Right to information activists ask govt to unblock Facebook in Uganda

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Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Advocates for the right to access information are urging the government to uphold citizens’ right to information and reinstate Facebook, an online social networking service owned by the American technology giant, Meta Platforms.

This call comes in response to President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni’s ban on Facebook in January 2021, which was imposed after the platform deleted accounts operated by government officials, citing their attempts to manipulate public discourse ahead of general elections.

These activists voiced their concerns during the observance of the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the National Information Communication Technology (ICT) Innovation Hub in Nakawa, Kampala.

The event, organized by Twaweza, an East African non-governmental organization operating in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, aligned with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)’s global theme for 2023: “The Importance of the Online Space for Access to Information,” with a subtheme of “Ensuring Universal Access in a Digital Era.” The primary objective was to promote a free and secure online environment and facilitate digital access to information.

Dr. John Baptist Imoka, a Lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication, called on the government to reject any attempts to curtail access to information on online platforms and disrupt the operations of digital platforms like Facebook.

Dr. Imoka argued that people’s rights to access and share information on online platforms were being infringed upon under the pretext of cyber security enforcement, which fundamentally contravenes the Access to Information Act (No. 6 of 2005) and Article 41 of the Constitution.

Charity Komujjurizi, a representative from the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), emphasized that a significant portion of Uganda’s population—over 33 out of 45 million people—lacks internet access. This digital divide limits their ability to access information about employment opportunities and other development programs.

Safia Nalule Jjuuko, the Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), stressed that the digital information era is indispensable in the modern world and forms the foundation of any progressive society committed to genuine democracy, transparent governance, and sustainable development.

According to a 2021 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a specialized agency of the United Nations, approximately 33 per cent of the world’s population, totaling 7.888 billion people, is not connected to the Internet.

Godfrey Kabbyanga, the Minister of State for National Guidance, who presided over the event, highlighted the government’s ambitious agenda to digitally transform the country. He emphasized that this transformation was not merely a theoretical vision but a practical strategy that is being implemented daily.

The Minister outlined key initiatives within this digital transformation roadmap, including Digital Literacy Programs targeting youth and elders, the expansion of digital infrastructure to ensure internet accessibility in remote areas, and government e-services aimed at fostering transparency and accountability.

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Kabbyanga commended the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and Twaweza East Africa for their significant contributions to Uganda’s digital transformation. These organizations have raised awareness about Access to Information (ATI), established portals like the Ask Your Government portal, and enhanced the capacity of over 400 public officials, more than 600 citizen champions, and various community groups.

Kabbyanga acknowledged the invaluable insights, feedback, and tireless efforts that have influenced numerous policies and projects, including the ongoing process to review and amend the ATI Act of 2005 and the digital transformation roadmap, among others.

“There are on-ground insights, feedback, and tireless efforts that have shaped many policies and projects including the current process to review and amend the ATI Act 2005, and the digital transformation road map among others,” said Kabbyanga.