While Uganda holds regular elections, their credibility has deteriorated over time, and the country has been ruled by the same party and president since 1986. The ruling party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), retains power through the manipulation of state resources, intimidation by security forces, and politicized prosecutions of opposition leaders. Uganda’s civil society and independent media sectors suffer from legal and extralegal harassment and state violence.
- Between March and May, police arrested and assaulted at least 10 journalists while enforcing COVID-19-related restrictions, taking advantage of the pandemic to further curtail freedom of the press. In April, police arrested Rogers Asiimwe of Freedom Radio, raided his office, and questioned him about his discussion of the coronavirus, its origins, and the Ugandan government’s lockdown measures.
- In October, a combined military and police force raided the campaign headquarters of the singer and parliamentarian Robert Kyagulanyi—better known as Bobi Wine—ostensibly to recover red berets the campaign had stashed, a part of military uniform. Wine’s campaign uses the berets as a symbol of resistance, which the government claims is illegal. While opposition parties’ rallies were violently dispersed by security forces and participants were arrested throughout the year, the NRM was able to hold campaign events without interference.
- Following the November 2020 arrest of Bobi Wine at a political rally, security forces violently dispersed protests organized by Wine’s party, killing 54 people. Multiple videos shared on social media during protests show the military and plainclothes gunmen firing high-caliber rifles in populated urban centers. The government failed to hold any of the attackers responsible for killing unarmed civilians.
|Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The president is directly elected to serve five-year terms. In the 2016 election, incumbent Yoweri Museveni won with 60.6 percent of the vote, according to official results. Kizza Besigye of the opposition Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) placed second, with 35.6 percent. The integrity of the election was undermined by problems including the misuse of state resources and flawed administration by the Electoral Commission (EC).
A 2017 constitutional amendment removed the presidential age limit of 75, allowing the president to seek reelection in 2021. Opposition parties and other critics challenged the validity of the change, citing procedural problems and intimidation, but the Supreme Court upheld the amendment in April 2019.
|Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections?||1.001 4.004|
The 2016 elections for the unicameral Parliament were held concurrently with the presidential vote. A total of 426 members were chosen, including 289 elected in single-member districts, 112 elected to reserved seats for women, and 25 chosen to represent special interest groups (the military, youth, people with disabilities, and trade unions). Members serve terms of five years. The ruling NRM won an absolute majority with 293 seats. Independents won 66 seats, the opposition FDC took 36, and smaller parties divided the remainder. As with the presidential election, the integrity of the balloting was undermined by problems including the misuse of state resources and flawed administration by the EC. Ahead of the 2021 elections, in November 2020 the government introduced a ban on campaign rallies, citing the COVID-19 pandemic. Subsequently, stringent restrictions prohibiting public campaigning events were introduced, though they were not uniformly applied. Ruling-party politicians were allowed to hold rallies and campaign freely while opposition rallies were violently dispersed by police and military.
|Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies?||1.001 4.004|
Independent observers, civil society, and opposition leaders have long critiqued and called for substantive reforms to Ugandan electoral laws. On election day in 2016, the EC experienced significant technical and logistical problems. It extended the voting time for polling stations that opened late, with voting in some areas continuing for an extra day even as counting was well under way. This exacerbated existing mistrust of the EC and raised suspicions of malfeasance.
Following the flawed 2016 elections, the Supreme Court called on the attorney general to implement electoral reforms to address these issues within two years and update the court on the progress of the changes. The deadline passed in March 2018 with no meaningful reforms advanced. Between February and March 2020, the parliament passed five electoral reform bills that they had been ordered to draft in 2019. President Museveni assented to four of the laws in July 2020.
Between July 2018 and February 2019, the EC suspended the Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU), a prominent nongovernmental organization (NGO), from election observation and voter education, claiming the group is partisan and undermines the integrity of elections. However, after representatives from the CCEDU met with the EC in October of that year, both sides indicated that they had reached an agreement to allow the group to resume its work.
|Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings?||1.001 4.004|
The formation of political parties is protected by law, and multiple parties exist and compete in practice. However, the activities of opposition groups are hindered by restrictive party registration requirements and candidate eligibility rules, a lack of access to state media coverage, and violence or harassment by state authorities and paramilitary groups.
Police used tear gas and live ammunition to break up FDC rallies in the towns of Lira and Kasese in April 2019, and used similar tactics throughout 2019. When FDC leaders tried to organize the party’s national conference in November, heavily armed police and military officers cordoned off the venue and forcibly dispersed party supporters. Besigye and a number of other FDC members were arrested and temporarily detained.
In June 2020, the Ugandan government prohibited all political gatherings, ostensibly to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Candidates were forced to campaign using radio, TV, leaflets, and social media; media the ruling party has substantial influence over. The government’s enforcement of the ban disproportionately targeted opposition party activities, particularly of Bobi Wine’s People Power group. In October, a combined military and police force raided Wine’s campaign headquarters, claiming the raid was intended to recover red berets, a part of military uniform, that Wine’s campaign use as a symbol of resistance; the government claims they are illegal. While opposition parties’ rallies were violently dispersed by security forces and participants were arrested throughout the year, the NRM was able to hold campaign events without interference.
Following the November 2020 arrest of Bobi Wine at a political rally, security forces violently dispersed protests organized by Wine’s party, killing 54 people. Multiple videos shared on social media during protests show the military and plainclothes gunmen firing high-caliber rifles in populated urban centers. The government failed to hold any of the attackers responsible for killing unarmed civilians.
|Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections?||1.001 4.004|
The ruling party dominates all levels of government. There are several dozen opposition lawmakers in Parliament, as well as numerous independents, though some of the latter support the NRM. Presidential and parliamentary election campaigns are characterized by violence, intimidation, and harassment toward opposition parties.
Leaders of opposition parties and political movements are sometimes arrested on trumped-up criminal charges. There were multiple arrests of FDC leaders during 2019, and Bobi Wine was arrested in November 2020 and harassed throughout the year. At the end of 2020, Wine and more than 30 others were still awaiting trial on treason charges arising from a 2018 incident in the Arua district; police alleged that Wine and his supporters obstructed President Museveni’s motorcade and threw stones at the vehicles. Charges of annoying, alarming, or ridiculing the president were added to the case in August 2019.
|Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means?||1.001 4.004|
The military is closely aligned with Museveni and the NRM, and holds 10 seats in Parliament. The government and ruling party also reportedly use public resources and patronage networks to build political support among religious leaders and other influential figures.
|Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities?||2.002 4.004|
Although Uganda has a large number of diverse ethnic groups, they lack equal representation and opportunities. Small ethnic groups like Alur, Ik, Bagungu, Bakonzo, Kakwa, Batwa, and Karamojong are disproportionately affected by violent conflicts, and have less access to education and inadequate healthcare.
The dominant position and coercive tactics of the NRM impede free political participation and advocacy of interests by Uganda’s various ethnic groups, including those affiliated with subnational kingdoms and smaller Indigenous groups. An assessment of women’s participation in the 2016 elections by the Women’s Democracy Group, a coalition of Ugandan civil society organizations, noted a widespread perception that because a certain number of legislative seats are reserved for women, “they should not contest for direct positions so as to reduce on the competition for male contestants.” Due to severe legal and societal discrimination, the interests of LGBT+ people are not represented in politics.
|Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government?||1.001 4.004|
Power is concentrated in the hands of the NRM leadership, the security forces, and especially the president, who retains office through deeply flawed electoral processes. Lawmakers have little practical ability to influence legislation in which the government has a particular interest, though there is more consultation on ordinary policy matters. The executive has secured passage of key legislation through inducement, harassment, and intimidation of the legislative branch. For example, several opposition lawmakers were assaulted and forcibly removed from Parliament by plainclothes military officers during the reading of the 2017 constitutional amendment bill that removed the presidential age limit.
|Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective?||1.001 4.004|
Corruption is a serious problem. There are laws and institutions designed to combat official malfeasance, including the Anti-Corruption Act of 2009 and the Inspectorate of Government, and instances of alleged graft have led to investigations and intense media attention. However, the system has not been effective at addressing corruption in a sustained manner, and top government officials are rarely prosecuted in practice.
|Does the government operate with openness and transparency?||1.001 4.004|
Many government departments deny requests for information under the country’s Access to Information Act. Other laws related to national security and confidentiality also impede open access to information in practice. The Access to Information Act is not uniformly applied. Government agencies seem to release information that only favors the regime. For example, in September 2020, the Electoral Commission made public the academic documents of Bobi Wine while refusing to release those of President Museveni, despite numerous petitions. Wine described the Commission’s decision as intended to raise questions about his eligibility to run for president.
Public procurement decisions are generally opaque.
|Are there free and independent media?||1.001 4.004|
The media sector features many independent outlets, but their journalists face arrest, harassment, intimidation, and assault in reprisal for their work. Authorities routinely raid and shut down radio stations and other outlets, and will take away accreditation from journalists in retribution for their reporting.
Throughout 2020, journalists covering the campaign events of Bobi Wine were harassed, assaulted, and detained, on various charges. The Committee to Protect Journalists, a press freedom watchdog, reported that at least seven journalists were harassed and attacked by police and members of the public between November and December while covering campaigns for the 2021 presidential elections. Further, authorities issued new guidelines for foreign journalists, requiring them to reapply for accreditation within a week of the guidelines being announced. At least one foreign news crew was deported.
Between March and May, police arrested and assaulted at least 10 journalists while enforcing COVID-19-related restrictions. In April, police arrested Rogers Asiimwe of Freedom Radio, raided his office, and questioned him about his discussion of the coronavirus, its origins, and the lockdown measures instituted by the Ugandan government.
|Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private?||3.003 4.004|
There is no state religion, and freedom of worship is both constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. However, the government has restricted religious groups whose members allegedly pose security risks. It has also sought to control political statements by religious leaders, tolerating those who express support for President Museveni and the ruling party while subjecting those with more critical views to intimidation, harassment, and arrest
A series of Muslim clerics have been murdered in recent years, and the investigations into the crimes have not yet led to any convictions.
|Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination?||2.002 4.004|
Academic freedom has been undermined by alleged surveillance of university lectures by security officials, and by the need for professors to obtain permission to hold public meetings at universities. In December 2018, 45 staff members at Makerere University in Kampala were dismissed for indiscipline, but critics argued that the dismissals were meant to silence critics of the government within the university. The 2019 imprisonment of prominent Makerere University academic, Stella Nyanzi, under the Computer Misuse Act for cyber harassing President Museveni was annulled in February 2020, after a judge ruled that she had not been given a fair trial.
Authorities have responded harshly to campus protests by student groups.
|Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution?||2.002 4.004|
Private speech is relatively unrestrained, and Ugandans openly criticize the government on social media. However, individuals are at risk of criminal penalties for such speech, and the government reportedly monitors social media platforms. Media reports in August 2019 indicated that Ugandan intelligence officials, with assistance from a Chinese telecommunications firm, had hacked into the accounts and devices of opposition figures to track their communications and movements; the same techniques could presumably be used against ordinary citizens.
In 2018, the government implemented a controversial social media tax, requiring users on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp to pay a daily fee of $0.05, which is prohibitively expensive for many. Critics assailed the tax as an attack on freedom of expression and an attempt to limit the exchange of criticism of the government and mobilization of the opposition online. According to the UCC, the tax led to a decline in the number of social media users in the months following its introduction.
In August 2019, the UCC issued an order requiring all social media bloggers, YouTubers, and online influencers to be registered. In September 2020, the UCC announced that all online content creators must register by October 5. The registration process includes a $27 fee, and applicants have to provide their passport, national identification information, and contact information. Critics claim the regulations curtail freedom of speech for Ugandans who use social media to criticize the government.
|Is there freedom of assembly?||1.001 4.004|
In March 2020, the Constitutional Court annulled the Public Order Management Act (POMA), the 2013 public order law that required groups to register with local police in writing three days before any gathering, public or private, to discuss political issues. The government relied on the law to prevent opposition rallies, as it gave police the authority to deny approval for such meetings if they are not deemed to be in the “public interest,” and to use force to disperse assemblies judged unlawful.
In 2020, the number of unlawful, unjustified, and disproportionate use of force against protesters dramatically increased. The military and police killed 54 people during protests in Kampala and other towns on November 18 and 19, which was condemned local and international human rights activists, donors, and civil society organizations as blatant human rights violations.
The annulment of POMA did not stop police from repeatedly using tear gas, live ammunition, and arrests to disrupt opposition events in 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, security forces used public health measures to violently disperse rallies and meetings associated with Wine’s campaign.
|Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work?||1.001 4.004|
Civil society in Uganda is active, and several NGOs address politically sensitive issues. However, their operations are vulnerable to various legal restrictions, burdensome registration requirements, and occasional threats. NGOs that work on human rights issues have reported break-ins at their offices and burglaries in recent years, and the police have failed to adequately investigate the incidents.
In August and September 2019, the government required NGOs to submit information to the National Bureau for NGOs on their staffing, finances, and activities. In November 2019, the interior minister ordered some 12,000 NGOs to shut down for failing to renew their registration, though the bureau said the groups would still have an opportunity to reregister. Only about 2,000 groups had successfully navigated the process.
|Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations?||2.002 4.004|
Workers’ rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are recognized by law, except for workers providing essential government services. As of 2018, there were 42 trade unions in Uganda, representing close to one million people. Most are grouped under two umbrella entities—the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) and the Central Organization of Free Trade Unions (COFTU). Despite their legal and institutional protections, trade unions have been undermined in practice by co-optation, intimidation, and manipulation designed to frustrate their organizing and bargaining efforts.
|Is there an independent judiciary?||1.001 4.004|
Executive influence weakens judicial independence, as does systemic corruption. In August 2019, the chief justice established an internal task force to investigate widespread allegations of judicial corruption, but the FDC called for an independent probe by outside lawyers and experts.
|Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters?||1.001 4.004|
Police routinely engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions, despite legal safeguards against such practices. Other impediments to due process include prolonged pretrial detention, inadequate access to counsel for defendants, and corruption. A number of reform initiatives in recent years, including the introduction of plea bargaining in 2015, have reportedly had some success in reducing large case backlogs.
|Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies?||1.001 4.004|
Rape, extrajudicial violence, and torture and abuse of suspects and detainees by security forces are persistent problems, and prosecutions of the perpetrators are rare. The alleged torture of Bobi Wine and other opposition politicians in August 2018 led to protests against police brutality. The government said it would investigate Wine’s allegations of torture, but no charges had been filed as of 2020.
On December 27, 2020, Bobi Wine’s bodyguard, Francis Senteza Kalibala, was run over and killed by a military vehicle. Wine said the killing was “deliberate,” which the military denied. On December 30, boxer Isaac “Zebra” Ssenyange was shot dead by security officers at his home. After reports emerged that Ssenyange supported the ruling party, President Museveni described his death as a mistake and apologized to his family.
Prison conditions are poor, as the prison system is operating at about three times its intended capacity, with pretrial detainees constituting nearly half of the inmate population.
|Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population?||1.001 4.004|
Ugandan laws prohibit discrimination based on ethnic origin, religion, age, race, disability, color, and sex. However, the LGBT+ community continues to face overt hostility from the government and much of society. Same-sex relations are criminalized under a colonial-era law. Men and transgender women accused of consensual sex are sometimes forced to undergo an anal exam that Human Rights Watch (HRW) says could amount to torture. In October 2019, LGBT+ activist Brian Wasswa was fatally attacked at his home in Jinja. In October and November 2019, police carried out two groups of mass arrests of LGBT+ people in Kampala.
The law prohibits employment discrimination based on gender and other criteria, but it does not cover the informal sector, in which most women work, and women are subject to de facto discrimination in employment and other matters.
There were about 1.4 million refugees living in Uganda at the end of 2020, and the United Nations has praised the government for its progressive asylum policies. However, it struggles to fund basic services for some refugee populations.
|Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education?||3.003 4.004|
Freedom of movement in Uganda is largely unrestricted, including for refugees, most of whom live outside of camps and have been able to move more freely in recent years. However, bribery is common in many facets of life, such as interacting with traffic police, gaining admittance to some institutions of higher education, and obtaining government jobs.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ugandan government implemented strict measures and movement restrictions to prevent the spread of the virus, which were at times violently enforced by security forces.
|Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors?||2.002 4.004|
Customary land tenure is widespread in the north, and land disputes—some of them violent—are common, particularly when private development projects are at stake. Forced evictions sometimes occur in northern and central Uganda. In 2018, police detained 26 land rights activists and two local NGO staff for mobilizing residents of Mubende district to resist illegal evictions; a related clash with employees of a businessman carrying out evictions had led to one death. The 28 individuals were charged in late 2018 with nine counts, including murder and aggravated robbery. In October 2019, their counsel was briefly detained when he demanded access to his clients. The trial was adjourned in November 2019 and resumed in 2020.
The law allows women to inherit land, but local customary rules and societal practices put women at a disadvantage regarding land tenure and inheritance.
|Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance?||1.001 4.004|
Domestic violence is widespread and underreported, and underage marriages are common in some communities. Some 34 percent of women aged 20 to 24 are married by age 18 and more than 60 percent of young adults experienced physical abuse as children, according to a 2019 UN Children’s Fund report. In November 2018, courts across the country began holding special sessions to address a backlog of thousands of rape and domestic violence cases.
|Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation?||1.001 4.004|
Poor enforcement of labor laws contributes to unsafe or exploitative conditions for some workers, including extremely low pay. Child labor in agriculture, domestic service, and a variety of other industries is a significant problem, and the issue is most prevalent in rural areas. Sexual exploitation of minors is also an ongoing problem.
While Uganda has in place a number of domestic laws to promote workers’ rights, the government has failed to regulate the recruitment and transfer of Ugandan domestic workers to Middle Eastern countries. Accounts that surfaced in the media in 2019 described Ugandan workers in the Middle East experiencing sexual abuse, beatings, exploitation, and torture. Draft legislation to regulate the employment of Ugandans abroad was under consideration in late 2019.
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Global Freedom Score34 100 not free
Internet Freedom Score49 100 partly free