Uganda has well-articulated and documented laws safeguarding the rights of person and freedoms of speech, expression and internet use. In Africa, the country has the second best provisions and articles promoting the freedoms of expression and information access enshrined in the 1995 constitution which is only second to that of South Africa.
The 1995 Constitution of Uganda is elaborate in its provision on the freedom of opinion, expression and information access. Article 29(1)a, provides that everyone shall have the right to “freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media”. Article 41(1) provides that “Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other agency of the State and in Article 20;everyone has the right of expression and access to information which is inherent and not granted by the state. The role of the state is merely to fulfill its constitutional obligation of promoting the right to expression and information access.
Despite these fantastically drafted provisions, freedoms of speech, internet and expression is under constant threat by repressive regime officials. Superficially, the Uganda media and other rights activists have enjoyed some considerable freedoms of expression, reporting and exposing government excesses, criticism of government policies etc. However in most cases, when media personals or individuals attack or in any way express their opinion on the ‘Untouchable,’ repressive actions are the later outcome.
Since Uganda attained her political independence in 1962, there have been recorded evidences of gross Human rights abuses and media restrictions. The Obote regime for example censored several media groups and banned several newspapers like the ‘Muno’. The Amin regime was equally the same; journalists, individuals who have criticized the government policies have faced physical violence, criminal charges, threats, and imprisonment and at times were killed like the late St. Janan Luwum. In 1986, President Museveni came into power and instituted the “Movement” system,which denied other political parties the right to operate for almost 20 years.
However, Uganda welcomed the multiparty political dispensation since 2005 after a staggering 19 years of ‘one party –single vision, one man rule’ under the NRM – Museveni leadership. Political parties now have freedoms to hold party meetings, mobilizations and have internal democracy and participate in elections but in most cases, they have faced the government extremes.
The government positions a wide range of tactics to frustrate individuals or media groups exposing their inhuman activities like physical violence, harassment, bureaucratic interferences, criminal charges and corruption related cases. The government employed such tactics during the September 2009 political unrests, the February 2011 and 2016 voting processes, and the Kasese massacre etc. Consequently, undermining media freedoms, freedoms of speech and expressions and the people (media and other rights activist) have increasingly become frustrated and end up demoralized for fear of government excesses, brutality and harassment.
Recently, there was a much heated debate between the First Lady Janet Museveni and Dr. Stella Nyanzi of Makerere University.Dr. Nyanzi critiqued the First Lady in her online expression dubbed ‘You are not a mother to Ugandans’ a statement that didn’t go well with the First Lady. Nyanzi was furious about the issues of sanitary pads which the government had promised to freely distribute to school going girl. While campaigning in Lango sub region in 2015, President Museveni assured the populace that once elected back into power, his government would provide sanitary pads to school going children.
“….So that the girls do not run out of school because they are embarrassed by their periods when they do not have pads,” the President said then. However, the Education Minister Janet Museveni stated that there were no funds to provide sanitary pads for school going girls. These raised eye brows among the populace and Dr. Nyanzi was one of the critics who vowed never to call Janet Museveni the mother of the nation. This provoked Janet Museveni who ordered police to interrogate Dr. Nyanzi for her defamatory speeches. Today, Dr. Stella Nyanzi reported at
The Criminal Investigations Directorate Headquarters in Kibale at 10.00 hours to assist in providing information about her statements which they termed as ‘defamatory and hate speech’. She is wanted for an offensive communication and cyber harassment, which is being investigated under reference number CID HQTRS GEF 122/2017.In itself, Nyanzi was expressing her dissatisfaction about the empty promises of the government. Those are some of the modern times – classic examples of how the freedoms of speech, expression, media and internet have been jeopardized in a superficially ‘Democratic- Neo Liberal’ Uganda.
The country however can promote and observe these inherent rights through strict observance of the law.