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Archive for June, 2017

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

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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.

 

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