Internet Rights in Uganda: Challenges and Prospects Workshop Report

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA, in conjunction with Unwanted Witness Uganda ( on November 28, 2013 organised a workshop on promoting internet rights in Uganda. The workshop aimed to create awareness among civil society, netizens, and the media in Uganda on how policy and practice affect internet freedoms in the country. The workshop also sought to draw up strategies for network building and advocacy to promote and protect online freedoms in Uganda.
Download the workshop report here.

Q&A: Uganda Government Develops Social Media Guidelines

The internet and indeed social media plays a key role in improving communication between citizens, government-to-government interactions and at government-to-citizen level. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and MySpace, has the potential to improve governance and democracy practices.
Accordingly, the Uganda government through the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) has developed guidelines to “to facilitate secure usage of social media (Facebook and Twitter etc.) for efficient exchange of information across Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as improving effectiveness of communication, sharing of information and open engagement and discussions with the public.”
On November 28, 2013 Leonah Mbonimpa, the Corporate Communications Officer at NITA-U spoke to CIPESA about the thinking behind the guidelines.
Q. What is the background to developing these guidelines?
A. Government has decided to utilise new channels to communication such as social media to communicate to citizens and give timely responses to emerging issues. In this vein, NITA-U was requested to develop guidelines to help government agencies to embrace social media while maintaining the same level of decorum as with traditional media.
Q. Why did the government find it necessary to draw up these guidelines?
A. Traditionally, Government agencies have been communicating through accounting officers such as  Permanent Secretaries. The advent of new media channels and the quest for speedy provision of information has necessitated the shift from traditional approaches to more flexible ways of communicating, [such as] using social media. Given that social media is relatively new and comes with a higher degree of responsibility when communicating, it was necessary to provide guidelines for government agencies to ensure that we communicate [appropriately].
Q. What do the guidelines intend to achieve?
A. They intend to achieve uniformity in communicating and ensure appropriate consultation is made before posting government communication online.
Q. How is users’ privacy protected in these guidelines?
A. The guidelines do not infringe on user privacy. They only seek to standardise the government’s approach to communicating to citizens online.
Q. Are there other initiatives in place or under development by government to protect freedom of expression and privacy online.
A. NITA-U is in preparatory stages of drafting a Data Privacy bill which will eventually be enacted into law to comprehensively address privacy issues.
Further details about the guidelines are available here

Online Discussions on Promoting Internet Freedoms in Africa

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) to co-host discussion on online safety matters in Africa, during November and December 2013.
Africa’s internet usage continues to grow steadily, with an estimated 16% of the population on the continent using the internet. The increased availability of affordable marine fiber optic bandwidth, a rise in private sector investments, the popularity of social media and innovative applications, and increased use of the mobile phone to access the internet, are all enabling more people in Africa to get online. In turn, there are numerous purposes to which users in Africa are putting the internet‐from mobile banking, to connecting with fellow citizens and with leaders, tracking corruption and poor service delivery, innovating for social good, and just about everything else.
The increasing usage of the internet, however, has in some countries attracted the attention of authorities, who are eager to provide caveats on the openness of the internet and the range of freedoms which citizens and citizens’ organisations enjoy online. The popularity of social media, the Wikileaks diplomatic cables saga and the Arab Spring uprisings have led many governments including those in Africa to recognise the power of online media. In a number of African countries, there are increasing legal and extra-legal curbs on internet rights, in what portends tougher times ahead for cyber security.
PIN and CIPESA to Lead on Internet Freedom Discussions
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) and the Paradigm Initiative Nigeria (PIN) will co-host an online internet freedom forum during November and December 2013. The purpose of this forum will be to discuss key online safety matters in Africa. The forum aims to attract discussions from key ICT experts both within Africa and outside Africa.
The outcomes of the discussions will feed into a report that will be presented at the first African Internet Freedom Forum to be held in 2014. Furthermore, it will inform the work of CIPESA, PIN and their partners that are working in the area of online freedoms.[1]
Format of the discussions
Discussions will be hosted on selected online platforms in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria and a mailing list comprising Africa Internet Governance experts. Identified platforms are:APC Africa IG Mailing List; KICTANet (Kenya) mailing list; Information Network (Uganda) mailing list; Naija IT Professionals mailing list; West African IGF mailing list; and FOI Coalition (Nigeria) mailing list.
The lists will be moderated by a representative from both CIPESA and PIN. Each week, a new topic with guiding questions will be introduced on the listserves and a summary provided at the end of each week. A draft report will be made available at the end of the fourth week.  This too shall be posted back on the mailing lists to capture feedback from participants as well as seek clarification on any issues that might not have been captured well. A final report shall then be made that will feed into the face to face meeting as well as be shared on the targeted platforms and onpartners’ websites. 
Discussion Outline
Week 1: November 11-15             Status of Internet Freedom in African Countries: Focus shall be on seeking participants’ views on issues of Freedom of Expression both online and offline; Internet Intermediary Liability; censorship and surveillance incidents; regulations, laws and policies governing freedom of expression online and perspectives on the African Convention on CyberSecurity.
Questions to explore:

  1. What are the major issues surrounding online freedom of expression in Africa?
  2. What convergences and tensions exist between freedom of expression and privacy?
  3. What are the implications of approaching the balance between freedom of expression and privacy from a freedom of expression–centric point of view?
  4. What actions can governments, civil society, media and the private sector take to balance privacy with freedom of expression online?
  5. What is the best way to empower users to stay safe online while protecting their freedom of expression?

Week 2: November 18-22           Global Surveillance Revelations and Impact on Africa: Focus will be given to global surveillance incidents like the NSA/Edward Snowden drawing lessons for Africa stakeholders i.e. governments, activists, CSOs and private sector; how to balance privacy while maintainingsecurity for citizens.
Questions to explore

  1. What can African governments learn from the NSA surveillance and Snowden revelations?
  2. What are the current technology trends and which cybersecuritythreats raise the greatest concern?
  3. How are evolving Internet services and technologies, such as mobile and cloud computing services, affecting these security threats?
  4. Is there any country data, across the continent, on how surveillance has really helped to curb – or prevent – acts of terrorism?
  5. Are African countries spying on each other? Are there countries that have shown a tendency to breach the rights of other sovereign nations on the continent?

Week 3: November 25-29             Best Practices on Internet Policy in Africa: Discussants will be called to share best practices on internet policies in Africa.
Questions to explore:

  1. What policies are working in your country and what needs to be streamlined or strengthened?
  2. Are there African countries that offer a model, or close enough to Best Practice scenarios that can be highlighted for other countries to learn from, or emulate
  3. What are the signs to look out for in our various countries’ ICT policies, to be sure that the country plans to improve Internet Freedom?
  4. What worked well for countries that have shown steady progress in the annual Freedom House ratings?
  5. What can other countries learn from those that have, or are developing, crowdsourced (and citizen-led) Internet Freedom Charters?

Week 4: December 2-6         Recommendations for Africa:Participants shall be called upon to suggest ways to improve internet security, data and privacy protection in Africa.
Questions to explore

  1. What elements need to be put in place to ensure all Internet users (including citizens, companies, government, etc) continue to have confidence in the Internet?
  2. How can African civil society organisations engage ICT policy processes to ensure that rights are not traded for security?
  3. Considering the ongoing discussions around the African Convention on Cybersecurity, what recommendations should be made to improve the text?
  4. How do activists and rights’ advocates protect themselves in scenarios where government clampdown could affect their work?
  5. Should African academia incorporate this new reality into classroom discussions? If they should, is there a model to learn from?

Join the conversation
For more information about the online discussions forum, please write to CIPESA via [email protected] or Paradigm Initiative for Nigeria via [email protected]

Download the full information here.

[1] CIPESA and PIN are part of the Cyber Stewards network ( funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), which promotes an open and secure internet. CIPESA’s work on online freedoms is also supported by HIVOS and FIRE.

Freedom on the Net 2013: An African Review

The increasing use of the Internet worldwide has continued to see governments put caveats on its openness and the range of freedoms users enjoy online. According to the 2013 Freedom on the Net report, in the period May 2012–April 2013, the global number of censored websites has increased, while internet users in various countries have been arrested, tortured, and killed over the information they posted online.
In Sub Saharan Africa, Freedom House found that both physical and technical mechanisms of filtering, monitoring or otherwise obstructing free speech online have been employed by states concerned with the power of internet-based technologies.
“All 10 of the African countries examined in this report have stepped up their online monitoring efforts in the past year, either by obtaining new technical capabilities or by expanding the government’s legal authority,” says the report which was published by Freedom House on October 3, 2013. Last year, Ethiopia was the only country in the region found to implement nationwide internet filtering.
In its study, Freedom House covered developments in internet freedom in 60 countries around the world.  Based on an examination of obstacles to access, limits to content, and violation of user rights on the internet, countries were scored as ‘Free’, ‘Partly Free’ or ‘Not Free’.
Table 1: Summary of Global Freedom on the Net Rankings (Source: by author based on Freedom on the Net 2013 report)

Continent Free Not Free Partly Free Total
Asia 2 8 4 14
Eurasia 3 5 2 10
Australia, EU, Iceland and the United States 9     9
Latin America 1 4 1 6
Middle East and North Africa   5 6 11
Sub-Saharan Africa 2 6 2 10
Total 17 28 15 60

South Africa and Kenya were the two countries reported as Free. In Kenya, mention was made of the communications regulatory authority issuing guidelines to internet service providers not to allow services to be used to spread hate speech. Service providers were also reportedly required to install internet traffic monitoring equipment.
In South Africa, the proposed Protection of State Information bill which criminalises reporting on classified state information and accessing leaked information online would violate user rights if passed into law. Another legislation, the General Intelligence Laws Amendment 2013, which gives authorities the power to intercept bulk communications known as “foreign signals intelligence” was passed in July 2013. The partially state-owned Telkom network was also said to have installed servers to harvest data and user information. The extent to which this spyware has been deployed in the country was unknown.
Partly Free
Freedom house ranked Malawi, Nigeria, Angola, Uganda, Rwanda and Zimbabwe as ‘Partly Free’. A draft Interception of Communications law in Nigeria was criticised for potentially infringing on user’s right to privacy. There were also reports that the Nigerian government had awarded a contract to an Israeli based company to monitor internet communications. A privately owned ISP was said to have installed surveillance malware. It is unclear if the installation was at the bidding of the state.
Suspicions of online government surveillance in Uganda increased in part due to officials publically expressing “the need” for policing Internet mediums. A new communications law, the Uganda Communications Act, passed in September 2012 created a regulatory authority with sweeping powers to oversee electronic, print and broadcast media. The body’s independence has been called into question. As a sim card (including mobile internet) registration exercises drew to a close, there were privacy concerns due to the country’s lack of data protection legislation. The country already has lawful interception of communications regulations.
There were no reports of internet content being blocked or filtered in Zimbabwe. However, ruling party officials were said to have publicly expressed the desire to increase control over ICTs, particularly in the lead-up to the July 2013 general elections. Zimbabwe was also said to be seeking foreign support for surveillance in Iran. “Personnel from the Zimbabwean armed forces and the Central Intelligence Organisation have been undergoing intensive cyber training in technological warfare techniques, counter-intelligence and methods of suppressing popular revolts among others, every six months,” says the report.
Egypt was also reported to be seeking surveillance assistance from Iran. Activists and social media users were also targeted by security forces during protests either through abductions, killings or prosecution.
In Libya, surveillance equipment from the Muammar Gaddafi regime remained in operation.
Despite being reported as a ”country at risk” in 2013 owing to its “strict” controls over traditional media which were feared may extend to digital media, improvements were reported in Rwanda. An amended media law expanded the rights of journalists and recognised freedom for online communications.
Meanwhile, Angola’s State Security Services, with assistance from Germany, were planning to implement an electronic monitoring system to track digital communications.
Not Free
The Sudanese government was accused of surveillance particularly during protests. In addition to harassment and arrest of journalists during and following the protests, intelligence services are said to have “ramped up” efforts to censor antigovernment content, target cyber-dissidents, and manipulate online information.
In September 2012, Ethiopia “toughened” restrictions on electronic communications by passing the Telecom Fraud Offence Proclamation law. The government was also allegedly increasing its technical capacity to filter, block and monitor the internet with assistance from the Chinese authorities and the use of Finfisher – a commercial spyware software.
Globally, Iceland and Estonia were ranked the freest while China, Cuba and Iran were said to be the “most repressive countries” in terms of internet freedom.
Under the OpenNetAfrica initiative, CIPESA researches into internet freedoms in various African countries. To learn more, to share an idea or report a violation, write to programmes 

Online Freedoms Under Siege as African Countries Seek Social Media Users’ Information

Only a small fraction of requests made by law enforcement officials to Facebook, Google and Twitter for users’ identities or to block content originate from Africa, but there is cause to worry.
Facebook, whose popularity across Africa is growing exponentially, lists Botswana, Egypt, Ivory Coast, South Africa, and Uganda among the countries that requested users’ details in the first half of 2013. Meanwhile, last year saw seven African countries ask Google to remove content compared to only one request from the continent – by Libya – in 2010 and 2011. The beauty is that most of those requests were rejected.
No African country made a request for user account information either to Google or Twitter in the first half of 2013.
In the first half of 2013, Botswana made three requests to Facebook related to seven users.  Egypt had eight requests regarding 11 accounts, the Ivory Coast lodged four requests, Uganda one request and South Africa 14 requests on nine users. All requests from Africa were denied.
Table 1: Facebook Data Requests (By Author from Facebook Global Government Requests Report)

Country Total Requests Users/Accounts requested Compliance rate
Botswana 3 7 0%
Egypt 8 11
Ivory Coast 4 4
Uganda 1 1
South Africa 14 9
Global Highest
India 3,245 4,144 50%
United States of America 11,000 – 12,000 20,000 – 21,000 79%

Eight African countries have made at least one content removal request to Google since 2010. Djibouti’s 2012 request to block YouTube videos containing the movie Innocence of Muslims on the grounds of “religious offense” was rejected. But a similar request by Egypt was temporarily complied with, because of the “difficult circumstances” in this country at the time.
Meanwhile, a Kenyan request to remove content from blogger, arising out of a court order in a defamation case, was rejected. The Island nation of Mauritius made two content removal requests in the first half of 2012. Both were for reasons of defamation; both were rejected. Madagascar’s two requests were court-mandated on defamation grounds but Google accepted only one. Sierra Leone made one request regarding 60 items on Youtube which it wanted blocked as they portrayed or promoted violence. Google declined the request, which was made by executive not court order.
In the first half of 2012, South Africa had three court-ordered removal requests related to 11 items and Google fully complied. In the second half of 2012, Pretoria made three court ordered requests related to eight items and 33% was complied with. All South African requests were related to defamation.
Previous Google reports show that in the period July – December 2010, Libya made 68 requests for a total of 203 items to be removed from Youtube. Of these requests, 31% were complied with, either by some or all of the content being removed. In the subsequent six months, Libya’s two requests regarding five items were denied. All of Libya’s requests were not backed by a court order
South Sudan, the continent’s youngest nation, is the only African country that made a user information request to Twitter between July and December 2012. Juba’s request was denied.

A Catalogue of Infringements
While only a handful of African countries are making these requests, there is nonetheless evidence of a worrying trend, in which African countries are taking both legal and non-legal measures to curtail the freedoms of individuals to express themselves on the internet.

The last year has seen a spiral of activity against online freedom of expression in numerous African countries. In fact, 2013 might go down as a record year in terms of curtails on internet rights on the continent.
Gambia has passed a law under which those who publish “false news” online about the government can be handed a 15 year jail term and fined up to US$90,000. Meanwhile, Zambia president Michael Sata’s government in July blocked access to the Zambian Watchdog website, accusing it of promoting hate speech. Two journalists arrested on suspicion of working with the online publishers were due to appear in court. Another website, Zambia Reports, was blocked too. Some observers said blocking the websites was part of the government’s campaign to silence independent critics.
Next door in Zimbabwe, security agencies spent several weeks in the run-up to the July 2013 general elections looking for ‘Baba Jukwa’, whose Facebook page published popular exposes of the excesses of President Robert Mugabe’s government. Three weeks before election day, there were reports Mr. Mugabe’s machinery had staked a US$300,000 bounty to unearth the identity of the whistleblower as it moved to block access to the site.
There have also been cases of bloggers charged in court in Kenya and others sought by authorities over their Facebook, blogger and Twitter posts, amidst concerns that authorities were infringing citizens’ right to free expression. The country also asked internet intermediaries to monitor their traffic for messages deemed “inflammatory” or “divisive” in a move some observers believed could be an invasion of privacy. Kenya has also ordered the blocking of access to some websites, such as Mashada.
Burundi – always a high-flying culprit in clamping on free expression – in May ordered the online newspaper to block readers’ comments for 30 days, after accusing it of publishing comments that violated media law on “national unity, public order and security, inciting ethnic hatred, defending criminal activity and insulting the head of state.”
Perhaps more than any other country in Africa, Ethiopia regularly blocks websites, undertakes surveillance of websites and social media, and charges journalists over content published offline and online. In May 2013, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction and 18-year prison sentence for journalist and blogger Eskinder Nega, convicted last year of “terrorism acts” related to his writing. The state-run telecom monopoly Ethiopia Telecom has for many years been used to filter content and hundreds of websites remain blocked. These include blogs and websites of a number of recently convicted individuals, news organisations, political parties, bloggers, and international organisations.
In Uganda, where authorities have in the past ordered internet service providers to block access to certain websites and services, the government announced it would form a social media monitoring center “to weed out those who use this media to damage the government and people’s reputations” and also targeted at those “bent to cause a security threat to the nation.” Many other countries on the continent have variously interfered with citizen’s internet rights – many times unjustifiably.
The number of requests made by African countries is therefore not reflective of the state of online freedom on the continent. This is because most governments have unilateral means of dealing with situations they do not like, without going through multilateral intermediaries. As we are witnessing, they can enact national legislations, issue uncontested orders to local intermediaries, or use extra-legal measures.
With more people on the continent getting online (mobile penetration in Africa stands at 63%, internet usage at 16% of the population), governments are likely to infringe more on citizens’ online freedoms. A challenge then is to promote awareness about protecting and promoting online freedoms. There is also a need to continuously promote responsible user behaviour online, as not all state efforts to monitor citizens’ actions online are unjustifiable.
Download the full OpenNet Africa Brief here.
To learn more about CIPESA’s OpenNet Africa project and its monitoring of online freedoms, or to share an idea or report a violation, write to: [email protected].