A Policy Brief released by Africa Freedom of Information Centre on ‘‘Advancing Digital Rights amidst COVID-19 in Uganda”, indicated that as the number of COVID-19 conﬁrmed cases continue to soar, the government has been deliberate in embracing technology, including encouraging mobile money transactions, online engagements, especially for conferences and COVID-19 related behavior change communication campaigns.
Since the ﬁrst case of the novel Corona Virus (Covid-19) was conﬁrmed in Uganda on March 21st the country has since registered over 821 conﬁrmed cases as of June 25th, 2020. Prior to the conﬁrmation, the President, Yoweri Museveni had announced a series of measures aimed at curbing the spread of the COVID-19, including the closing of institutions of learning, places of worship, suspending public gatherings; political rallies and cultural events, among others
Furthermore, restrictive measures that were put in place included the total lockdown and a dusk to dawn curfew for both public and private vehicles and people’s movements. However, while these measures, were well-intentioned, have hurt the enjoyment of fundamental human rights, especially the rights online.
The policy brief took a critical look at some of the digital rights that have been aﬀected based on the principles of the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms; Internet Access and Aﬀordability, Freedom of Expression and Right to Information, Privacy and Data Protection, Marginalized Groups and Groups at Risk.
The primary objective of this brieﬁng paper is to provide evidence-based analysis of the government measures, as well as those of private actors being implemented to respond to the COVID-19 and how they are aﬀecting digital rights.
‘’Many of our digital rights are impacted by COVID-19. Now more than ever, the government should be dedicated to ensuring that technology supports freedom, justice, and innovation for all its people.’’ Ms. Asimwe John, Senior Program Officer, AFIC
‘’New technologies and ideas can help address the public health crisis. We must have free and open access to scientific knowledge about the virus.’’ Ms. Dorothy Namukasa, ED, Unwanted Witness.
The policy brief said in part: ‘’that whereas social media has revealed the power of social networks in a crisis, some governments have not taken measures to fully embrace the opportunities it presents. In Uganda, the government’s failure to suspend the implementation of the OTT tax, even after several appeals from diﬀerent stakeholders including the Speaker of Parliament, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga has continued to undermine the eﬀorts to increase access to and aﬀordability of ICTs by a large majority, thus denying large population access to critical COVID-19 related information that is being shared through social media platforms.
The principle of internet access and aﬀordability requires that governments oﬀer direct support to facilitate high-speed Internet access, by establishing necessary infrastructure and infrastructure facilities, including access to openly licensed or unlicensed spectrum, electricity supply, community-based ICT centers, libraries, community centers, clinics, and schools, as this is crucial.
Civil society groups pushing for increased respect for digital rights by governments said that there’s a need to better liaise and regularize their advocacy in seeking the best interest of Ugandans online. They said the digital rights advocacy needed to be actively pursued by advocates across the digital, press and human rights spheres in order to make more concrete progress and to consolidate gains. “… even in this challenging context, it presents an opportunity as it highlights the need for collaboration among civil society actors across various countries and regions.’’
“As the Regulator, UCC is open to discussions with CSOs and other stakeholders on how to take on issues raised in the policy brief in order to ensure that the rights are protected, most importantly to ensure that the legal frameworks are followed” Mr. Ibrahim Bbossa, Head Public and International Relations, UCC
There is no doubt that the impact of civil society’s work in the defense of digital rights can be vastly improved if there is more collaboration and coordination.
In view of the above, we call upon the government to: