The European Union (EU) has awarded three Ugandan activists for their outstanding role in defending human rights. Pamela Judith Agwech, the executive director of Gulu Women’s Economic Development and Globalisation (GWED-G) was the overall winner of the 2017 European Union Human Rights Defenders Award. Adrian Jjuuko, the executive of Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum - Uganda (HRAPF) and Crispin Kaheru the coordinator of Citizen’s Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) were first and second runner-up respectively.

Crispy Kaheru

Kaheru, in 2016, conceptualized and ran an innovative and motivational voter education campaigns called topowa (don’t give up) thru CCEDU that persuaded a record 67% Ugandans to vote. He also filed a successful amias curiae application, swearing the sole affidavit, which set a precedent for independent actors who wish to participate in litigation on their own initiative in Uganda.

This story was published by the Newvision

Parliament recently passed the Uganda Communications Commission (Amendment) Bill, 2016. The Bill gives the Information, Communications and Technology (ICT) minister wide discretionary powers in a sector that is essential to freedoms of Ugandans. In amending section 93(1) to give the minister power to determine regulation guidelines for the telecommunications sector without seeking parliamentary approval, MPs inadvertently reneged on their constitutional mandate of conducting oversight on the Executive. The original spirit of Section 93(1) was to check the powers of the minister when making regulations that affect the right to freedom of speech and communication.

To contextualise the gravity of the matter, the minister now has powers to make regulations relating to the use of any communications station, fees payable upon the grant or renewal of a license, the classification or categories of licenses, etc. Sensing the danger that the Bill poses to citizens’ communication, journalists and civic groups raised a red flag over the minister’s overarching powers. Unwanted witness has, for example, filed a suit in court challenging the entire Bill.

The manner in which government rushed to table amendments to a law that was less than two years old is further evidence of the concerning spirit behind the amendments. If it could not even stand a test of two years, how long is it anticipated to last now after what many have termed as worrying amendments? In effect, the amendments give the minister power to make regulations over private broadcast stations and how proprietors of private stations should operate them. Last year, at the height of the election, government banned live coverage of Opposition political party activities.

The reasons given were not convincing. If such an action was done prior to the adjustments in the law, what will happen with the sweeping powers bestowed upon the ICT minister? In an era where live reporting is a norm, giving unchecked discretionary powers to the minister to draw guidelines gives the government extra legroom to muzzle aspects like live reporting. Previous unilateral actions such as the closure of CBS FM in 2009 and the Internet shut down on polling day last year by the UCC are evidence that checks and balances on guidelines regulating the telecommunications sector are critical in ensuring citizen’s rights to freedom of expression and access to information.

To justify the shut down of the Internet last year, the regulator claimed that the blockade was a judicious step taken to ensure national security but deciding whether national security is threatened or not cannot be at the whim of the UCC executive director or the minister. The representatives of the people while legislating in Parliament need to reflect on whether the amendments are pro-citizen or pro-State. This may re-awaken their conscience of accountability to the electorate and their own survival in politics. Incidents of politicians being denied airtime on broadcast shows, with broadcast stations often crumbling under stifling directives from government officials are rife. MPs have been victims of such high-handed orders of government officials and they can still be.

Already, ordinary citizens cannot participate in live radio debate programmes (bimeeza) after government slapped a ban on them in early 2005. It is only fair and prudent for all actions taken in the name of protecting the citizens and the security of the country to be subjected to Parliament approval. Just before President Museveni came out to extend the deadline for SIM card registration, we witnessed the preliminary effects of the Amending the UCC Act. The minister of ICT seemed to act in contempt of a Parliamentary motion that was moved by Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Ms Winnie Kiiza, to allow for an extension of the SIM card registration and verification exercise.

Notwithstanding the motion, the minister directed UCC to switch off all unverified SIM cards, causing panic and tension among the public. Before the President assents to the amendment Bill, it is my hope and prayer that he returns it back to the house to ensure that the Constitutional oversight role of Parliament is reflected in Bill. Mr Kaheru is the coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda.

By Crispy Kaheru

This story was Published by The Daily Monitor

Uganda today is faced with key problems today, issues like hunger, poverty, disease and corruption which all emanate from poor leadership. The way of life in the Government, private sector and civil society is greed and the need for ‘nfunira waa’ ( where is my benefit). Those in Government offices want a cut-off before they can process anything for anyone. Those in the private sector know that to get a deal in the Government someone has to be given a kick-back. Bosses will agree for a junior to represent them at a meeting if the junior has some kick-back (Njawulo) they are bringing back.

Does it surprise you that in certain organizations it is only certain individuals that are sent for particular assignments? Local consultants must agree to give a kick-back to someone if they are to receive a consultancy and they assess organizations based on the kick-back. Everything is wrong with Uganda, but we are our own problem. We (Ugandans) have certified corruption and nobody sees anything wrong with it. I read this story on watsapp recently and I find that it illustrates Uganda today, in terms of the leaders and citizens.

The story goes; During the society dictatorship of Joseph Stalin, he was a brutal dictator with a mind of his own. On one fateful day, Stalin came to a meeting with a live chicken. He stood in front of the audience and started to pluck the feathers of the live chicken off one by one. The chicken trembled in pain, blood tricking out of its pores. The chicken gave out grievous cries, but Stalin continued plucking its feathers with no remorse, until the chicken was completely naked. The chicken was staggering in pain when Stalin reached out of his pockets and picked some feeds and started throwing it at the chicken as he walked away into his seat. The chicken followed him and sat below his seat and continued to feed.

Stalin looked at his leadership team and told them this is how the people are. Dis-empower them, brutalize them, beat them up, starve them and leave them. They will always follow you. You simply need to go into your pockets and feed them on peanuts and you will keep them glued on you. The people will think you are a Hero forever. Corruption compounded with exploitation of Ugandans by their leaders can be solved, if we (citizens) stopped whining about Uganda’s problems and focused on finding tangible solutions. The solution to Uganda’s problem is building a civic culture, where Ugandans like the Constitution says take back the power into their hands . Cultivating a Civic Culture largely relies on communication and persuasion. It is a culture of consensus and diversity. A culture that that can lead to change, but has within it means to moderate everyone’s actions. Society has three structures that define it, the political structures to which the Government belongs; the citizenry and emerging issues. In a civic culture individual attitudes are connected through the political structures. People must be empowered through civic education to know their rights and responsibilities as citizens of this country.

Ugandans must be charged to look at the bigger picture rather than the individual picture. Every Ugandan should be sensitized to know that each time they participate in a corruption deal, they affect their own country and ultimately are accountable for everything that is going wrong within their society. For Ugandan leaders to improve and serve their citizens better, the citizens must be informed and guided to actively be involved in their own governance. Effective self-governance would, therefore, mean that citizens do not passively take part in political and policy process, but are rather proactively involved in the governance of their society.

Did you know for instance that under article 41 of the Constitution every Ugandan has a right to access information from any Government institution or Organization and no one can stop you. We can start with information on the new oil industry that is going to be fully established by 2020 and we find out how we can meaningfully contribute to this sector, but also how we can benefit from the sector.

We also need information on the lifting of Age Limits and what we can do as Ugandans. Every Citizen can claim for information from any Government body: It is their constitutional right.-

Demand for your Right to Information (article 41 of the Constitution and section 5 of the Access To Information Act)

Ugandans should take deliberate efforts to know the Right to Information Act ( RTI)

Ugandans must familiarise themselves with the law on Access to information (ATIA)

Have a firm grasp of the scope of accessible information Citizens can only hold their Government accountable when they have information concerning a particular issue they want the Government to resolve.

And the first step is to access all the necessary information concerning the issue from Government bodies, then use the information to hold the government accountable. First things first, in-order to promote a vibrant civic culture in Uganda we must get informed about what is going on in our society on a daily basis.

Information can be accessed in the newspapers, but we are also entitled to get it from Government bodies within 21 days after we lodge a request. The elite should then interpret this information for the people in our communities who cannot read or comprehend the issues as we do.

Together we can bring about the much needed change in our Ugandan society, the berk starts and stops with you.

The writer is the Communication and Advocacy Manager, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative

The Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU)/Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHR) intends to petition the Constitutional Court with a view of challenging the proposed voting by lining-up method during the Local Council I and II elections. In this respect, CCEDU/FHRI requests Legal firms that might be interested in providing legal representation to CCEDU/FHRI before the Constitutional Court, to express interest through providing both a technical and financial proposal.

Expressions of interest must be hand delivered to the address below, not later than Friday, May 19, 2017 – 17:30 hours (East African Time). All bid envelopes must indicate the following reference:

Contract ref. No.: CCEDU/FHRI 002/2017

Democracy House

Plot 1111 Lulume Road Nsambya

P.O. Box 11027 Kampala, Uganda

Tel: +256 794 444 410

Tomorrow, May 3,ganda will join the rest of the world to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day, a day that was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 to essentially have citizens do some soul-searching about the state of world media. The World Press Freedom Day provides us as a country an opportunity to celebrate the principles of press freedom, assess the state of press freedom and defend the media from any attacks.

The theme for today’s celebrations is quite instructive: ‘Critical Minds for Critical Times: Media’s role in advancing peaceful, just and inclusive societies’. The question we face is: whether our media is being allowed the space to harness the resources at its disposal, to build a peaceful, inclusive Uganda with information, disseminated unfettered and with citizens given the platform to access impartial information.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day comes on the backdrop of the 2016 general election in Uganda where our disposition as a country that believes in press freedom as a prerequisite for democratization was put to serious test. Campaigns were marked by physical attacks and threats on journalists that made it difficult for journalists to do their work. Incidents of security operatives beating up journalists who were simply doing the noble duty of providing information to enable full citizen participation in the elections are well documented.

During elections, journalists are obligated to be information resources to enable voters make informed decisions. Uncritical reporting of campaign manifestos, promises and pronouncements by journalists during elections denies voters a chance to make neutral assessment of candidates. Referencing the attacks on media that marred the 2016 elections, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in its media freedom ranking, had Uganda drop by 10 places from 102 in 2016 to 112 in 2017.

In its index, RSF was blunt. RSF unequivocally noted that, “acts of intimidation and violence against journalists are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda. The 2016 presidential election saw serious media freedom violations, including threats to close down media outlets…” Any attempt to muzzle the press especially during elections, inevitably has ripple effects on the entire electoral process as voters are be kept in darkness.

A free press is the cornerstone of democratic elections. With traditional media stifled, the fallback position for voters would naturally have been social media. Social media is a unique avenue of engagement as it allows users to take charge of their communication and information dissemination, uninhibited by the controls applied on traditional media. Even after clamping down on traditional media, government functionaries still remained paranoid of free-flowing conversations about the 2016 elections on social media.

Government took the radical step of shutting down social media and mobile Internet; effectively blocking communication platforms for an estimated 11 million Ugandans. Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) argued that the social media blockade was for security reasons but the writing on the wall was that the blockade was to frustrate efforts by opposition political parties to live stream election results via social media.

Even under such circumstances, some Ugandans managed to access social media using Virtual Private Network (VPN), a technology tool that circumvents censorship. The tragedy with affronts on free media in Uganda is that victims have very limited spaces from which to seek genuine redress. The case of journalist Andrew Lwanga is instructive here.

Lwanga, a TV cameraman, was beaten up by the then DPC of Old Kampala Police Station Joram Mwesigye as he covered a procession by youth activists a couple of years back. Lwanga’s spine was severely damaged and to date he has not been able to go back to work.

After nearly two years of legal gymnastics, court recently ordered Mwesigye to compensate Lwanga with just shs5 million in addition to paying shs1 million court fine. The punishment handed to Mwesigye did not by any measure match the harm he had inflicted on Lwanga. As we commemorate the World Press Freedom Day, let us ask ourselves the uncomfortable questions about the state of our media in regard to Uganda’s democratization process.

The writer is the Coordinator, Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) This story was also filed bt The Red Pepper

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