Most Ugandan bloggers and activists feel safe to express themselves online but improvements are still needed
Uganda’s internet penetration is now approaching 20%. Though accessibility is still limited by high costs and poor infrastructure, there are signs that the Uganda government is monitoring certain online discussions. There are reports of unlawful content removal, a journalist is on trial for an online article published in 2010, Uganda Communications Commission ordered ISPs to block social media access in 2011. A substantial threat to online freedom involved the passage of the Uganda Communications Act 2012.
In advance of November 2013 online training for Ugandan activists and bloggers, the online portal Speak Out Uganda thought it would be wise to determine what the bloggers actually perceive as threats to online (and offline) freedom of expression.
A total of 35 people took part in the survey.
- Nearly all (92%) use the Internet to engage in public debates (usually on Facebook and Twitter)
- 77% felt free to express themselves (some reported threats, however)
If someone did not feel free online it was because of:
- Conflict of interest with the organization someone is working with (ie. journalist personally posting something that conflicts that the employer wants)
- Threats from state agents
- Censorship and stalking
Most respondents saw a difference between online and offline communications:
- Online messages can reach a global audience
- Opinion went both ways on whether online or offline public opinion is harsher
- One person said that certain sensitive subjects are better discussed offline
The activists and bloggers felt the least safe during times of major political events. A sense of perceived surveillance often hung over them and friends would warn posters of consequences. In all, nearly 70% experienced intrusion on their online privacy at some point, usually in the form of hacking.
Safety measures taken to stay safe online include password protection, firewalls, a practice of ignoring strangers, and ensuring sign-off from public computers. Some used security measures provided by ISPs and others provide online limited information online in order to remain safe.
Lastly, many respondents expressed confidence in using online resources but many wished for more training on how to use images and blogs effectively.
After analyzing the survey results, Speak Out Uganda finds the potential of the Internet in promoting freedom of expressions in Uganda is yet to be fully utilized. Steps need to be taken so that content providers and those who access content feel safe in doing so.
Possible actions to strengthen Uganda’s online freedoms could be to:
- increase public awareness of internet usage
- train users in online etiquette
- train security agents on online freedom
- advocate for Uganda government to respect online freedoms
- change cyber laws to respect online freedoms
Source: “Internet Freedom and Online Safety in Uganda: A survey by Speak Out Uganda with support from Web We Want,” Rosebell Kagumire, February 2014.