Internet freedom in Uganda improved slightly during the coverage period. The judiciary was responsible for several positive developments, as the Constitutional Court overturned a law penalizing “offensive communication,” and another court dismissed charges against digital journalists who were being prosecuted for allegedly cyberstalking the president. Against this backdrop, however, the government passed amendments to the Computer Misuse Act punishing the sharing of information deemed to be malicious or “unsolicited.” The amendment’s unclear definitions have led to fears among rights groups that the provisions will be abused by the government to curb online dissent. Self-censorship is increasingly common online, especially among the LGBT+ community, due to the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act, which introduced heavy penalties for sharing positive LGBT+ content. Activists who criticize the president and his family continue to face arrest in retaliation for their online activities. Recent evidence further implicated Ugandan authorities in the use of commercial surveillance tools against journalists and opposition leaders.
President Yoweri Museveni and his National Resistance Movement (NRM) have retained power since 1986 through patronage, the manipulation of state resources, intimidation by security forces, and politicized prosecutions of opposition leaders. Ugandan civil society groups and independent media outlets similarly suffer from legal and extralegal harassment and state violence. While Uganda holds regular elections, their credibility has deteriorated over time. The 2021 balloting was held amid COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and featured electoral irregularities as well as violence toward the opposition.
- The government continued to officially block Facebook, though users were able to access the platform through some Wi-Fi networks or via virtual private networks (VPNs) (see A3 and B1).
- The Anti-Homosexuality Act, signed in May 2023, introduced harsh penalties for the promotion of same-sex conduct, including through content online, which could incentivize the overly broad removal of LGBT+ content (see B2, B4, and C2).
- On January 10, 2023, the Constitutional Court nullified Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act of 2011, which penalized “offensive communication,” and called for an immediate halt to its enforcement (see C2).
- In October 2022, the state passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022. The new law prescribes a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment for sharing vaguely defined unsolicited information, malicious information, or hate speech, as well as for the unauthorized sharing of information about children and the misuse of social media. Unauthorized access to data and information is punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment (see C2).
- In January 2023, courts dismissed a case against two representatives of an online media company who had been charged with offensive communication and cyberstalking—allegedly directed at the president—claiming that the state had failed to present enough evidence (see C3).
- According to an August 2022 report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Ugandan police have purchased UFED, a technology developed by the Israeli firm Cellebrite that enables authorities to hack into password-protected smartphones (see C5).
|Do infrastructural limitations restrict access to the internet or the speed and quality of internet connections?||1.001 6.006|
Internet penetration remains low in Uganda, with only 10 percent of individuals using the internet, according to estimates from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).1 DataReportal’s Digital 2023 report found that Uganda’s internet penetration rate was 24.6 percent,2 a drop from the previous year’s 29.1 percent.3 The communications regulator, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), meanwhile, reported 23.7 million internet subscriptions and an internet penetration rate of 55 percent as of June 2022.4
According to internet speeds aggregator Ookla, as of February 2023, Uganda had a median download speed of 23.07 megabits per second (Mbps) and a median upload speed of 10.19 Mbps on mobile connections, and a median download speed of 10.68 Mbps and a median upload speed of 10.74 Mbps on fixed-line broadband connections.5 The speeds are within the minimum of 4 Mbps nationwide as prescribed by the National Broadband Policy adopted in 2018.6 Other obstacles to internet usage include limited access to electricity in rural areas, low digital literacy levels, and affordability challenges with respect to internet-enabled devices such as computers and smartphones (see A2).7
Overall, the information and communication technology (ICT) sector continues to grow, with reported investments and improvements in the performance of government-controlled electronic systems.8 In November 2020, Roke Telkom, partnering with Facebook, launched the Roke Express Wi-Fi initiative, aiming to provide low-cost, high-speed internet access.9 The Uganda Fourth Industrial Revolution strategy prioritizes the development of fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks and other emerging technologies.10 Efforts to deploy 5G technology commenced in January 2020, through a partnership between service provider MTN Uganda and ZTE, a Chinese telecommunications firm.11 In January 2023, MTN Uganda signed a five-year partnership with Huawei, a Chinese technology company, aimed at modernizing its network towards a Cloud-native 5G Capable Core network.12 In February 2023, Airtel Uganda announced that it was ready to deploy 5G technology following the completion of network tests at 11 sites in Kampala.13 Some 31 percent of the population currently resides within range of fourth-generation (4G) service, according to the Inclusive Internet Index.14 In January 2021, Alphabet, the parent company of Google, announced that it would dissolve its subsidiary Loon, only a year after Loon signed a deal with the Ugandan government to use high-altitude balloons to provide 4G coverage to underserved areas.15
- 1ITU, “World Telecommunication/ICT Indicators Database,” accessed April 5, 2023, https://www.itu.int/en/ITU-D/Statistics/Pages/stat/default.aspx.
- 2Simon Kemp, “Digital 2023: Uganda,” Data Reportal, February 14, 2023, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2023-uganda.
- 3Simon Kemp, “Digital 2022: Uganda,” Data Reportal, February 15, 2022, https://datareportal.com/reports/digital-2022-uganda.
- 4“Market Performance Report Q2 2022,” Uganda Communications Commission, June 2022, https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/UCC-2Q22_Final-Report_…. Uganda Communications Commission, “Market Performance Report Q2 2022,” June 2022, https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/UCC-2Q22_Final-Report_…
- 5“Uganda Median Country Speeds February 2023,” Ookla Speedtest, February 2023, https://www.speedtest.net/global-index/uganda#fixed.https://www.speedte…
- 6Ministry of Information, Communications Technology (ICT), and National Guidance, “National Broadband Policy 2018,” September 2018, https://ict.go.ug/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/National-Broadband-Policy-….
- 7Alison Gillwald, Onkokame Mothobi, Ali Ndiwalana and Tusu Tusubira, “The State of ICT in Uganda,” Research ICT Africa, May 2019, https://researchictafrica.net/wp/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/2019_After-….
- 8Information And Communication Technology Sector, “Semi-Annual Budget Monitoring Report Financial Year 2020/21,” April 2021, https://www.finance.go.ug/sites/default/files/Publications/ICT%20Sector…
- 9Roke, “Roke Telkom Partners With Facebook To Bring High Speed Internet To Millions Of Ugandans,” November 13, 2020, https://www.roketelkom.co.ug/news/roke-telkom-partners-facebook-bring-h…
- 10“Uganda’s National 4IR Strategy,” Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, October 2020, https://ict.go.ug/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Executive-Summary-Ugandas-…
- 11Song Mingyao, “MTN Uganda: Making Technology Relevant to Customers,” ZTE, July 13, 2020, https://www.zte.com.cn/global/about/magazine/zte-technologies/2020/4-en….
- 12“MTN Uganda Embraces the Future of Uganda’s Digitalization Journey with a 5G Core Network Transformation,” MTN, January 10, 2023, https://www.mtn.co.ug/mtn-uganda-embraces-the-future-of-ugandas-digital…
- 13Collins Muhwezi, “Kampala Ready for 5G,” Monitor, February 24, 2023 https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/business/technology/kampala-ready-for-…, “Airtel Uganda Successfully Upgrades Core Network to 5G Readiness,” The Independent, February 23, 2023, https://www.independent.co.ug/airtel-uganda-successfully-upgrades-core-…
- 14“Uganda: Network coverage (min. 4G),” The Inclusive Internet Index, accessed September 14, 2023, https://impact.economist.com/projects/inclusive-internet-index/2022/cou…
- 15Astro Teller, “Loon’s Final Flight,” X Development, January 21, 2021, https://blog.x.company/loons-final-flight-e9d699123a96; Elias Biryabarema, “Alphabet's Loon Agrees Airspace Deal with Uganda for Internet Balloon Service,” Reuters, December 10, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-internet/alphabets-loon-agree….
|Is access to the internet prohibitively expensive or beyond the reach of certain segments of the population for geographical, social, or other reasons?||1.001 3.003|
While internet access has become more affordable, particularly on mobile phones, costs are still high for large numbers of Ugandans.1 The average cost of 1 gigabyte (GB) of prepaid mobile data on mobile networks was approximately $1.32 as of August 2022,2 making it unaffordable to many at 5.63 percent of gross national income (GNI) per capita.3
In July 2021, the government began implementing a new 12 percent tax on internet data as a part of a tax package adopted under the Excise Duty (Amendment) Act 2021.4 The new tax exempts data used for medical and education services.5 The same legislation repealed the OTT services tax, a daily 200 shilling ($0.06) tax on social media usage.6 That tax, first introduced in 2018, drew criticism from civil society groups on the grounds that it would make access more expensive and restrict connectivity, especially for poor Ugandans.7 Research on the 12 percent internet tax found that it disproportionately affected women’s access to the internet.8 In 2023, a group of civil society organizations began lobbying the government to reduce the internet tax in the 2024 fiscal year.9
Only 26 percent of Ugandans lived in urban areas as of 2021.10 Access to electricity is limited in rural areas, resulting in a significant urban-rural divide in internet access.11 There is also a notable disparity in access between men and women: the 2022 edition of the Inclusive Internet Index reported a 23.5 percent gender gap, representing a 10 percentage point increase from the 2021 report.12
The government has tried to address these inequalities through several initiatives. The UCC oversees the Rural Communications Development Fund (RCDF), which promotes access to the internet and phone services to rural communities by connecting rural schools and building centers for ICT access.13 In June 2021, the government received funding from the World Bank to expand access to high-speed and affordable internet, improve the efficiency of digitally enabled public-service delivery, and strengthen digital inclusion in the country.14 Procurement for the project had begun as of May 2023.15
From 2007 to 2014, the ICT Ministry, through the National Information Technology Authority–Uganda (NITA–U), developed the National Data Transmission Backbone Infrastructure and e-Government Infrastructure Project, which improved connectivity for government service centers and lowered the cost of high-bandwidth data connections in all major towns.16 In 2016, the government began offering a free trial of wireless internet access in the Kampala Central Business District and parts of Entebbe, which has since expanded to 526 hotspots.17
- 1“Monthly Internet Bundles: A Look at What Africell, MTN & Airtel Offer,” SautiTech, February 14, 2019, https://www.sautitech.com/telecom/africell-monthly-internet-bundles/.
- 2Kompare, “Compare Mobile Internet Rates,” accessed March 24, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1272796/price-for-mobile-data-in-ug…
- 3Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), “Mobile Broadband Data Costs,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://adi.a4ai.org/extra/baskets/A4AI/2021/mobile_broadband_pricing_g…
- 4Amanya Peter, @Parliament_Ug, “The House passes the Excise Duty(Amendment)bill,2021. This will see a shs100 tax on fuel & 12% duty on internet data among others. The proposal of shs100 on each kilo of what was however dropped. #PlenaryUg,” April 29, 2021, https://twitter.com/Parliament_Ug/status/1387800653356060672.
- 5Parliament of Uganda, “Cars, Internet and Minerals Targeted in New Tax Laws,” April 01, 2021, https://www.parliament.go.ug/news/5056/cars-internet-and-minerals-targe….
- 6“Parliament Passes 12% Tax on Internet Data,” The Independent, April 30, 2021, https://www.independent.co.ug/parliament-passes-12-tax-on-internet-data/; MTN Uganda, @mtnug, “CUSTOMER NOTICE – CESSATION OF OVER-THE-TOP (OTT) TAX Thursday, 1st July 2021 - Kampala, Uganda,” July 1, 2021, https://twitter.com/mtnug/status/1410640039424446470.
- 7A4AI, “Uganda: New Social Media Tax Will Push Basic Connectivity Further out of Reach For Millions,” June 6, 2018, http://a4ai.org/uganda-social-media-tax/; Thalia Holmes, “Online Tax Hurts the Poor,” Mail & Guardian, August 17, 2018, https://mg.co.za/article/2018-08-17-00-online-tax-hurts-the-poor; Pollicy, “A Shot in the Dark: The Impact of the Social Media Tax in Uganda on Access, Usage, Income and Productivity,” March 2020, https://pollicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/A-Shot-in-the-Dark-The-I….
- 8“Taxation, Gender, and Internet Access: Lessons from Uganda,” Global Dev, February 2, 2023, https://globaldev.blog/taxation-gender-and-internet-access-lessons-ugan…
- 9Michael Malakata, “Civil Society Lobbies Uganda Government to Reduce Taxes,” It Web, February 27, 2023, https://itweb.africa/content/8OKdWMDX4nWMbznQ
- 10The World Bank, “Uganda Population,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.URB.TOTL.IN.ZS?locations=UG
- 11Ibid, 33.
- 12“The Inclusive Internet Index: Gender Gap in Internet Access,” The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), accessed September 14, 2023, https://impact.economist.com/projects/inclusive-internet-index/2022/cou… .
- 13“RCDF,” Uganda Communications Commission, accessed September 13, 2023, https://www.ucc.co.ug/rcdf/.
- 14The World Bank, “Uganda Secures $200 million to Accelerate Digital Transformation and Inclusiveness,” June 2, 2021, https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2021/06/02/uganda-secur…
- 15National Information and Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA), “Procurement Plan,” May 16, 2023, https://documents1.worldbank.org/curated/en/099060923114522105/pdf/P171…; https://www.nita.go.ug/sites/default/files/2023-06/Advert%20for%20Indiv…
- 16National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U), “National Backbone Infrastructure Project (NBI/EGI),” accessed April 5, 2023, https://www.nita.go.ug/projects-service-portfolio/national-backbone-inf….
- 17National Information Technology Authority–Uganda (NITA-U), “MYUG WIFI,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://www.nita.go.ug/MYUG%20WiFi
|Does the government exercise technical or legal control over internet infrastructure for the purposes of restricting connectivity?||5.005 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 4 to 5 because Facebook was reportedly accessible through some service providers.
No restrictions on connectivity were reported in Uganda during this coverage period. During the January 2021 elections, the government restricted connectivity and blocked access to social media platforms and communication apps, which are heavily used by many Ugandans.
On January 13, 2021, the day before polls opened, the UCC ordered internet service providers (ISPs) to enforce a “temporary suspension of the operation of Internet gateways and associated access points,” citing Sections 5(1) and 56 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013.1 The act authorizes the UCC to “monitor, inspect, license, supervise, control, and regulate communications services” and to “set standards, monitor, and enforce compliance relating to content.”2 According to data from the Center for Applied Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA), access to the internet was restored a few days later, on January 18.3
On January 12, 2021, access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, other social media platforms, and roughly 100 VPN services was restricted.4 The government restored access to all websites except Facebook on February 10 of that year.5 Facebook remained officially blocked during the coverage period (see B1). Facebook remained officially blocked during the coverage period, but was reportedly accessible via some service providers, and remained accessible by VPN (see B1).
Previously, the government had ordered the shutdown of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile money services for four days in the run-up to the 2016 elections and again ahead of President Museveni’s inauguration that year.6
Uganda’s backbone connection to the global internet is privately owned in a competitive market.7 The national fiber-optic backbone is connected to the EASSy international submarine cable system, which runs along the eastern and southern coasts of Africa.8 Telecommunications providers are also connected to the TEAMS (The East African Marine System) and SEACOM submarine fiber-optic cables through Kenya. As of May 2023, 32 ISPs were connected to the Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP).9
- 1NBS Television, @nbstv, “UPDATE: Uganda Communications Commision has implemented a temporary suspension of the operation of all internet Gateways and associated access points. Details to come. #NBSUpdates #UgVotes2021,” Twitter, January 13, 2021, https://perma.cc/97L3-6U3C; Open Observatory of Network Interference, “Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage amid 2021 General Election, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/ ; “Social Media and Messaging Restricted, Internet Shut Down for Uganda Elections,” NetBlocks, January 12, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-and-messaging-platforms-rest….
- 2Uganda Communications Act, “Acts Supplement,” January 18, 2013, http://ucc.co.ug/files/downloads/UCC%20Act%202013.pdf.
- 3“IODA Signals for Uganda,” CAIDA, accessed September 14, 2023, https://ioda.caida.org/ioda/dashboard#view=inspect&entity=country/UG&la….
- 4“Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage amid 2021 General Election,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/; “Social Media and Messaging Restricted, Internet Shut down for Uganda Elections,” NetBlocks, January 12, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-and-messaging-platforms-rest…; “Uganda Elections 2021: Social Media Blocked ahead of Poll,” BBC, January 12, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55640405.
- 5Halima Athumani, “Ugandan Government Restores Social Media Sites, Except Facebook,” VOA, February 10, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/africa/ugandan-government-restores-social-media… ; “Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage Amid 2021 General Election,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/; “Social Media and Messaging Restricted, Internet Shut Down for Uganda Elections,” NetBlocks, January 12, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-and-messaging-platforms-rest….
- 6Abdi Latif Dahir, “A Court Case in Uganda Could Have Implications for Future Internet Shutdowns in Africa,” Quartz, November 9, 2018, https://qz.com/africa/1458287/uganda-court-to-review-2016-election-inte…
- 7ITU, “Uganda Telecommunications: A Case Study in the Private Provision of Rural Infrastructure,” July 30, 2020, https://www.itu.int/ITU-D/treg/Events/Seminars/2005/Thailand/Reference%….
- 8TeleGeography, “Submarine Cable Map”, accessed October 17, 2019, https://www.submarinecablemap.com/#/submarine-cable/eastern-africa-subm….
- 9The Uganda Internet Exchange Point (UIXP), “Directly Connected Networks,” accessed April 26, 2021, https://www.uixp.co.ug/networks.
|Are there legal, regulatory, or economic obstacles that restrict the diversity of service providers?||5.005 6.006|
The UCC continued to implement a revised regulatory framework for telecommunications during the coverage period. The effect of this framework on service provider diversity remains unclear.
The framework is meant to ease market entry, enhance competition, and accelerate the rollout of broadband services. It is also intended to enhance local ownership of telecommunications services by requiring national telecommunications operators to list at least 20 percent of their shares on the Uganda Securities Exchange (USE) within two years of acquiring a new license.1 This framework, introduced in 2019, designated six new license types2 and required existing operators to reapply for their licenses before the June 2020 implementation date.3
In March 2021, the UCC granted Lycamobile a National Telecommunication Operator (NTO) license, making it the third company to receive such a license, after MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda. According to the UCC, Lycamobile is required to expand its network coverage to 90 percent of Ugandan territory within five years under the NTO license’s terms.4
Some observers warned that the new licensing framework may lead to overregulation in the sector, while others argued that its new fees would overburden licensees. The framework requires applicants to pay separate fees for operating in different regions, in addition to the mandatory application fees and a 2 percent levy on gross annual earnings.5 The previous framework did not require region-specific licensing.6 As of July 2021, the UCC’s radio licensing framework included, for the first time, a license for online radio broadcasters.7
The number of industry players continues to grow, with many now offering competitive prices and technologies. Currently, there are 35 telecommunications service providers that offer both voice and data services, including MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, Uganda Telecom Limited (UTL), Vodafone, Smart Telecom, and Afrimax,8 all of which employ long-term evolution (LTE) technology. In January 2020, Lycamobile entered the Ugandan market, seeking to roll out a 4G network across the country.9 All service providers are privately owned except for UTL, which has been fully owned by the government since 2017.10 MTN has the largest share of mobile service subscribers, at 53 percent, followed by Airtel with 42 percent, and UTL with 4 percent, as of June 2022.11
- 1Uganda Communications Commission, “Why the Telecommunications License Framework Was Reviewed,” January 27, 2020, https://uccinfo.blog/2020/01/27/why-the-telecommunications-license-fram….
- 2Uganda Communications Commission, “Approved New Telecommunications License Categories,” January 27, 2020, https://uccinfo.blog/2020/01/27/approved-new-telecommunications-license….
- 3Uganda Communications Commission, “Telecoms Asked To Apply For New Look Licenses,” December 14, 2019, https://uccinfo.blog/2019/12/14/telecoms-asked-to-apply-for-new-look-li….
- 4Uganda Communications Commission, “Lycamobile Gets National Operator License – Making the Company the Third National Operator,” May 11, 2021, https://uccinfo.blog/2021/05/11/lycamobile-gets-national-operator-licen….
- 5Uganda Communications Commission, “License Application Requirements For The New Telecom Licenses,” May 2020, https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/NEW-Telecommunications….
- 6Uganda Communications Commission, “Communications Licensing Application Guidelines,” accessed September 25, 2020, https://www.ucc.co.ug/files/downloads/Communications%20Licensing%20Appl….
- 7Uganda Communications Commission, “Radio Stations Set For Revised Licensing Framework,” June 6, 2020, https://uccinfo.blog/2020/06/08/radio-stations-set-for-revised-licensin…; Uganda Communications Commission, “Revised Radio Licensing Framework Explained,” July 25, 2020, https://uccinfo.blog/2020/07/25/revised-radio-licensing-framework-expla…
- 8Uganda Communications Commission, “List of Telecom Providers in Uganda,” April 24, 2023, https://www.ucc.co.ug/list-of-telecom-providers/.
- 9Kenneth Kazibwe, “Lycamobile: New Telecom Company Launches In Uganda To Shake-Up The Status Quo,” The Nile Post, January 16 2020, https://nilepost.co.ug/2020/01/16/lycamobile-new-telecom-company-launch….
- 10Winston Dramiga, “Uganda Gov’t Takes over UTL Multibillion Debt, Forces Libyans to Resign,” Local Uganda, March 1, 2017, https://thelocal.ug/uganda-govt-takes-over-utl-multibillion-debt-forces….
- 11Statista, “ Leading Wireless Operators in Uganda from 2015 to 2022, by Market Share,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://www.statista.com/statistics/671666/mobile-subscription-share-in…
|Do national regulatory bodies that oversee service providers and digital technology fail to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner?||1.001 4.004|
The UCC has been criticized for its failure to operate in a free, fair, and independent manner.1 The body has a mandate to independently coordinate, facilitate, and promote the sustainable growth and development of ICTs in the country. It also provides information about the regulatory process and the quality of service, and issues licenses for ICT infrastructure and service providers.2 The commission’s funds derive mainly from license fees and a 2 percent annual levy on the gross annual revenue of licensees.3
There is a general perception that comprehensive and coherent information about the commission’s operations is not always accessible, and that the body is not entirely independent from the executive branch of the government.4 For example, the ICT minister has the authority to approve the UCC’s budget and appoint members of its board with approval from the cabinet. There are no independent mechanisms in place to hold the UCC accountable to the public.5
In January 2021, the UCC issued a call for comments on the proposed Uganda Communications Tribunal (Practice and Procedure) Regulations 2020, which would create a tribunal with jurisdiction over “all matters relating to communication services arising from decisions” made by the UCC and ICT minister. The tribunal would include a High Court judge and two people appointed by the president, as well as technical advisers appointed by the ICT minister.6 In a brief addressing the draft regulations, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) noted concerns that the government’s ability to appoint the tribunal’s members would undermine its impartiality.7 The draft regulations had not been passed at the end of the coverage period.8
- 1Unwanted Witness, “Passed Amendment to UCC Act Narrows Space for Freedom of Expression Both Online and Offline and Compromises Further the Regulator’s Independence,” April 10, 2017, https://unwantedwitness.or.ug/ucc-act-compromises-further-the-regulator….
- 2Uganda Communications Commission, “Communications Licensing Application Guidelines,” accessed September 25, 2020, https://www.ucc.co.ug/files/downloads/Licence%20Application%20Guideline….
- 3Uganda Communications Commission, “General Notice No. 977 of 2017,” November 3, 2017, https://businesslicences.go.ug/kcfinder/upload/files/UCC%20fees%20struc….
- 4Ronald Musoke, “Uganda: Is UCC Going Rogue?,” Independent, December 6, 2017, https://allafrica.com/stories/201712050069.html.
- 5“End of an Era: Godfrey Mutabazi Fired as UCC Executive Director,” TechJaja, February 7, 2020, https://techjaja.com/end-of-an-era-godfrey-mutabazi-fired-as-ucc-execut…; “Godfrey Mutabazi Replaced as UCC Executive Director,” PC Tech Magazine, February 7, 2020, https://pctechmag.com/2020/02/godfrey-mutabazi-leaves-ucc-as-its-execut….
- 6Uganda Communications Commission, “Request for Comments on The Draft Uganda Communications Tribunal (Practice And Procedure) Regulations 2020,” February 1, 2021, https://www.ucc.co.ug/request-for-comments-on-the-draft-uganda-communic….
- 7Edrine Wanyama, “Uganda Communications Tribunal Regulations Fail to Constitute an Impartial Arbiter,” CIPESA, June 30, 2021, https://cipesa.org/2021/06/uganda-communications-tribunal-regulations-f….
- 8Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, “Cabinet Decision Delays Formation of Communications Tribunal,” March 2, 2023, https://www.parliament.go.ug/news/6550/cabinet-decision-delays-formatio…
|Does the state block or filter, or compel service providers to block or filter, internet content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||4.004 6.006|
Score Change: The score improved from 3 to 4 because the websites of virtual private networks (VPNs) became more widely accessible during the coverage period.
Government-imposed restrictions on social media platforms were mostly lifted during the coverage period, though Facebook was reportedly still restricted.1
On January 12, 2021, two days before the general elections, access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other social media platforms was restricted. The blocking came after Facebook and Twitter removed pro–National Resistance Movement (NRM) accounts that the companies identified as a government-affiliated network seeking to manipulate public debate during the electoral period (see B5).2 The government also ordered the restriction of roughly 100 VPN services, and some internet users reported difficulty accessing the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store starting on January 9.3 The government restored access to all blocked services except Facebook on February 10, 2021.4 As of December 2022, Facebook was still officially restricted, though some users reported being able to access the platform on select Wi-Fi networks and via VPN.5 Overall, VPNs have become more accessible than they were during 2021, though some networks in Uganda still showed signs of VPN blocking during the coverage period.6
The government had previously blocked access to Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and mobile money services for four days during the 2016 general elections.7 Museveni said that blocking was necessary to prevent people from using the platforms to “tell lies.”8 Access was restored three days after the elections, then obstructed again for “security reasons” on the day before the long-time president’s inauguration later that year.9
In August 2019, the UCC ordered ISPs to block the websites of Rwanda’s New Times and another Rwandan outlet, Igihe.com, amid tensions between the two countries.10 The sites were blocked for publishing “harmful propaganda that would endanger [Uganda’s] national security,” according to a UCC spokesperson.11 The government agreed to unblock the websites two days later.12
Pornography has been a regular target for online censorship. In July 2018, ISPs began blocking 27 websites for “streaming pornographic content”; the list of targeted sites was reportedly supplied by the Pornography Control Committee (PCC).13 The committee was established in 2017 and was reportedly allocated 2 billion shillings ($560,000) for new technologies that can monitor and intercept pornographic material.14 In August 2021, however, the Constitutional Court declared that Section 2 (on the definition of pornography) and Section 13 (on the prohibition of pornography) of the Anti-Pornography Act 2014 were unconstitutional.15 The 2014 law held service providers criminally liable for the uploading or downloading of vaguely defined pornographic material on their systems,16 with penalties of up to 5 years in prison and 5 million shillings ($1,400) in fines.17
- 1Arthur Arnold Wadero, “Facebook to Remain Shut as Govt Talks with Tech Giant Stall,” Monitor, August 12, 2022, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/facebook-to-remain-shut-…, Kenneth Kazibwe, “Uganda: We Shall Reopen Facebook if they Stop Playing Games – Museveni” All Africa, December 23, 2022, https://allafrica.com/stories/202212230402.html
- 2“Uganda Bans Social Media Ahead of Presidential Election,” Reuters, January 12, 2021, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-election-idUSKBN29H0KH; “Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage amid 2021 General Election,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/.
- 3CIPESA, “Uganda’s 2021 Election: A Textbook Case of Disruption to Democracy and Digital Networks in Authoritarian Countries” accessed September 14, 2023, https://cipesa.org/2021/01/ugandas-2021-election-a-textbook-case-of-dis…; “Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage amid 2021 General Election,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/; “Social Media and Messaging Restricted, Internet Shut down for Uganda Elections,” NetBlocks, January 12, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-and-messaging-platforms-rest…; “Uganda Elections 2021: Social media Blocked ahead of Poll,” BBC, January 12, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55640405.
- 4Halima Athumani, “Ugandan Government Restores Social Media Sites, Except Facebook,” VOA, February 10, 2021, https://www.voanews.com/africa/ugandan-government-restores-social-media… ; “Uganda: Data on Internet Blocks and Nationwide Internet Outage Amid 2021 General Election,” Open Observatory of Network Interference, January 22, 2021, https://ooni.org/post/2021-uganda-general-election-blocks-and-outage/; “Social Media and Messaging Restricted, Internet Shut down dor Uganda Elections,” NetBlocks, January 12, 2021, https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-and-messaging-platforms-rest….
- 5Open Observatory of Network Interference, “Uganda ASN 20294,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://explorer.ooni.org/search?test_name=web_connectivity&probe_cc=UG…; Open Observatory of Network Interference, “Uganda ASN 327687,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://explorer.ooni.org/search?test_name=web_connectivity&probe_cc=UG…; The Offical YoungCEO, @officalYoungceo, “It Was Today Old When I Realized that Facebook Can Now Work Without VPN in Uganda,” February 28, 2022, https://twitter.com/OfficalYoungceo/status/1498352304684154881?s=20&t=B…; Esther Oluka, “Using Facebook Still Illegal – UCC,” Monitor, March 4, 2022, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/using-facebook-still-ill…
- 6Open Observatory of Network Interference, “Uganda, ASN 37075,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://explorer.ooni.org/search?until=2023-04-07&since=2022-06-01&prob…
- 7“Uganda election: Facebook and WhatsApp Blocked,” BBC News, February 18, 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-35601220; Morgan Winsor, “Uganda Elections 2016 Social Media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Whatsapp Blocked During Voting,” International Business Times, February 18, 2016, https://www.ibtimes.com/uganda-elections-2016-social-media-facebook-twi….
- 8Tabu Butagira, “Museveni Explains Social Media, Mobile Money Shutdown,” Daily Monitor, February 18, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20190531200921/https://www.monitor.co.ug/Ne….
- 9Global Voices, “Social Media Blocked in Uganda Ahead of President Museveni's Inauguration,” May 11, 2016, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2016/05/11/social-media-blocked-in-ugand….
- 10Elias Biryabarema, “Uganda Blocks Online Access to Rwandan Newspaper, Casting Shadow over Pact to End Tensions,” Reuters, August 23, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-rwanda-uganda/uganda-blocks-online-a….
- 11“UCC Blocks Access to Rwanda Websites over ‘Hate Campaign,’” Vanguard News, accessed September 25, 2020, https://www.vanguardnews.ug/ucc-blocks-access-to-rwanda-websites-over-h….
- 12Ivan R. Mushiga, “Rwanda Says Uganda Agrees to Unblock News Sites,” East African, August 23, 2019, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Rwanda-says-uganda-agrees-to-u….
- 13Lydia Namubiru, “Uganda is Making ISPs Block Pornography from its Citizens,” Quartz Africa, July 26, 2018, https://qz.com/africa/1340505/uganda-is-making-isps-block-pornography-f…; “Full List of Pornography Sites Banned in Uganda,” Sautitech, July 12, 2018, https://www.sautitech.com/telecom/uganda-porn-banned/; author research confirmed the websites remain blocked as of 2020
- 14Tom Brian Angurini and Paul Tajuba, “Lokodo Appoints Committee to Fight Pornography,” Daily Monitor, August 29, 2017, https://web.archive.org/web/20200904075852/http://www.monitor.co.ug/New….
- 15“Uganda Anti-Pornography Law Dropped After Backlash,” The BBC, August 16, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-58235637
- 16Republic of Uganda, “The Anti-Pornography Act, 2014,” June 2, 2014, https://www.ug-cert.ug/files/downloads/The-Anti-pornography-act-2014.pdf.
- 17International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) Online Library, “The Anti-Pornography Act,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://web.archive.org/web/20191127045642/http://www.icnl.org/icnl_onl….
|Do state or nonstate actors employ legal, administrative, or other means to force publishers, content hosts, or digital platforms to delete content, particularly material that is protected by international human rights standards?||2.002 4.004|
There were no known cases during the coverage period in which state or nonstate actors successfully forced the removal of legitimate digital content, though the authorities have pressed for such removals in recent years.
In December 2020, the UCC called on Google to block at least 14 YouTube channels that the commission claimed had been used to mobilize riots that November.1 The riots, which resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people as well as destruction of property, began in Kampala and spread to other parts of the country following the arrest of opposition leader Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, better known as Bobi Wine. Google declined the request, citing the government’s lack of a court order.2
In 2019, the UCC instructed the Daily Monitor to suspend its website, ostensibly for failing to register the site as required by a 2018 government regulation. However, analysts contend that the order was issued due to the website’s publication of an unflattering story about the speaker of Parliament, which elicited complaints from the speaker.3 The site ultimately remained accessible, but the controversial story was taken down.
Bloggers and social media users have faced pressure to remove content critical of the government. In 2018, a blogger claimed security operatives offered him a bribe to remove content from his blog that was deemed “defamatory” toward the government (see B4 and B5).4
Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act (see C2) includes “promotion of homosexuality” as an offense, with penalties of up to 20 years in prison for individuals. For legal entities, offenses carry fines of up to a billion shillings, suspension of a license for ten years, or cancellation of a license, which could incentivize overly broad removal of content.
- 1Alex Otto, “UCC Asks Google to Block Pro-Bobi Wine YouTube Channels,” URN, December 15, 2020 https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/ucc-asks-google-to-block-pro-bobi-…
- 2Joan Banura, ‘Follow on Twitter, Google Responds To UCC Over Closure of YouTube Channels,” PC Tech, December 17, 2020, https://pctechmag.com/2020/12/google-responds-to-ucc-over-closure-of-yo…
- 3African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), “UCC Threatens to Shut Down Daily Monitor Website,” February 8, 2019, https://acme-ug.org/2019/02/08/ucc-threatens-to-shut-down-monitor-websi….
- 4Interview with Freedom House consultant, May 2018.
|Do restrictions on the internet and digital content lack transparency, proportionality to the stated aims, or an independent appeals process?||2.002 4.004|
Restrictions on content frequently lack proportionality to the stated aims, including the restrictions on internet connectivity and access to social media platforms that were imposed during the previous coverage period. Service providers are governed by several legal and regulatory frameworks that require them to filter, remove, and block content that is considered illegal by authorities. These include the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and the Regulation of Interception of Communication (RIC) Act 2010.1
In March 2021, the East Africa Law Society (EALS) challenged the January 2021 internet shutdown in a petition filed at the East African Court of Justice (EACJ). The EALS claimed that the shutdown violated the rule of law and human rights, sought a declaration that the shutdown was illegal, and called for affected users to be compensated.2 This case was still pending at the end of the coverage period.
In April 2021, the Constitutional Court dismissed a case brought by the free expression groups Unwanted Witness Uganda and Article 19 against the Ugandan government and service providers for the social media blocks that were imposed during the 2016 election period. The court held that the restrictions were permissible under Article 43 of the Ugandan constitution, which allows the limitation, in the public interest, of constitutionally protected fundamental rights and freedoms.3
In 2017, Parliament passed the much-criticized Uganda Communications (Amendment) Act 2016,4 which amended Section 93(1) of the 2013 Uganda Communications Act to eliminate the system of checks and balances on the ICT minister’s supervision of the communications sector by removing requirements for parliamentary approval of regulations proposed by the ICT Ministry.5 The ICT minister’s increased power was on display when he ignored Parliament’s motion to extend the deadline for SIM-card reregistration and instead directed the UCC to switch off all unverified cards in 2017.6
After only 14 entities complied with new requirements instituted in March 2018 for news sites and blogs to register and obtain authorization from the UCC, the commission issued a second directive that April, ordering ISPs to block access to unregistered sites (see B6).7 It remained unclear how many websites registered or were blocked for failing to register.
- 1Uganda Gazette, “The Uganda Communications Act, 2013,” January 18, 2013, https://www.ug-cert.ug/files/downloads/UCC%20Act%202013.pdf; “Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Information Act, 2010,” Chapter Four Uganda, accessed September 20, 2023, https://chapterfouruganda.org/resources/acts-bills/regulation-intercept….
- 2Patty Magubira, “EA Law Society Sues Uganda for Shutting down Internet During Polls,” The East African, March 15, 2021, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/ea-law-society-su…
- 3Kukunda Judith, “Constitutional Court Dismisses Petition Challenging Internet, Mobile Money Shutdown During Elections,” Uganda Radio Network, April 29, 2021, https://ugandaradionetwork.net/a/story/constitutional-court-dismisses-p…; Unwanted Witness, “Court Adjourns Social Media Shutdown Lawsuit,” May 22, 2017, https://unwantedwitness.or.ug/court-adjourns-social-media-shutdown-laws…
- 4CIPESA, “Recent Developments in Telecoms Regulation Threaten Online Rights in Uganda,” April 21, 2017, https://cipesa.org/2017/04/recent-developments-in-telecoms-regulation-t….
- 5Robert Sempala, “Parliament Should Disregard UCC Bill of 2016,” Observer, March 25, 2016, https://www.observer.ug/viewpoint/43271-parliament-should-disregard-ucc….
- 6“CONFIRMED: SIM-card Registration Deadline Stays,” Independent, May 19, 2017, https://www.independent.co.ug/confirmed-sim-card-registration-deadline-….
- 7“UCC Directs Internet Service Providers to Block Access to Unauthorised Blogs & Forums,” Techjaja, April 26, 2018, https://www.techjaja.com/ucc-directs-internet-service-providers-block-a…; Nakirfai Tobor, “Uganda Ordered Isps to Block Unauthorized News Websites,” iAfrikan, May 15, 2018, https://www.iafrikan.com/2018/05/15/uganda-orders-isps-to-block-unautho….
|Do online journalists, commentators, and ordinary users practice self-censorship?||2.002 4.004|
The 2022 Press Freedom Index report in Uganda revealed that the hostile environment for journalists leads many to practice self-censorship due to fears of being harassed or arrested.1 The UCC’s continued efforts to require online content producers to apply for licenses also drives self-censorship, due to the risk that criticism of the government might result in the withdrawal of licenses or even prosecution.
Self-censorship among the LGBT+ community online has increased following the passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in May 2023 (see C2), as individuals and organizations have changed how they describe themselves online or have stopped posting entirely to avoid harassment or prosecution.2
A number of journalists were arrested and prosecuted over allegations of misinformation and disinformation during the January 2021 general elections,3 contributing to a broader fear of arrest, detention, and prosecution and an increased practice of self-censorship among journalists working both online and offline.
Social media users have increasingly resorted to pseudonymous accounts to avoid harassment and other repercussions for their online speech.4 Taboo topics include the military, the president’s family, the oil sector, land grabs, and presidential term limits. Nonetheless, blogging continues to be popular among young Ugandans and journalists who have reported candidly on controversial issues such as good governance and corruption.5
Pressure on social media users to remove content from their pages likely contributes to self-censorship. In an anonymous interview in 2018, a blogger claimed that he had been approached by security operatives and offered a bribe to remove content from his blog that was deemed “defamatory” toward the government (see B2 and B5).6 Although the blogger did not take the bribe or remove the content, he expressed fear for his life, which compelled him to cease writing about certain sensitive topics.
The government’s 2019 attempt to control online content by calling for all “data communicators” with large followings—including prominent activists, bloggers, politicians, socialites, musicians, and journalists—to register with the UCC has been criticized for fueling online self-censorship (see B6).
- 1Halima Athumani, “Ugandan Activists Say Future of Media Uncertain,” VOA News, May 23, 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/ugandan-activists-say-future-of-media-uncerta…
- 2Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu, “Queer Ugandans Reveal Devastating Impact of Anti-Gay Law,” Open Democracy, July 4, 2023, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/uganda-anti-homosexuality-act-gay…
- 3“Technology and Elections in Uganda. A Digital Rights View of The January 2021 General Elections,” CIPESA, December 2020, https://cipesa.org/?wpfb_dl=374.
- 4Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (Friedrich Ebert Foundation), “African Media Barometer, Uganda 2016,” accessed October 15, 2019, http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/bueros/africa-media/13547.pdf.
- 5Joseph Elunya, “Controversial Ugandan Blogger Won’t Budge,” All Africa, August 26, 2012, https://allafrica.com/stories/201208260215.html; Uganda Blog Community, “About,” accessed September 25, 2020, http://ugbloc.com/about/.
- 6Interview with Freedom House consultant, May 2018.
|Are online sources of information controlled or manipulated by the government or other powerful actors to advance a particular political interest?||2.002 4.004|
While government manipulation of online information was most pronounced during Uganda’s 2021 elections, high-ranking officials have continued to amplify false and misleading information on social media.1
Ahead of the disputed January 2021 elections, the government manipulated online content to shift opinions in favor of the NRM. In December 2020, the Digital Forensics Research Lab uncovered a network of social media accounts engaged in a coordinated campaign to promote President Museveni and the Ugandan government while attacking the opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) and its leader, Bobi Wine. The network included accounts that appeared to be linked to the Kampala Times news site and journalist Dickens Okello.2 It was associated with a group inside the ICT Ministry, according to a subsequent investigation conducted by Facebook.3 The accounts were removed by Facebook on January 8 and Twitter on January 10, 2021.4
Bribes are sometimes used to influence the stories published by online journalists.5 In an anonymous interview in 2018, a blogger claimed that he had been approached by security operatives and offered a bribe to remove content from his blog that was deemed “defamatory” toward the government (see B2 and B4).6
The UCC has at times barred media outlets from broadcasting parliamentary proceedings live. In 2017, for example, the UCC banned live broadcasts of debates on a proposed constitutional amendment that would lift the presidential age limit of 75, effectively allowing President Museveni to remain in office after 2019. The UCC claimed that the broadcasts were likely to incite violence.7 However, some media outlets bypassed the ban and broadcast the proceedings via Twitter’s Periscope. The ban was lifted later in 2017, but with the condition that participating media outlets possess “live broadcasting preediting software.”8 The constitutional amendment was eventually adopted.
- 1“This Picture of President Museveni and Robert Kyagulanyi Shaking Hands is Doctored,” Pesa Check, July 27, 2022, https://pesacheck.org/altered-this-picture-of-president-museveni-and-ro…
- 2“Social Media Disinformation Campaign Targets Ugandan Presidential Election,” DFRLab, January 12, 2021, https://medium.com/dfrlab/social-media-disinformation-campaign-targets-….
- 3“Facebook Shuts Uganda Accounts Ahead of Vote,” France24, January 11, 2021, https://www.france24.com/en/live-news/20210111-facebook-shuts-uganda-ac….
- 4“Social Media Disinformation Campaign Targets Ugandan Presidential Election,” Medium, January 12, 2021, https://medium.com/dfrlab/social-media-disinformation-campaign-targets-…
- 5Nelson Mandela Muhoozi, “Bribery, Manipulation: Are Journalists at Cross Roads?” NewVision, September 4, 2022, https://www.newvision.co.ug/category/news/bribery-manipulation-are-jour…
- 6Interview with Freedom House consultant, May 2018.
- 7ACME, “Regulator Stops Live Media Broadcasts as Uganda MPS Fight,” September 28, 2017, https://acme-ug.org/2017/09/28/regulator-stops-live-media-broadcasts-as….
- 8ACME, “Live TV Coverage Ban Lifted, but Conditions Don’t Satisfy Uganda Broadcasters,” October 6, 2017, https://acme-ug.org/2017/10/06/live-tv-coverage-ban-lifted-but-conditio….
|Are there economic or regulatory constraints that negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online?||1.001 3.003|
New economic and regulatory constraints continue to negatively affect users’ ability to publish content online. Ongoing restrictions on Facebook (see B1) and the 12 percent internet tax that took effect in July 2021 (see A2) served as barriers to users’ ability to publish content online during the coverage period.
In March 2023, the government introduced the Income Tax (Amendment) Bill 2023.1 The bill seeks to tax nonresidents making income from providing digital services to customers in Uganda at a rate of 5 percent.2
In previous years, the UCC has taken stringent measures aimed at regulating online media. In September 2020, the commission issued a reminder calling on all online publishers to seek authorization for their provision of services. In particular, authorization was required for “blogs, online televisions, online radios, online newspapers, audio over IP (AoIP), Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), Video on Demand (VoD), Digital Audio radios and televisions, internet/web radio and internet/web television.”3 The regulator cited Sections 2, 5, and 27 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and Regulation 5 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019, which empowers the UCC to license, regulate, and set standards for the provision of all communication services in Uganda, including radio communication and online broadcasting.4 Noting the announcement’s proximity to the January 2021 elections and the law barring in-person campaigning (see B8), civil society organizations accused the UCC of seeking to control online information ahead of the vote.5
In August 2019, the UCC began enforcing a directive requiring “all online data communication service providers, including online publishers, online news platforms, [and] online radio and television operators,” to obtain its authorization to operate.6 As part of the registration requirements, online publishers are obliged to pay $20 per year.7 Alleged failure to comply with the registration rules was the UCC’s stated justification for its attempt to shut down the Daily Monitor’s website in February 2019 (see B3).8 Also in August 2019, the UCC extended the registration directive, including the annual fee, to cover influencers, politicians, and celebrities with large followings on social media.9
The UCC stated in July 2019 that its mandate covered content transmitted over social media platforms and that it could therefore “require ISPs to filter/block/take down websites with specified content, e.g. child pornography, terrorism, hate speech, incitement of violence, breach of any law or as per the minimum broadcasting standards, over their networks.”10 Observers noted that the directive strengthened the UCC’s powers to limit online speech, though it remained unclear how it would apply to content hosted outside Uganda.
- 1Order of the Government, “The Income Tax (Amendment) Bill,” March 30, 2023, https://www.parliament.go.ug/sites/default/files/Income%20Tax%20%28Amen…
- 2EY, “ Uganda Issues Tax Amendment Bills for 2023,” https://globaltaxnews.ey.com/news/2023-0795-uganda-issues-tax-amendment…
- 3“Reminder to Providers of Online Data Communication and Broadcasting Services to Obtain Authorisation,” Uganda Communications Commission, September 8, 2020, https://www.ucc.co.ug/reminder-to-providers-of-online-data-communicatio….
- 4Republic of Uganda, “The Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations, 2019,” S.I. No. 91 of 2019, https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B11OrDdgvxMheTltUFBtUkJuWThNWG0tQkhTU2….
- 5Edrine Wanyama, “Registration of Online Publishers and Broadcasters Threatens Free Expression in Uganda,” CIPESA, September 16, 2020, https://cipesa.org/2020/09/registration-of-online-publishers-and-broadc….
- 6“Public Notice: Registration of Online Data Communication and Broadcast Service Providers,” accessed October 15, 2019, https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/UCC_ONLINE-DATA-COMMUN…; Uganda Communications Commission, “Registration of Online Data Communication and Broadcast Service Providers,” March 6, 2018, https://www.ucc.co.ug/registration-of-online-data-communication-and-bro…; “UCC Goes After Bloggers, Digital Media and Other Online Publishers,” Digest Africa, March 7, 2018, http://digestafrica.com/ucc-bloggers-digital-publishers/; Peter Clottey and Salem Solomon, “Uganda Internet Registration Stirs Free Speech Concerns,” Voice of America (VOA) News, August 13, 2019, https://www.voanews.com/africa/uganda-internet-registration-stirs-free-….
- 7Uganda Gazette, Vol. 110, No. 62, November 3, 2017, https://www.ucc.co.ug/files/downloads/Gazette_No62_of_2017.pdf.
- 8“Uganda Orders 'Daily Monitor' Website Shut,” East African, February 7, 2019, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/ea/Uganda-orders-main-independent….
- 9Elias Biryabarema, “Uganda to Register, Monitor Social Media Influencers,” Reuters, August 8, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-communications/uganda-to-regi….
- 10Uganda Communications Commission, “Regulation and Responsible Use of Online Media,” July 19, 2019, https://uccinfo.blog/2019/07/19/regulation-and-responsible-use-of-onlin….
|Does the online information landscape lack diversity and reliability?||3.003 4.004|
The content available online in Uganda is relatively diverse, though news sites published by the Vision Group, a media company that is partly owned by the government, are only available in four local languages in a country with 40 languages and 56 Indigenous dialects. Newspapers such as Bukedde, Etop, Rupiny, and Orumuri have created online platforms. The websites of other major privately owned newspapers are only accessible in English, which is not widely spoken across Uganda. The Google Uganda domain was available in five local languages as of 2010,1 while the Firefox web browser was accessible in Luganda and Acholi as of 2014.2 Wikipedia can be accessed in Luganda, with approximately 2,556 articles translated as of March 2023.3
In November 2022, while Uganda was fighting an Ebola outbreak, a wave of false or misleading information about the disease circulated on social media, including unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of vaccines for Ebola and COVID-19.4
The passage of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (see C2), which outlaws content that promotes same-sex conduct, could limit the diversity of the online information landscape, as organizations that share pro-LGBT+ content online could have their licenses canceled or suspended.5
The reliability of online information worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic and the January 2021 general elections. False claims about candidates and endorsements proliferated online during the electoral period, though fact-checkers mobilized to combat misinformation, even during the internet shutdown.6 Government bodies, including the UCC, also worked to limit the spread of misinformation during the pandemic and during postelection protests.7
- 1Tabitha Wambui, “Google Uganda Launches Two New Local Language Domains,” Daily Monitor, August 4, 2010, https://web.archive.org/web/20170626035310/http://www.monitor.co.ug/Bus….
- 2David Okwii, “Mozilla Uganda community translates Firefox into Acholi,” Dignited, updated on July 5, 2014, https://www.dignited.com/960/interview-mozilla-uganda-translates-firefo….
- 3“Olupapula Olusooka,” Wikipedia, accessed April 5, 2023, https://lg.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olupapula_Olusooka.
- 4Peter Mwai and Rachel Schraer, “Ebola in Uganda: The People Spreading Misinformation Online,” BBC News, accessed April 6, 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/63741125
- 5Khatondi Soita Wepukhulu, “Queer Ugandans Reveal Devastating Impact of Anti-Gay Law,” Open Democracy, July 4, 2023, https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/5050/uganda-anti-homosexuality-act-gay…
- 6Peter Mwai, “Uganda Election: False Claims about Joe Biden And Others,” BBC, December 20, 2020, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-55353891; Pius Enywaru and Leah Kahunde Ndung’u, “Debunking Election Disinformation during Uganda’s Internet Shutdown,” Code for Africa, March 26, 2021, https://medium.com/code-for-africa/debunking-election-disinformation-du….
- 7UCC, @UCC_Official, “Public Advisory Notice on Circulation of Fake Information,” Twitter, March 22, 2020, https://twitter.com/UCC_Official/status/1241725721367756800; Police Uganda, @PoliceUg, “FAKE NEWS: Please Disregard a Recent Social Media Story by "The Informer", Under The Headline "Prepare Your Wills And Coffins Before You Come To The Streets" That Is Attributed To The DIGP, Maj. Gen. Lokech, Has Been Found To Be False And Misleading,” Twitter, March 10, 2021, https://twitter.com/policeug/status/1369528024111214595.
|Do conditions impede users’ ability to mobilize, form communities, and campaign, particularly on political and social issues?||4.004 6.006|
Social media platforms continued to be used as alternative spaces to demand social and political justice during the coverage period.1 Ugandans use social media platforms, especially Twitter, to mobilize in response to political and social injustices in the country. This kind of mobilization can be seen through the widespread use of hashtags such as #KampalaPotholeExhibition, a social media campaign used to exhibit the poor state of roads in the country, especially in Kampala.2 However, the government’s ongoing efforts to restrict and regulate social media platforms continued to temper digital activism.
In the past, the #FreeKakwenza hashtag was used by several activists and international partners to demand the release of author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija following his detention in December 2021.3 Similarly, the #FreeLumbuye hashtag was used to demand the release of blogger Fred Lumbuye from detention in Turkey, where he was being held under unclear circumstances (see C7). In previous years, the hashtags #FreeStellaNyanzi and #PushForStellaNyanzi were widely used to call for the release of Stella Nyanzi, a prominent academic who had been arrested for making social media posts criticizing the government in November 2018.4
During the 2021 election period, both the ruling NRM and the opposition NUP adopted online campaigning tools. In early January, the government launched the Uchaguzi platform, which was aimed at bridging the electoral knowledge gap, while the NUP launched UVote, an application intended to monitor election results across the country.5 Major social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp were widely used for campaigning; for instance, the NUP often streamed video of Bobi Wine’s campaign events on Facebook Live. Parliamentary candidates communicated with their supporters and potential constituents on WhatsApp.6 On Twitter, users shared posts with the hashtags #KyagulanyiForPresident and #WeAreRemovingADictator to support Bobi Wine’s candidacy, while pro-Museveni hashtags included #M7UGsChoice and #SecuringYourFuture.7
The Independent Electoral Commission banned public rallies in June 2020 and suspended physical campaigns in 16 districts in December 2020, citing the coronavirus for both measures. The restrictions were seen as privileging the NRM, which had unrestricted access to media in Uganda, while opposition candidates had limited means of communicating with the electorate both online and offline. Security forces primarily enforced the restrictions against members of the NUP, who experienced intimidation and arrest for in-person campaigning.8 The hashtags #UgandaIsBleeding, #FreePoliticalPrisonersInUganda, #FreeBobiWine, and #StopPoliceBrutalityInUganda were created in response to increased police brutality and political abductions, especially during the campaigning period.
Civil society members have previously raised concerns that the government directive imposing annual fees on influencers, politicians, and celebrities with large followings on social media could effectively deter engagement on the platforms (see B6).9
- 1“Hashtag Activism Is the Future of Citizen Advocacy,” Monitor, May 01, 2023, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/oped/letters/hashtag-activism-is-the-f…,
- 2CIVIC Space TV, “The State of Roads in Uganda: Kampala Pothole Exhibition,” YouTube, May 2023, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XtX1fC5EHYo.
- 3Patriq Kanyomozi @PatriqKanyomozi, “Ugandan Writers Ignore Risks to Provoke Museveni,” December 29, 2021, https://www.trendsmap.com/twitter/tweet/1476106844884062209, “#FreeKakwenza,” Twitter, accessed September 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/hashtag/freekakwenza?lang=en&src=hash.
- 4Amnesty International, “Uganda: Drop Absurd Charges against Academic Stella Nyanzi,” December 19, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/press-release/2018/12/uganda-drop-abs…
- 5See “Uchaguzi,” http://uchaguzi.go.ug/, and “Uganda Voting Places App - 2021 Elections,” Google Play Store, https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.cresteddevelopers.uga…; Derrick Wandera and Juliet Kigongo, “Bobi Launches App to Monitor Election Result,” Daily Monitor, January 3, 2021, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/bobi-launches-app-to-mon…; KK Tv Uganda, “Bobi Wine Launching The UVote App [ U Vote App ],” Youtube, January 3, 2021, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JJa25LH2Gs4.
- 6Eloïse Bertrand, Grace Natabaalo, and Jamie Hitchen, “Connecting with Constituents? Parliamentary Aspirants’ Use of Whatsapp in Uganda’s 2021 ‘Scientific’ Election,” Westminster Foundation for Democracy, May 2021, https://www.wfd.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Parliamentary-aspirants-…
- 7“#KyagulanyiForPresident,” Twitter, accessed September 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/hashtag/KyagulanyiForPresident; “#WeAreRemovingADictator,” Twitter, accessed September 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/hashtag/WeAreRemovingADictator; “#M7UGsChoice,” Twitter, accessed September 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/hashtag/m7ugschoice; “#SecuringYourFuture,” Twitter, accessed September 20, 2023, https://twitter.com/hashtag/SecuringYourFuture.
- 8“Candidates Adopt New Campaign Strategies as EC Ban Bites Hard,” The Daily Monitor, January 4, 2021, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/special-reports/elections/candidates-a…; Geoffrey Ssenoga, “Why Uganda’s Ban on Open-Air Campaigns Could Tilt The 2021 Poll in Museveni’s Favour,” The Conversation, September 6, 2020, https://theconversation.com/why-ugandas-ban-on-open-air-campaigns-could….
- 9Elias Biryabarema, “Uganda to Register, Monitor Social Media Influencers,” Reuters, August 8, 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-communications/uganda-to-regi….
|Do the constitution or other laws fail to protect rights such as freedom of expression, access to information, and press freedom, including on the internet, and are they enforced by a judiciary that lacks independence?||2.002 6.006|
The Ugandan constitution provides for freedom of expression, freedom of speech, media freedom, and the right to access state information.1 However, several laws undermine these protections.
Laws including the Press and Journalist Act 2000, sections of the Penal Code Act 1950, the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022, and the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002 appear to contradict the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression. For example, the Press and Journalist Act requires journalists to register with the statutory Media Council, whose independence is believed to be compromised by the government’s influence over its composition.
The repeal of Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 by the Constitutional Court in January 2023 demonstrated the judiciary’s positive shift towards the protection of freedom of expression (see C2).
However, the independence of the Ugandan judiciary has been questioned in recent years.4 For instance, after losing his January 2021 presidential bid, Bobi Wine withdrew his petition against the election results, citing the judges’ lack of independence.5 In 2015, as part of his efforts to consolidate power in the run-up to the 2016 elections, Museveni promoted new judges to both the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court. The process was criticized for lacking transparency and undermining judicial independence, and critics called for more public scrutiny in the appointment process for new judges.6
- 1Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, “Arts. 29, 41,” 1995, http://www.statehouse.go.ug/sites/default/files/attachments/Constitutio….
- 2The Access to Information Act, 2005, Chapter Four Uganda, accessed September 20, 2023, https://chapterfouruganda.org/sites/default/files/downloads/The-Access-….
- 3Hilary Turyansingura, “Government committed to citizens’ access to information,” Uganda Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, May 10, 2021, https://ict.go.ug/2021/05/10/government-committed-to-citizens-access-to….
- 4“Law Society Petitions Court over Judiciary Administration Bill,” Independent, January 13, 2018, https://www.independent.co.ug/week-law-society-petitions-court-judiciar…, Carmel Rickard, “Judicial Independence Infringed When Uganda's Chief Justice Has To 'Plead' For Funds - Constitutional Court,” Africa NLII, March 18, 2020, https://africanlii.org/article/20200318/judicial-independence-infringed…
- 5“Ugandan Opposition Leader Bobi Wine Withdraws Poll Result Challenge, Aljazeera”, February 21, 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/22/ugandan-opposition-leader-wine…
- 6Sulaiman Kakaire and Derrick Kiyonga, “Museveni’s Choice of Judges for Promotion Raises Questions,” Observer, September 16, 2015, https://observer.ug/news-headlines/39903-museveni-s-choice-of-judges-fo….
|Are there laws that assign criminal penalties or civil liability for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||1.001 4.004|
Score Change: The score declined from 2 to 1 because of the introduction of new penalties for broad categories of online speech during the coverage period.
Several laws criminalize legitimate online expression and activities, including the penal code, the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022, and the Anti-Terrorism Act.
The penal code contains provisions that criminalize libel and the promotion of sectarianism, which are punishable with lengthy prison terms. While these provisions do not specifically refer to online expression, they could be applied to digital communications.
In October 2022, the government passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022,1 despite criticism that the act violates numerous rights, including free expression and access to information.2 The new law prescribes a penalty of up to seven years’ imprisonment for sharing unsolicited information, hate speech, unauthorized sharing of information about children, the misuse of social media, and the transmission of malicious information. The provision on hate speech defines it as any information which “ridicules, demeans, or degrades” a person, group, tribe, ethnicity, religion, or gender, or that creates divisions or promotes hostility among persons, a tribe, ethnicity, religion, or gender. Unauthorized access of data and information is punishable by up to ten years’ imprisonment. CIPESA, a civil society organization focused on ICT policy in East and Southern Africa, voiced concerns that provisions related to the spread of unsolicited or malicious information could be used by the government to limit free speech and impose heavy penalties on government critics.3
In December 2022, the Uganda Law Society filed a petition with the Constitutional Court challenging the constitutionality of the law, arguing that it violates freedom of speech and expression and that its enactment was marred by procedural impropriety.4 Nine civil society organizations filed a case over similar concerns the previous month.5 As of the end of the coverage period, both cases are still ongoing.
In a positive turn of events, in January 2023, the Constitutional Court ruled that Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act of 2011 is inconsistent with the constitution, and called for an immediate halt to its enforcement.6 The ruling follows a petition filed in 2016 by two individuals who argued that the section was vague and overly broad, violated several civil liberties, and contravened constitutional guarantees.7 Section 25 previously prohibited the dissemination of “offensive communication,” which was vaguely defined as the use of “electronic communication to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet, or right of privacy of any person.”8
The Anti-Terrorism Act criminalizes the publication and dissemination of content that promotes terrorism, which is vaguely defined, and convictions can carry the death sentence.9 Amendments to the act adopted in 2015 may impact internet freedom in their broad criminalization of “indirect” involvement in terrorist activities and the “unlawful possession of materials for promoting terrorism, such as audio or videotapes or written or electronic literature.”10
On May 26, 2023, the president signed the Anti-Homosexuality Bill 2023.11 The law sets forth harsh penalties for those convicted of promoting or engaging in same-sex conduct: anyone convicted of engaging in acts of homosexuality face life imprisonment, and those deemed to have engaged in “aggravated homosexuality” can receive the death penalty. Further, Section 4 (4) (c) of the law prohibits the promotion of homosexuality, including through the use of electronic devices, such as the internet, films, and mobile phones. Anyone found to be promoting homosexuality faces imprisonment of up to twenty years. Legal entities found to be promoting homosexuality can be fined up to 1 billion Ugandan shillings (approximately $265,000) and can have their license suspended for up to ten years or canceled entirely.
- 1The Republic of Uganda, “Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, 2022,” October 18, 2022, https://www.parliament.go.ug/cmis/views/8b8cf812-e7ea-4118-9edd-adf27d7…
- 2Library of Congress, “Uganda: Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act Enacted,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://www.loc.gov/item/global-legal-monitor/2023-01-05/uganda-compute…, Amnesty International, “Uganda: Scrap Draconian Law Aimed at Suppressing Freedom of Expression Online,” October 14, 2022, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2022/10/uganda-scrap-draconian-l….
- 3136 CIPESA, “Uganda: CIPESA Submits Comments on the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, 2022 to Parliament,” July 29, 2022, https://cipesa.org/2022/07/uganda-cipesa-submits-comments-on-the-comput….
- 4“Uganda Law Society Petitions Court to Nullify Computer Misuse Law,” The Independent, December 21, 2022, https://www.independent.co.ug/uganda-law-society-petitions-court-to-nul…
- 5“Nine CSO's, Five Others Petition Court to Nullify Computer Misuse Law,” URN, November 17, 2022, https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/nine-csos-five-others-petition-cou…; Ruth Anderah, “CSOs, Individuals Seek to Annul Computer Misuse Law,” KFM, November 17, 2022 https://www.kfm.co.ug/news/csos-individuals-seek-to-annul-computer-misu…
- 6CIPESA, “A Section of Uganda’s Computer Misuse Act Outlaw! But, the Greater Part of the Law Remains Thorny,” January 12, 2023, https://cipesa.org/2023/01/a-section-of-ugandas-computer-misuse-act-out…
- 7The Republic of Uganda, “In the Constitutional Court of Uganda at Kampala Constitutional Petition No,5 of 2016,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://eagle.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/JUDGMENT-ANDREW-KARAMAGI…
- 8“Computer Misuse Act, 2011,” Chapter Four Uganda, accessed September 20, 2023, https://chapterfouruganda.org/resources/acts-bills/computer-misuse-act-….
- 9VERTIC, “The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002,” accessed September 14, 2023, http://www.vertic.org/media/National%20Legislation/Uganda/UG_Anti-Terro….
- 10Parliament of the Republic of Uganda, “The Anti-Terrorism (Amendment) Act, 2015,” accessed September 14, 2023, https://www.parliament.go.ug/documents/1264/acts-2015.
- 11Bills Supplement, “Anti- Homosexuality Bill,” March 3, 2023, https://www.jurist.org/news/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2023/03/Anti-Hom…
|Are individuals penalized for online activities, particularly those that are protected under international human rights standards?||3.003 6.006|
During the coverage period, the government continued to curtail free speech online by arresting and prosecuting individuals for their online activities. People who criticized the government or President Museveni and his family on social media faced criminal charges. The additional provisions in the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act (see C2) also present severe threats to government critics.
In August 2022, Ugandan TikTok user Teddy Nalubowa, also known as Tracy Manule Bobiholic, was detained for 13 days before being charged with “offensive communication” under the Computer Misuse Act 2011 for recording a video that allegedly celebrated the death of former security minister General Elly Tumwine.1 Nalubowa was released on bail in October 2022.2
In March 2022, two representatives of the online television channel Alternative Digitalk TV—executive director Norman Tumuhimbise and presenter Farida Bikobere—were charged with offensive communication and cyberstalking directed at the president.3 Both were arrested and remanded for publicizing books written by Tumuhimbise that examine Museveni’s policies since he became president in 1986. The two were granted bail and released nine days later.4 Seven other journalists with the channel were also arrested but released on bail shortly thereafter. The case was dismissed by a court in Kampala in January 2023 on the grounds that the state had failed to provide substantial evidence against the pair for 10 months.5
Also in March 2022, prominent lawyer and government critic Isaac Ssemakadde was charged with offensive communication for posts on Twitter in which he used vulgar language against High Court justice Musa Ssekaana, who had ordered the imprisonment of Ssemakadde's colleague, lawyer Male Mabirizi.6 The prosecution alleged that Ssemakadde aimed to embarrass and defame Ssekaana. Ssemakadde had previously been arrested on similar charges for allegedly insulting the director of public prosecutions. Mabirizi, who was arrested during the previous coverage period for contempt of court after insulting Ssekaana on social media, qualified for remission and was released from jail in February 2023, having served two-thirds of his 18-month jail term.7
In December 2021, author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija stated on Twitter that he was under house arrest after gunmen visited his house and entered by force.8 He had previously published a series of posts about Museveni in which he called the president a thief and his son “an incompetent pig-headed curmudgeon.” He was held in detention until he was charged in January 2022 with “offensive communication.” In February 2022, two days after a court denied his application to have his passport returned, Rukirabashaija said he had fled the country (see C7).
In November 2021, blogger Ibrahim Tusubira, also known as Isma Olaxess, was arrested and charged with inciting the public to commit terrorism and promoting sectarianism under Sections 41(1) (a) and (d) of the penal code.9 He was arrested after posting a video on social media in which he stated that Muslims are profiled and arrested after every terrorist attack. The blogger had previously faced charges of offensive communication and criminal libel owing to his repeated criticism of a musician on national television.10
In August 2021, Turkey-based Ugandan vlogger, government critic, and renowned Bobi Wine supporter Fred Kajjubi, also known as Lumbuye, was arrested and detained in Turkey at the request of the Ugandan government. Lumbuye faced up to 15 charges, including spreading harmful propaganda, incitement of violence, and offensive communication.11 He was released from detention in Turkey in October 2021 and reportedly went into hiding to avoid arrest by Ugandan security operatives.12
- 1Nwachukwu Egbunike, “Ugandan TikToker Jailed for Criticizing the Problematic Legacy of a Dead,” Global Voices, September 14, 2023, General https://globalvoices.org/2022/09/14/ugandan-tiktoker-jailed-for-critici…
- 2Juliet Kigongo, “Tiktoker Who Jubilated Over Gen Tumwine’s Death Granted Bail,” Monitor, October 3, 2022 https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/tiktoker-who-jubilated-o…
- 3“Uganda: Writer Prosecuted for "Cyberbullying" the President,” Africa News, March 17, 2022, https://www.africanews.com/2022/03/17/uganda-writer-prosecuted-for-cybe…, Reporters Without Borders, “Two Ugandan Journalists Jailed for “Cyber-stalking” President,” March 18, 2022 https://rsf.org/en/news/two-ugandan-journalists-jailed-cyber-stalking-p…
- 4Human Rights Network for Journalist, “Makindye Court Grants Bail to Two Alternative Digitalk TB Staff,” March 21, 2022, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=9438
- 5Human Rights Network for Journalist, “Court Dismisses Case against two Digitalk TV Staff,” January 21, 2023, https://hrnjuganda.org/?p=9640
- 6Kukunda Judith, “Lawyer Ssemakadde Asks Court to Halt Trial for Lack of Jurisdiction,” Uganda Radio Network, March 4, 2022, https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/lawyer-ssemakadde-asks-court-to-ha…
- 7“Lawyer Male Mabirizi Released after Serving 18-month Jail Term”, The Daily Monitor, February 25, 2023, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/lawyer-male-mabirizi-rel…
- 8Emma Graham-Harrison, “Pen Prize Winning Ugandan Novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija Illegal Detained and Torture,” The Guardian, January 9, 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2022/jan/09/pen-prize-winning-ugandan…
- 9“Incitement: Blogger Isma Olaxess Charged, Granted Bail,” The Observer, November 25, 2021, https://observer.ug/news/headlines/71982-incitement-blogger-isma-olaxes…
- 10Muhamadi Byemboijana, “Uncut Show TV Host Kayz, Two Others Remanded to Kitalya over Offensive Communication,” Soft Power, October 2, 2021, https://softpower.ug/uncut-show-tv-host-kayz-two-others-remanded-to-kit…
- 11Freda Ajok, “Lumbuye to Face 15 Charges as Soon as He is in Police Custody, Says Fred Enanga,” NBS Television, August 09, 2021, https://nbs.ug/2021/08/lumbuye-to-face-15-charges-as-soon-as-he-is-in-p…
- 12Nelson Naturinda, “Turkey Frees Ugandan Blogger Who Had ‘Killed’ President Musevini,” The East African, October 19, 2021, https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/tea/news/east-africa/turkey-frees-ugan…
|Does the government place restrictions on anonymous communication or encryption?||2.002 4.004|
There are no known restrictions on data encryption in Uganda. However, anonymous communication is compromised by mandatory registration for SIM cards and mobile internet subscriptions.
The Registration of Persons Act 2015 requires all citizens to use national identification cards for SIM-card registration. Between March and May 2018, the UCC instructed mobile providers to stop selling SIM cards, purportedly to curb crime perpetrated by users of unregistered SIM cards. The UCC subsequently imposed stricter guidelines for registering, replacing, or upgrading SIM cards. In March 2019, it directed all mobile service providers to reregister SIM cards.1 SIM-card applicants are now required to physically present an original national identification card, or for non-Ugandans, a passport, to an operator’s designated customer-care agent.2 The operator is then required to verify the authenticity of the national identification card using an electronic biometric card reader and obtain real-time verification using the NIRA database. If operators fail to conduct online real-time verification, they are required to deny the issuance, upgrade, or replacement of SIM cards.3
The UCC’s requirement for online publishers, vaguely defined as “data communicators,” to register may limit the anonymity of bloggers and social media influencers (see B6).
- 1“Airtel, MTN stop sale of SIM cards,” The Independent, March 8, 2018, https://www.independent.co.ug/mtn-stops-sale-of-new-sim-cards/.
- 2UCC, “Lifting of Ban on Sale and Replacement of Sim Cards,” May 8, 2018, https://www.ucc.co.ug/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/FINAL-LETTER-OPERATORS….
- 3Ibid, 89.
|Does state surveillance of internet activities infringe on users’ right to privacy?||2.002 6.006|
Many activists have expressed suspicion that the government has increased monitoring and surveillance of social media platforms and other online spaces in recent years. Article 27 of the constitution prohibits interference with the privacy of a person's “home, correspondence, communication or other property.”1 Privacy protections are also enshrined in the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019 and accompanying regulations, which came into force in April 2021 (see C6). However, ensuring compliance with the act remains a challenge.2
In December 2021, Apple sent notices to two prominent Ugandan journalists and an opposition leader, warning them that their iPhones may have been hacked by Pegasus, the commercial spyware product developed by Israel’s NSO Group.3 Both journalists said they had received phishing messages in the weeks before the Apple notices, and one stated that his phone showed unsuccessful attempts to access his location data using food delivery or ride-hailing applications. Uganda was listed in a 2018 report by Citizen Lab, a Canadian internet watchdog, as one of 45 countries worldwide in which devices were likely breached by Pegasus. Pegasus is known to be used by governments to spy on journalists, human rights defenders, and opposition politicians.4
According to an August 2022 report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Ugandan police have purchased UFED, a technology developed by the Israeli firm Cellebrite that enables authorities to hack into password-protected smartphones.5
State authorities have admitted to monitoring social media posts in the past. In March 2019, during academic Stella Nyanzi’s trial over critical social media posts, a security officer testified about actively monitoring her Facebook page.6 In 2017, the Uganda Media Centre, the government-appointed media regulatory body, announced that it had assembled a new social media monitoring unit tasked with scanning the profiles of users to find critical posts.7
An article published by the Wall Street Journal in August 2019 revealed close cooperation between the Ugandan government and Huawei to surveil opposition figures and government critics. The government confirmed that the police and intelligence services work with Huawei on national security issues, including by using spyware against “security threats and political enemies.” Huawei employees working in Kampala’s police headquarters allegedly helped the Ugandan police surveil Bobi Wine by using spyware to access a WhatsApp chat group. The project raised further concerns about government surveillance and Huawei’s role in aiding government monitoring of Ugandan citizens.8
The government’s surveillance powers are laid out in the RIC Act, which was hurriedly passed following a 2010 terrorist attack in Kampala. Under the act, telecommunications companies are required to install equipment that enables real-time electronic surveillance of suspected terrorists. The RIC Act also gives the security minister the ability to request access to personal communications based on national security concerns;9 such access can be granted following an order by a High Court judge.10
In addition to the RIC Act, clauses in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2002 give security officers appointed by the interior minister the power to intercept the communications of individuals suspected of terrorism and to keep the individuals under surveillance without judicial oversight.11
The government has used older forms of spyware against critics and opponents in the past. A 2015 report by Privacy International (PI) detailed a secret government operation that involved implanting FinFisher intrusion software on the Wi-Fi networks of several hotels in Kampala, Entebbe, and Masaka to illegally spy on targeted activists, opposition politicians, and journalists between 2011 and 2013.12 It is unclear whether FinFisher was still being deployed during this report’s coverage period.
A July 2018 raid on MTN Uganda’s offices by the Internal Security Organization, a domestic intelligence unit, raised concerns about the security of user data.13
- 1Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, “Art. 27,” 1995, http://www.statehouse.go.ug/sites/default/files/attachments/Constitutio….
- 2Unwanted Witness, “Privacy Scorecard Report,” November 2021, https://www.unwantedwitness.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/Privacy-Scor…
- 3Abdi Latif Dahir, “Spy Tool Was Deployed in State-Sponsored Hack of Ugandans”, The New York Times, Dec. 4, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/04/world/africa/uganda-hack-pegasus-spy…
- 4Bill Marczak, John Scott-Railton, Sarah McKune, Bahr Abdul Razzak, and Ron Deibert, “Hide And Seek: Tracking NSO Group’s Pegasus Spyware To Operations In 45 Countries,” Citizen Lab, September 18, 2018, https://citizenlab.ca/2018/09/hide-and-seek-tracking-nso-groups-pegasus….
- 5Oded Yaron, “Israeli Firm Cellebrite Sold Phone-Hacking Tools to Uganda’s Brutal Dictatorship,” Haaretz, August, 16, 2022, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/security-aviation/2022-08-16/ty-art…
- 6“Drama as Police Detective Reads out Stella Nyanzi Poem in Court,” Independent, March 21, 2019, https://www.independent.co.ug/drama-as-police-detectives-reads-out-stel….
- 7Reporters Without Borders, “Uganda Creates Unit to Spy on Social Networks,” June 30, 2017, https://rsf.org/en/news/uganda-creates-unit-spy-social-networks.
- 8Joe Parkinson, Nicholas Bariyo, and Josh Chin, “Huawei Technicians Helped African Governments Spy on Political Opponents,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2019, https://www.wsj.com/articles/huawei-technicians-helped-african-governme….
- 9Amnesty International, “Uganda: Amnesty International Memorandum on the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, 2010,” December 14, 2010, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/AFR59/016/2010/en/.
- 10l72 “Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Information Act, 2010,” Chapter Four Uganda, accessed September 20, 2023, https://chapterfouruganda.org/resources/acts-bills/regulation-intercept….
- 11VERTIC, “The Anti-Terrorism Act, 2002, Part VII—Interception of Communications,” accessed September 14, 2023, http://www.vertic.org/media/National%20Legislation/Uganda/UG_Anti-Terro….
- 12“For God and My President: State Surveillance In Uganda,” Privacy International, October 2015, https://www.privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2017-12/Uganda….
- 13Elias Biryabarema, “MTN Uganda Says Government Security Personnel Raided its Data Center,” Reuters, July 6, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-mtn-group/mtn-uganda-says-gov….
|Does monitoring and collection of user data by service providers and other technology companies infringe on users’ right to privacy?||3.003 6.006|
Service providers and other technology companies are required to retain metadata for an unspecified amount of time.1 Under the RIC Act, providers are also required—upon issuance of a warrant or notice from the security minister—to disclose to the authorities the personal information of individuals who are suspected of terrorism or considered a threat to national security, public safety, or national economic interests.2 Failure to comply with the provisions in the RIC Act can result in five years in prison for intermediaries, in addition to license revocations.3 It is unclear to what extent these provisions have been implemented or operationalized.
Civil society organizations have raised concerns about the limited oversight of COVID-19 data collection practices and the use of tracking apps, which they contend have had a limited impact in mitigating the coronavirus’s spread.4 In March 2021, MTN Uganda and NITA–U rolled out the E-pass system, under which health officials would loan smartphones equipped with a location-tracking app to COVID-19 patients who are recuperating at home in order to monitor their compliance with quarantine requirements.5 In November 2020, the government issued a mobile app to monitor truck drivers crossing the border for compliance with COVID-19 protocols.6
In September 2021, Uganda’s data protection authority, established under the Data Protection and Privacy Act 2019, was officially launched. The authority is an office within NITA–U, and its head directly reports to the NITA–U board.7 Members of civil society questioned the arrangement, which may present a barrier to the new authority’s independence, since NITA–U is supervised by the ICT Ministry. Critics also noted that NITA–U has failed to publish guidelines for the collection, use, and processing of COVID-19 data.8 The Data Protection and Privacy Act ostensibly provides for the protection of privacy and the security of personal data by regulating the collection and processing of such information.9
There were no known government requests for user data held by social media platforms in this reporting period. Between July and December 2020, Uganda asked Facebook for user data on only one occasion, employing a standard legal process to seek information regarding a total of three accounts. Facebook did not produce data in response to the request.10
- 1“Regulation of Interception of Communications and Provision of Communication Information Act, 2010,” Chapter Four Uganda, accessed September 20, 2023, https://chapterfouruganda.org/resources/acts-bills/regulation-intercept….
- 2Ibid, 149.
- 3Ibid, 149.
- 4"Surveillance, data protection, and freedom of expression in Kenya and Uganda during COVID-19,” ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Kenya ICT Action Network, and Pollicy, April 2021, https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ADRF-Surveillance-….
- 5“MTN Uganda and NITA-Uganda Launch New App for Tracking COVID 19 Patients under Home Based Care,” MTN Uganda, March 19, 2021, https://www.mtn.co.ug/mtn-uganda-and-nita-uganda-launch-new-app-for-tra…; Nathan Ernest Olupot, “MTN, NITA-U Launch an App to Track & Monitor Covid-19 Patients in Home Based Care,” PC Tech Magazine, March 19, 2021, https://pctechmag.com/2021/03/mtn-uganda-nita-u-launch-an-e-pass-app/.
- 6“Health Ministry Activates Electronic Cargo and Driver Tracking System in Elegu,” The Independent, November 16, 2020, https://www.independent.co.ug/health-ministry-activates-electronic-carg…
- 7Republic of Uganda, “The Data Protection and Privacy Regulations, 2021,” Statutory Instrument No. 21 of 2021, https://www.dataguidance.com/sites/default/files/uganda_data_protection….
- 8"Surveillance, Data Protection, and Freedom of Expression in Kenya and Uganda during COVID-19,” ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa, Kenya ICT Action Network, and Pollicy, April 2021, https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/ADRF-Surveillance-….
- 9ULII, “Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019,” accessed September 13, 2023, https://ulii.org/akn/ug/act/2019/9/eng@2019-05-03.
- 10Meta, “Facebook Transparency, Uganda,” accessed September 13, 2023, https://transparency.facebook.com/government-data-requests/country/UG.
|Are individuals subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor in relation to their online activities?||3.003 5.005|
Journalists and commentators who cover the opposition or make critical statements about the president have faced physical violence.
In May 2023, blogger Isma Lubega Tusubira, also known as Isma Olaxess, was shot and killed by an unknown attacker while traveling in his private vehicle in Kampala.1 The attacker’s motivations were unclear, according to police, but there has been speculation that Tusubira's murder was connected to his divisive remarks and confrontational online presence.2
In December 2022, President Museveni’s son accused journalists at the Daily Monitor of being terrorists and threatened to “crush” journalists who “abuse” him in Tweets that were later deleted.3
In December 2021, author Kakwenza Rukirabashaija claimed that he was tortured by police while in detention, having been arrested in connection with his online posts criticizing the president and his son (see C3). In February 2022, two days after a court denied his application to have his passport returned, Rukirabashaija allegedly fled the country to seek medical treatment for injuries he sustained in detention.4
Journalists who reported on the January 2021 elections, including those working for online outlets, faced harassment and physical violence. For instance, in early January 2021, police assaulted Dedan Kimathi, a journalist with the news site ChimpReports, while he was covering the campaign of Patrick Amuriat, the presidential candidate of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change party.5 In December 2020, Ashraf Kasirye, a journalist with the online broadcaster Ghetto TV, was shot in the head by security forces while reporting on an NUP campaign event. In November 2020, police forced Kasirye out of a car and used pepper spray on him, also while he was reporting on the election.6
Women are frequently harassed online in Uganda, particularly those who are journalists or politicians.7 A report on technology-related violence against women released in January 2019 found that Ugandan women experience various forms of online harassment, including sexual harassment in messages and posts, cyberstalking, and the nonconsensual sharing of intimate images.8 A study on the 2021 elections conducted by Pollicy, a technology consulting firm, found that 50 percent of female candidates experienced online trolling and 18 percent experienced sexual violence online during the election period.9 In another report released by Pollicy in August 2019, almost a third of the 702 Ugandan women surveyed reported experiencing online gender-based violence.10
- 1“Controversial Blogger, Isma Olaxess, Has Been Shot Dead,” Plugged, May 7, 2023 https://pluggedaily.com/2023/05/07/controversial-blogger-isma-olaxess-h…
- 2David Vosh Ajuna, “’Jjaja Iculi’: Who Was Isma Olaxess in the Public Eye?,” Monitor, May 7, 2023, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/-jjaja-iculi-who-was-ism…
- 3Reporters Without Borders, “We Will Crush you,” Ugandan President’s Son Warns Journalists,” accessed September 13, 2023, https://rsf.org/en/we-will-crush-you-ugandan-president-s-son-warns-jour…
- 4“Tortured Ugandan Author Arrives in Germany,” Al Jazeera, February 23, 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/2/23/tortured-ugandan-author-rukira…
- 5Sully Mugabi, “Security Forces Assault ChimpReports Journalist Dedan Kimathi on Amuriat Campaign Trail,” ChimpReports, January 1, 2021, https://chimpreports.com/security-forces-assault-chimpreports-journalis…,
- 6Andrew Bagala, “Journalists Targeted again in Masaka Shooting Incident,” Daily Monitor, December 28, 2020, https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/journalists-targeted-aga…; “Injured Journalist Ashraf Kasirye Allowed to File Additional Allegations against Government,” The Independent, March 12, 2021, https://www.independent.co.ug/injured-journalist-ashraf-kasirye-allowed….
- 7Sandra Aceng, “Women Journalists in Uganda Carry ‘Double Burden’ with Online Attacks and Harassment,” Global Voices, May 18, 2020, https://advox.globalvoices.org/2020/05/18/women-journalists-in-uganda-c…; Vicky Wandawa, “#MeTooOnline: In Uganda, female politicians feel the brunt of online harassment,” Stories for Human Rights and Social Inclusion, January 14, 2020, https://stories4humanrights.com/metooonline-in-uganda-female-politician….
- 8Association for Progressive Communications (APC), “Technology Related Violence Against Women,” accessed September 13, 2023, https://www.apc.org/sites/default/files/research_report_on_tech_related….
- 9Pollicy, “Amplified Abuse: Understanding Violence against Women in Politics and Leadership,” accessed September 13, 2023, https://vawp.pollicy.org/
- 10Pollicy, “Alternate Realities, Alternate Internets: African Feminist Research for a Feminist Internet,” August 2020, https://ogbv.pollicy.org/report.pdf.
|Are websites, governmental and private entities, service providers, or individual users subject to widespread hacking and other forms of cyberattack?||2.002 3.003|
There has been growing concern over increased cyberattacks in this reporting period, with both private entities and service providers falling victim to such attacks.
In November 2022, reports emerged that hackers had stolen nearly eight billion shillings (approximately $2.1 million) from Airtel’s mobile money service, Airtel Mobile Commerce Uganda Limited (AMCUL).1 In a statement following the attack, Airtel Uganda said that no Airtel Money or bank balances were impacted.2
In March 2022, administrators of the Uganda Government Citizens Interaction Centre’s (GCIC’s) Twitter account were unable to access the account. Hackers reportedly took down government information and replaced it with antiwar messages against the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The hack was allegedly in retaliation for the government’s decision to abstain from condemning Moscow as an aggressor in a UN Security Council vote.3
On January 18, 2021, hackers affiliated with the loose hacking collective Anonymous breached the websites of Parliament, the UCC, and the broadcaster NBS, briefly disabling the websites and apparently exfiltrating data that included government documents and personal information. The attack immediately followed the end of the election-related internet shutdown (see A3).4 The hackers also claimed to have brought the TechRafiki website offline in retaliation for TechRafiki journalist Sasha Nannyange’s reporting on the hack.5
Hackers affiliated with Anonymous also brought down the Ministry of Gender, Labor and Social Development’s website in April 2021 after the minister used social media to express approval of the government’s cybersecurity in relation to the January cyberattacks.6 In an earlier attack, the hackers took down the website of the Uganda Police Force in November 2020 in retribution for police killings of protesters following that month’s arrest of Bobi Wine.7
The state has been known to target critics and opponents with surveillance malware, according to research published by PI in 2015. The report detailed a secret government operation that implanted FinFisher intrusion malware on the Wi-Fi networks of several hotels to illegally spy on activists, opposition politicians, and journalists between 2011 and 2013 (see C5).8 It is unclear whether these tactics were still being employed during the coverage period.
Vulnerable populations and marginalized communities, particularly the LGBT+ community, have been the target of regular technical attacks in recent years. In 2016, the email and Facebook accounts of a social worker at the Most at Risk Populations Initiative were hijacked.9 Activists believe that the attack may have been perpetrated by the government, given the wealth of information the social worker possessed about the LGBT+ community through their work and private communications. Hacking attacks against LGBT+ individuals for the purpose of extortion have also been reported. In one incident detailed in a 2016 interview, after the Facebook account of a closeted gay celebrity was hacked, screenshots of private messages pointing to his sexual orientation were used to blackmail him.10
- 1Benson Tumusiime, “How Hackers Accessed Airtel Money’s Systems,” Monitor, November 20, 2022 https://www.monitor.co.ug/uganda/news/national/how-hackers-accessed-air…
- 3“Hackers Attack Uganda Government Social Media Page,” New Vision, 16 March 2022, https://www.newvision.co.ug/articledetails/129443
- 4Sasha Nannyange, “Local Uganda Government Websites Hacked by International Hackers ‘Anonymousx64’ over the Weekend,” TechRafiki, January 18, 2021, https://techrafiki.com/uganda-government-websites-hacked-by-anonymous/; Anonymous x64 (@Anon16003936) “Greetings World. We are Anonymous. We have infiltrated the government of Uganda's intranet, mail systems and database's and we will monitor said service for any signs of voting fraud in the 14 January election in Uganda,” Twitter, January 14, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20210114185413/https://twitter.com/Anon1600….
- 5Anonymous x64 (@Anon16003936), “Anonymous have taken down https://techrafiki.com due to uneducated reactive opinions posted by @SNannyange Expect Us. #Anonymous,” Twitter, January 20, 2021, https://web.archive.org/web/20210120223158/https://twitter.com/Anon1600….
- 6“A Uganda Government Website is Down after Hackers Strike Again,” TechRafiki, April 2, 2021, https://techrafiki.com/a-government-website-is-down-after-hackers-strik….
- 7Maurice Muhwezi, “CYBER ATTACK: Anonymous Hack Uganda Police Website in Wake of Bobi Wine city Riots,” REDPEPPER, November 22, 2020, https://redpepper.co.ug/2020/11/cyber-attacks-anonymous-hack-uganda-pol…; @YourAnonCentral, “#Uganda: Anonymous has taken down @PoliceUg's website in response to recent violent government repression & killings,” Twitter, November 20, 2020, https://twitter.com/youranoncentral/status/1329882198573412353/.
- 8Privacy International, “For God and My President: State Surveillance In Uganda,” October 2015, https://www.privacyinternational.org/sites/default/files/2017-12/Uganda….
- 9Anonymous interview with Freedom House in September 2016.
- 10Anonymous interview with Freedom House in September 2016.
See all data, scores & information on this country or territory.See More
Global Freedom Score35 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score51 100 partly free
Freedom in the World StatusNot Free