit the entire economy.


Lukwago’s plan C:  a yardstick to Human rights and Rule of law in Uganda

Since November 2013, the embattled Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago is going through turbulent moments in his bid to defend his political office which he ‘lost’ after councilors royal to ruling NRM successfully censured him despite a court order which had been issued by the High court to stay the exercise pending its ruling on the petition he lodged before it.

Lukwago and a group of politicians particularly subscribers to the opposition and a section of Kampala dwellers have since refused to accept that Lukwago lost his seat, maintaining that he is still the valid elected lord mayor though the authorities at the KCCA have adamantly refused to succumb to the overwhelming pressure from Lukwago’s camp.

The embattled Mayor has attempted to participate in many meetings, which would subsequently culminate into his rein station to his office, but all have been blocked by Police on justifications that he is no longer the lord Mayor, thus have no any capacity to organize stake holders’ meeting as the Kampala Lord Mayor.

After being frustrated twice by the authorities to convene consultative meetings over the administration of Kampala City in a bid to resolve the impasse in Uganda’s Capital, Lukwago is not done as he decided to mobilize the people of Kampala to organize a strictly peaceful procession, one would brand plan C, which is expected to get him back to his office at the city hall, tomorrow.

Speaking to media from his Wakaliga-based home, a visibly disgruntled Lukwago said he will arm himself with the High court order, and match to the city hall.

He says that court order is the only “weapon” and the “Shield”, calling on all his supporters, to desist from lifting harmful weapons such as stones.  

“We shall go with our court order we are processing a number of copies and we are telling whoever is going to accompany us please do not pick any weapon not a stick, not a stone, not anything” he said.

“This is our weapon (Court Order), we have a court order which has not been challenged as we are moving we are telling Mr. Kayihura, it is a battle of a barrel of a gun versus the court order and I want to assure you that you may look at this as a mere piece of paper but its mightier that a gun” Lukwago added.

The Court order issued by the 28th of November last year, which has become a powerful Lukwago’s tool, declared all the activities that accumulated into his impeachment as null and void.

A renowned adamant Lukwago, added that he did not leave any stone unturned as he told press that he fulfilled the requirements of the obnoxious Public Order Management act.

“I have painfully fulfilled the requirements of the Public Order Management Act for the planned meetings because I don’t want police to find any excuse”.

He thus explained that, he served the Attorney General, the Inspector General of Police and all the other agents of the Attorney General with the Court Order and he only expect them, to comply with the directives of the courts of law, come Tuesday.

So what does Lukwago’s plan C means in regards to the observance of human rights?

This latest arrangement by Lukwago will have a lot to tell about the observance of human rights by the Museveni administration in Kampala.

In fact, it is a bigger test to determine whether a police force commanded by General Kale Kayihura who is a lawyer by profession will have to confront the elected lord mayor who is peacefully matching with his supporters waving court orders.

Theoretically, Uganda is a human rights observant nation, and ratified a number of International declarations on top of having a fully fledged Human rights Commission.

The Constitution of Uganda alone, envisage for the right to assembly and the freedom of expression, including the famous article one of the constitution that categorically states that power belongs to the people.

Actually, the police in Uganda, is meant to, maintain law and order, which includes offering assistance in implementing court orders but the million dollar question is, shall we see the Inspector General of Police who is also a professional lawyer complying to this court Order that has been undermined by the politicians or he will also side with the ruling NRM to suppress the opposition politician?






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Lukwago dares government over a ‘kidnapping plot’


The embattled Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago has tasked General Kale Kayihura, the Inspector General of Police [IGP] to give details of alleged plan to kidnap him.


While addressing reporters from his home on Jan 6, the mayor said, police should have taken serious actions in regard to the intelligence reports that some people had plotted to abduct him, his deputy or even a member of his family.


A visibly disgruntled Lukwago, said that Police should have parades all those suspects in the plot, instead of lamenting it in the media.


“I am waiting to see the police holding a press conference to parade these individuals who are behind this move  otherwise I am just walking, watching my back and I do not know, we are all in panic with my children”said


He thus says that the number of police officers deployed at his home, are inadequate as far as providing security to his family members such as children is concerned, concluding that it is a ploy by government, to deliberately harm him because he was about to reveal sensitive information over failure to account for Public Funds being released to KCCA officials led by Jenifer Musisi.

“We are tempted to believe that actually it is the government plotting to kill me, it is the government plotting to kidnap me, they are preparing the mindset of the public that if it happens, they will just come and tell the world that you see didn’t we tell you this, that is the reason why I am scared” Lukwago explained.


Lukwago’s claims came just hours, after police had foiled his consultative meeting which he had organized to allow all stake holders in Kampala time to device solutions to many unanswered questions in Kampala Capital City Authority.


Police, however, ridiculed Lukwago’s allegations, describing them as mere rumors which are baseless, aimed at diverting the police from maintaining law and order in the city.

“There is nothing like kidnap, police doesn’t kidnap, if at all what you call a kidnap can be an arrest, so, if any citizen misconducts himself he is liable to arrest, so in case there is need for that we shall arrest.”-Mwesigye Joramm who is the Old Kampala Police Commander told us on Monday.

He added that, police will continue to execute its mandate, despite “black mailing” political statements from “opposition politicians”



Meanwhile the Justice Forum (JEEMA) President General Asumani Basalirwa, offered the party offices in Mengo to Lukwago’s Task force that intends to restore what he called people at the Kampala city hall.


The Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze says it is now official that the taskforce and the general opposition are striving to overthrow this government that undermines peoples’ power clearly stipulated in article 1of the Constitution.

“Anyone who fights who violates the same constitution commits no offence” Nambooze who quoted article one of the constitution, said.


“Now Museveni’s government has overthrown the will of the people of Kampala.We no longer bit around the bush, once a government violates the constitution, the same constitution mandates me to overthrow the government to  defend the constitution, it is not a matter of choice but rather my responsibility as per the constitution “she added.

She thus declared that “We are going to overthrow this government because it has violated the constitution and it is not our wish but we do it because the constitution mandates us to do so”.


She rallied the people of Lubaga where the JEEMA offices are situated, to spearhead the struggle to protect their mandate they entrusted in Lukwago through a popular vote against NRM government.


Lukwago has been out of the Lord Mayor’s Parlour at the City hall since the November 25 last year when 29 KCCA Councilors censured him based on the findings of the Tribunal Report by Justice Catherine Bamugemierwe, that he was incompetent and misconducted himself.