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RTIThe right to information (RTI) is essential for the functioning of any democracy and is a prerequisite for transparency, accountability, gender equality and citizens’ participation in governance processes. However, Uganda faces numerous challenges to realising the right to access information despite having an access to information law. In the course of 2016, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) made various interventions to advance RTI, including holding training events and round table discussions for civil society, the media and government officials.

Uganda’s 2005 right to information law remains little known and largely unimplemented. Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) hardly release information voluntarily and tend to be unresponsive to information requests from citizens, due to a culture of secrecy and government bureaucracy that conflict with the law. Conversely, few citizens demand for information as a result of low awareness of their rights and the belief that public officials routinely ignore citizens’ information requests.

At a December 15, 2016 dialogue involving public officials, including information officers from various MDAs, journalists and civil society representatives, it emerged that the government and citizens have not prioritised RTI. “The role of information has been undervalued and sometimes it gets a zero release in [MDA] budgets,” said a public official. Another noted that 11 years after the law was enacted, no MDA has submitted an annual report to parliament on its information disclosure record, including requests received from citizens, as required by the law.

Other challenges prominently cited included under-staffing in MDAs, employing information officers that are unqualified and who often lack mandate to speak on behalf of the public entity, and conflicting laws that make implementing the RTI law difficult.

Journalists shared their experiences of regularly being denied information, often with no reason provided. One journalist noted that informal approaches are the primary means of attaining public information held by the state.

At an earlier training for journalists, which was held on November 23, challenges of public information officers who are either not authorised to release information, or who refer to secrecy oaths not to release information, were prominently cited.

Further, journalists pointed out the cost of accessing information as a hindrance for ordinary citizens. “If it is my right to access information then why am I paying for it?” asked Regina Nassanga of Mama FM. According to the law, a fee of UGX 20 000 (Just over US$ 5) is required when making a formal request at an MDA office.

Despite these obstacles, there are some indications that things could get better. Each government department is now required to have an information officer, and a few public bodies are beginning to implement the government’s 2013 Communications Strategy, although they have been unable to make any significant increase to budget allocations for the information function.

Civil society representatives pointed out additional concerns including the lack of deliberate action to promote RTI particularity for women and people with disabilities. Moreen Nambalirwa from the National Union of Women with Disabilities noted that when information is disseminated to the public via television and radios, people with visual and hearing impairments miss out. She also stated that despite the directive from the Uganda Communications Commission that all TV stations should have a sign language interpretation during some news broadcasts, none of the more than 10 local TV stations have done so, further contributing to the exclusion and limited participation by PWDs in governance processes.

The convenings were organised by CIPESA and provided a space for civil society, public officials and journalists to share their experiences, learn from one another, and suggest possible ways to improve access to information.

This article was originally published on CIPESA Website

In 2014, I conducted a survey that attracted a total of 112 respondents’ majority of whom were social media enthusiasts and young people working in civil society organisations. 10 depth interviews were also conducted with key informants and these were the Secretary General of the ICT Association in Uganda; Executive Director of the Un Wanted Witness; the Coordinator of the Uganda Speaks (a network for digital users telling stories, presenting alternative narratives and supporting causes that advance social justice and human development in Uganda); Social Media Specialists from four mainstream  Media Houses and an officer from the National Information Technology Authority (NITA-U)

The survey findings indicated  that 56% of respondents agreed that time  spent on Facebook rewards economically as seen from the statements below:

‘I have got business opportunities from Facebook, one day I was asked to travel to Egypt to facilitate a session on online engagements’

‘I learnt how to make money through the ideas of selling cookies from Facebook’

‘I have used Facebook to advertise my business and it has helped me to get many clients’

‘I have struck business deals on Facebook’

Similarly an interview with a key respondent, the Secretary General of ICT Association in Uganda confirmed that Facebook has opened up new economic pathways for the youth. He revealed to  me that  he manages over ten (10) Facebook business pages where he runs targeted adverts for his clients.  He further mentioned that there are many social media agencies coming up and their job is to set up and manage marketing campaigns for different companies on social media. A case in point is Blue Flamingo, a social media marketing company that runs social media marketing for companies and institutions such as Centenary Bank, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) Uganda, Bell Lager, and Airtel Uganda among others.

In addition, several marketing agencies and companies are now setting up digital departments ideally to tap into the opportunities presented by Social Networking Sites especially Facebook because there is a guarantee that information will be seen by many people.

This trend of social media adverting was also observed by the researcher who consistently observed several   Facebook posts labelled as ‘sponsored’. This clearly shows that there are returns from advertising on Facebook because of the huge numbers of Ugandans who use Facebook on a daily basis.

The survey further found out that there are several successful Facebook fundraising initiatives for social good causes which have had far reaching impact on communities and some of them include:

Forty Day over Forty Smiles; This Facebook initiative originally started during Lent Period in 2012 to collect clothes, shoes, toys and other necessities for two orphanages in Kampala Natete and Kyebando. Through Facebook several items were collected and they included clothes (lots of these), shoes, bags, blankets, bed sheets,  toys, soap, sanitary towels, toilet paper, scholastic materials  and about  One million six hundred Uganda shillings which were taken to the orphanages on Good Friday. Source: Daily Monitor

‘Ninety five percent of the contributions are from Facebook fans of the page 40 days over 40 smiles thanks to the noise I have been making about the project. Some are from family members and friends’ (Daily Monitor, 8th April, 2014.p.13). The initiative has since turned into a registered charity, youth led  organisation committed to helping vulnerable children and communities to access quality, all-round education support and entrepreneurial training aimed at self-sustainability.

Tweeps Help Bududa; In June 2012, disaster struck in Bududa, Eastern Uganda where two villages were buried after heavy rain triggered landslides. Many people were left homeless with no way in which to fend themselves while hundreds lost their lives. Using social media (Facebook and Twitter), Ugandans shared information about the devastating effects of the landslides and a fundraising drive was initiated on Facebook and Twitter. This initiative was spearheaded by four social media enthusiasts’ @jssozi, @maureenagena, @enamara and @Azronn. Meetings were started online and a campaign to support the landslide victims was launched. At the end of the campaign, over four million Uganda Shillings was raised alongside an assortment of other items which included clothes, beddings and shoes (Uganda Speaks, 2012).

Hoops 4 Grace4; A small group of youths mobilised amongst themsleves on Facebook and raised eight million shillings for building  a domitory for a school in Luwero (Kaheru, 2013).

 

Respondents were asked to mention the benefits they have got from the Facebook Groups and Pages they belong to and most of them reported that they socialise with old friends and get to know more about each other, they discover opportunities such as scholarships and connect with specific likeminded people, and they get advice, news ideas and helpful information on different issues such as health issues, entertainment culture and religion.

Facebook pages or groups were also reported to facilitate easy information sharing to a specific group of people. One of the key informants confirmed that there are links that are shared on Facebook daily that one would not have seen as a person.  This basically proves that Facebook groups and pages are very helpful.

Some respondents reported that they have used Facebook pages and groups to run campaigns for advocacy for social justice and human rights. Others reported that they have been strongly rooted in their faith and cultures through the inspirational information shared which have challenged them to help others.

Students also revealed that they use Facebook pages and groups to discuss class work shared by   lecturers and this helps to generate debate among students.

It was also reported that Facebook pages and groups have helped to relieve stress and facilitate fun and laughter since some pages and groups they subscribe to   are for comedians and entertainment.

‘On a stressful day you login and get some funny staff to lighten your day’

On the social networking, Facebook has enabled many people  to get in touch with so many lost friends and people they never knew they will ever meet again or get in touch.

I have reunited with most of my friends since I joined Facebook in 2009 and my interaction skills have also improved (Newvision, Jan 17, 2014, pg 23).

Some Like any other phenomenon, new opportunities tend to be associated with new risks and this is not different with Social networking Sites. The research identified several risk that are associated with Social networking sites such as con men and women who are targeting Social Networking Sites users and have robbed users of their hard earned money, many young people have been forced to engage in bad behaviours and practices such as homosexuality,  prostitution and drug trafficking while others have been trafficked and kidnapped through Facebook.

Other users have lost concentration in school because they are always chatting on Facebook and relationship and marriages have broken as well as invasion of privacy and theft of personal information. It was also observed that users often do not understand the implications of their actions on Social Networking Web Sites since most of them are not bothered to understand the implications of user policies that they accept while registering.

While some users are oblivious to the fact that privacy settings exist, others are willing to sacrifice privacy because the benefits they expect from public disclosure surpass the perceived costs.

All in all, it can be said that that the world wide web  has undergone fundamental changes with the emergence  of Social networking Sites which have given  power to ordinary  internet users  to create their own presence  at  relatively low cost. Social networking Sites have had positive contribution to the socio-economic empowerment of the  urban youth  as evidenced by social capital benefits such as connecting with old friends who have offered advice, fundraising for social good causes, creation of employment opportunities and providing a platform for advertising and marketing of goods and services by individuals, companies and institutions. That notwithstanding, there are a few challenges such as con men and women, invasion of privacy, exposure to harmful practices and habits among others.

 

ICT corruptionCorruption has remained rampant both in public and private institutions in the East African Region despite the efforts by government and civil society actors to curb it down. It continues to undermine economic development, perpetuates inequality among citizens and destroys the moral integrity and ethics of society.

 According to the Transparency International’s 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index which ranks countries based on how corrupt their public sector is perceived, ranked Burundi, Kenya and Uganda at number 159, 145 and 151 respectively out of 176 countries.

At the recently concluded East Africa Anti-Corruption Dialogue held in Kampala and organized by Transparency International Uganda under the theme: Reject and Report Corruption your responsibility, participants across region shared experiences, best practices and methods of intervention taken by both state and non-state actors.

There was a strong emphasis on harnessing the use of information and communication technology in the fight against corruption.  Several actors at the dialogue called for use of automated systems to reduce human interactions, Transparency International Country Chapters in  Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda shared best practices on use of online platforms including social media, mobile phones to track and report corruption incidents. In 2016, Transparency International, Rwanda received 7000 complaints from citizens and this information was used for follow up.

Likewise Transparency International Uganda uses a Toll Free line where citizens call in to report cases. Transparency International Kenya uses social media advocacy especially @KenyansOnTwitter to raise awareness and report corruption in the country.

These platforms also facilitate access to information to the citizens about public goods and service delivery. Access to information is essential for the functioning of democracy and is a prerequisite for transparency and accountability, as well as citizens’ participation in governance.

 

 

 

 

You cannot talk about access to justice for the victims of sexual violence if you do not understand the context in which this crime takes place’. Lady Justice, Prof. Tibatemwa Ekirikubinza, Supreme Court of the Republic of Uganda.

http://www.decalsplanet.com/item-11772-law-of-justice-women-balance.htmlSexual violence is defined as any sexual act that is perpetrated against someone’s will. It can be committed by any person regardless of their relationship to the victim and can occur in any setting.  It is deeply rooted in historical and structural inequalities that exist between men and women, and the different forms of gender-based discrimination that women are subjected to.

Survivors of sexual violence face significant barriers to accessing justice despite the existence of legal frameworks at international, regional and national levels that guarantees the right to access to justice.

In addition, because of the nature of the crime and poor cooperation and coordination between the different actors involved, access for survivors of sexual violence has remained a nightmare. ‘For decades, if not centuries, there has been a near-total absence of justice for survivors of rape and sexual violence says William Hague, the Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs.

In an effort to combat SGBV, as well as facilitating access to justice for the survivors of SGBV in the Great Lakes region, the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) established a Regional Training Facility (RTF) on the Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence as mandated by Article 6(9) of the ICGLR protocol on Prevention and Suppression of sexual violence against women and children of 2006 ; and the ICGLR Pact on Security, Stability and Development  which obliges  Member States to prevent, criminalize and punish  all acts of sexual violence both  in times of peace and war, and in accordance with the national and international Law.

At a recent meeting, organized by the Training Facility, Judicial, Medical, Police officers, civil society and journalists in Uganda came together to dialogue and find ways of improving access to justice for survivors of sexual violence.

From the discussion, it was clear that there was general lack of knowledge and skills on how to collect and preserve of evidence by the police and the medical personnel. The Judges expressed disappointment on the kind of evidence that is normally presented in court which is sometimes irrelevant. ‘The court acts on the principle of proof beyond reasonable doubt and someone just presents a nicker in court and says this is my daughter’ remarked Justice David Batema. The investigators do not know how to collect substantive evidence. They should also know that every case has different ingredients, he added. He further highlighted the Police Form 3A which is used to collect evidence from the victim is an open check.

Likewise, Dr. Onen, A Consultant Pathologist lamented over the lack of a structure responsible for collecting and storing forensic evidence at the Ministry of Health. In the same way, the Judges re-echoed fact that if properly managed, medical-legal evidence can be used to pursue the case in circumstances where the victim/ witness loses interest. ‘If medical legal evidence has been properly built, even if money has exchanged hands, criminal justice system should be pursued’, said Hon. Lady Justice Susan Okalany.

The Judges also pointed out the issue of the language that is used by the medical officers while presenting evidence in court. When you are testifying, endeavor to use the language that the Judge understands, one of the judges commented.

Since sexual violence crimes are crimes committed against the state, there is also a challenge of balancing the duo status of the victim who is also a witness. Further still, the way in which the victims are handled in courts is sometimes so embarrassing and traumatizing as highlighted by one of the Prosecutors from the government Directorate of Public Prosecution ‘I have been in these court session and the questions posed to these ladies are so embarrassing’.

By not allowing the victims to testify in court chambers, the Judges were pointed out to be insensitive to the privacy and security of survivors. “Imagine a woman being asked by the Judge to re-count a rape ordeal in a court room five years later, this is secondary trauma that is subjected to her, said Lady Justice Susan Okalany .  Therefore, the Judicial officers need to be trained on how to handle sexual violence cases so that women and girls can appreciate courts as places of justice and not torture.

Lastly, the Judges pointed out lack of uniformity in sentencing sexual violence crimes. Although the courts have the Sentencing Guidelines, there are not specific and this gives the Judges power to decide on the final sentence which sometimes can be biased.

vawOn 3rd November 2016, Uganda’s human rights situation will be reviewed for the second time by the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Peer Review (UPR) mechanism. The UPR mechanism was established in 2006 has since reviewed the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States. It reminds States of their responsibility to fully respect and implement all human rights and fundamental freedoms. According to the UPR Info statistics, a total of

The review takes place after every four years and Uganda was last reviewed in 2011. A total of 182 recommendations were made by 51 states, 80 recommendations contained specific actions and 28 recommendations addressed women’s rights.  Some of the recommendations that Uganda accepted that addressed women’s rights were ensure the implementation of laws protecting women from violence including sexual violence, investigate cases of gender based violence and bring perpetrators to justice, provide legal and medical support to survivors.

 Some of the steps  taken by the government

Uganda has put in place the necessary legal and policy framework to support efforts to prevent SGBV. It boasts of a specific policy on sexual and gender based violence along with a Reproductive Health Policy. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development (MoGLSD) in partnership with developed the National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325, 1820 and the Goma Declaration with a specific focus on ensuring the protection of women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

In line with the ICGLR declaration on ending SGBV, the Government of Uganda launched the Zero Tolerance to Violence against Women campaign in 2012. The Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development has also made some progress by coordinating a SGBV Working Group that includes the participation of civil society actors engaged in various interventions to address SGBV. In addition, the ministry  launched a National Gender-Based Violence Database (NGBVD) to  collect, store and generate reports on Gender Based Violence in real time

Last but not least, the Uganda Police has incorporated a component on SGBV into their Training Curriculum and have gone ahead to establish an SGBV department in the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. To facilitate easy access to justice for SGBV survivors, the general Police Form 3, which was inadequate for recording complaints of sexual violence was revised because it was  found to be lacking in facilitating a comprehensive examination of victims of crimes. The forms were ambiguous especially for medical personnel who were tasked with completing them. This ambiguity affected prosecutions in court due to the numerous interpretations the form elicited thus creating reasonable doubt in the mind of the judicial officer. Further still, every victim of a sexual crime/assault was previously required to undergo medical examination by a medical officer who in most cases is a police surgeon. There are very few police surgeons on the ground and mainly based in urban areas. Accessing justice then became difficult for those in rural areas or those who had difficulty accessing a medical officer, for financial and other reasons.

 The Missing Links

 Despite the above efforts, the results are still minimal and violence against women has been on the increase. According to the Uganda Police crime report, 2014, violence against women was among the top crimes. Defilement continues to lead in Sex Related Crimes. In 2014 and a total of 12,077cases were recorded compared to 9,598cases in 2013, thus giving an increase of 25.8% while 1,099cases of rape were recorded compared to 1,042 cases in 2013, an increase by 5.4%. A total of 3,006 cases of Domestic Violence were registered and 314 deaths as a result of domestic violence.

According to the National Gender Based Violence Database, North and Eastern Uganda have the highest rates  at 45% and 43% respectively compared to central region at 6%. This so becasue the two regions are just recovering from the effects of the LRA  insurgency  which lasted for over  a period of 20 years.

Despite the above statistics, justice for the survivors of SGBV is still fear from being realized. For instance, the government has not set up special courts to handle SGBV cases and efforts to sensitize judges and magistrates are still minimal. It is also estimated that only 2 in 10 women report violence or seek help and even when cases are reported; and  conviction rates for perpetrators stand at only 6.6% of prosecuted cases.

Way Forward

Violence against women is deeply rooted in the unequal power relations between men and women and is triggered by the discriminatory social and cultural practices in the society.  Therefore, intervention to avert it have to be holistic and multidimensional.

As the government of Uganda prepares to undergo the second cycle of the UPR, more efforts are needed beyond adoption of laws and policies. The government of Uganda should allocate more resources and live up to its commitment of protecting women and girls from violence.

 

 

 

It is so interesting how people distance themselves from feminism yet they are feminists. Today, I read an article in one of the daily  Uganda newspapers and the writer was explaining the fact that there is no distinct line between girls and mathematics; and the false  belief that mathematics and beautiful girls are like  oil and water- they do not mix. She further explained that she learnt from an early age that being a female wasn’t a disadvantage.  “I really get upset when opportunities are denied to one by a virtue of their gender, I hate stereotypes … I hate living in a box” she declared. And then she put a disclaimer, I don’t count myself a feminist, in fact I don’t quite understand what feminism is really about.

  In simple terms, Feminism is an ideology that believes in the social, political, and economic equality of women and men full stop. It challenges  and questions the power imbalance between men and women, discrimination, injustice and marginalization of women and girls in all spheres of life.

So why it is that many people feel uncomfortable with the word Feminism?

In September 2015, I was privileged to participate in the third African School on Internet Governance(AfriSIG) that took place is Addis Ababa. The goal of AfriSIG is to give Africans from multiple sectors and stakeholder groups the opportunity to gain knowledge and confidence to enable them to participate effectively in internet governance processes and debates at national regional and global level.

The 2015 AfriSIG brought together  is a diverse and dynamic group of people with different, expertise, age and gender identities. Being at the AfriSIG was  a whole new experience to me and  made me realise how little I know about the internet and internet governance in particular despite that fact that I use it on a daily basis. One of the remarkable assignments at AfriSIG was the practicum where  students  were  grouped  into four stakeholder teams that  included the Business Community, Civil Society, Government and the Technical Community. Each team was tasked to develop a policy statement on the subject of Net Neutrality and Zero rating. 

Net neutrality is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content on the internet and applications equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites

On the other hand, a zero-rated service  refers to services that do not incur data costs and are exempt from data usage counts. This practice generally refers to mobile carriers offering free mobile data so that customers can access particular forms of online content and services at no additional cost to the carrier’s customers or without having associated data usage counted against the costumer’s usage allowance under the hired wireless service plan.

I was in a group that presented the interests of the civil society. Sincerely speaking, this assignment brought out the dynamics and complexities involved in public policy formulation process, the nature of stakeholders and their vested interests. Even within the individual interest groups, it was very difficult to reach at a consensus because the groups were composed of different categories of people from different institutions. The civil society group composed of the Academia, Charity NGO, Multinational Advocacy organisation, Non Commercial Internet user, Privacy advocacy, rights advocacy and a Youth group. All these people have different values and priorities and at time they contradict each other. I also believe that this was not any different from other  stakeholder groups.

Similarly, the nature of the policy issues were also confusing because  they seem to contradict each other. Net neutrality as mentioned above  is the principle that individuals should be free to access all content and applications on internet equally, regardless of the source, without Internet service providers discriminating against specific online services or websites. On the other hand, Zero rating refers to the provision of access to certain internet services by internet service providers in such a way that the bandwidth consumed is not charged to the customer. Although zero rating has been embraced as a solution to bridge the digital divide especially in Africa by increasing  internet access and affordability, it contradicts the principle of net neutrality. Therefore it was very challenging for stakeholders to come up with clear positions within a short period of time.

In actual sense, this discussion was a clear reflection of what happens in real policy negotiations and formulation processes between different stakeholders who have different interests especially the civil society organisation who are rarely given an opportunity to present their issues.

Thanks to  the faulty team of #AfriSIG for organising and facilitating this mock  exercise that  exposed us  to the  realities and complexities of  public policy making.