Universal Access to Information in Africa: What Governments Need to Do

By Edrine Wanyama |
The annual celebration of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on September 28 is aimed at highlighting the importance of access to Information (ATI) as a cornerstone of all other rights.  This year’s IDUAI celebrations were held in Mauritius, organised by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of the  E-learning Africa summit  (E-Summit). The summit is a fora for deliberation on issues of access to learning and vocational training, access to information, equality and quality in education,  literacy and governance with prioritisation of sustainable development solutions.
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) participated at the e-Summit, making contributions on open access to information and the prerequisites for ATI, including highlighting the need for a conducive policy, legislative and regulatory environment to ensure universal access to information in Africa. Among the measures proposed at the meeting were the full recognition of ATI by more African states supported by the implementation of ATI laws and regulations which effectively empower citizens to demand for information.
Discussions at the summit also entailed a call for governments to ease access to information across multiple platforms including online, in print and through traditional media, alongside clear procedures on how information can be accessed in instances when it is not publicly available. Further, there should be efforts to minimise the costs of accessing information as well as making clear provision for timely information request processing, response and complaints handling mechanisms. A key enabler of the realisation of ATI in many countries will be the repealing of draconian and conflicting legislation and putting in place robust personal data protection measures.
Meanwhile, at the Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa hosted by CIPESA in Johannesburg, South Africa, there was emphasis on the need for governments to limit exemptions to accessible information, improve on data storage mechanisms and systems, provide for mandatory disclosure of information and put in place strong and functional penal mechanisms against information officers who deny citizens information.
Access to information (ATI) is a fundamental human right recognised by international human rights instruments, including articles 19 in both the Universal Declaration of Human Right and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These articles provide for, among others, the right to freedom of opinion and expression including receiving and imparting information and ideas through media. ATI is also recognised in articles 13(1) and 17 of the Declaration on the Rights of the Child; article 15 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People; and the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 59 (1).
The summit brought together participants from all the 54 African countries. However, African countries continue to grapple with enacting ATI laws. Out of 54 countries, only 22 have enacted ATI laws. Additionally, these existing laws have been criticised for failing to meet international minimum standards, with limitation to access outweighing access rights.
Despite the overwhelming participation of African countries, the dilemma remains in the low response to ATI legislation. It should be noted that the lack of ATI legislation negatively impacts accountability and transparency by the state, which are tenets grounded on access to information.

Uganda On the Right Path Towards Realising Open eGovernance

By Lilian Nalwoga |
The Uganda government has identified Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as one of the key drivers of socio-economic transformation in the country. This is evidenced in its presence as a priority in national development frameworks such as Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan II (NDP II) which spans from 2015 to 2020.
Extension of the National Broadband Infrastructure (NBI) which to date has connected a total of 133 Government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) sites out of which 94 are currently utilising internet delivered over the NBI. Further the NBP II also prioritises the construction of incubation hubs and ICT parks.
These frameworks have recently been measured for the level of governmental openness they enable. Open e-Governance is measured in terms of the ability of the different actors in the internet access eco-system , including governments, business and civil society, to participate in decision-making processes  through the use of information and communication technologies.
In March 2017, CIPESA conducted a study into the State of Open eGovernance in Uganda. The study forms part of the Open e-Governance Index (OeGI), an action-research project implemented by the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) `that aims to measure the state of ‘openness’ in the implementation of ‘e-governance’ around the world.
The OeGI index comprises four key  dimensions which are measured for different qualities with the highest score being 1 a dimension can score. The study revealed that the dimension Uganda scored highest in was  digital inclusion at 1.00 and scored lowest in the dimensions on meshed eGovernment, eParticipation channels and ICT empowered civil society respectively.
Dimension and Country Index Scores

Dimension Description COL IND PAK PHI UGA Average
Meshed eGovernment The ability of governments to provide citizen centric online services. 0.92 0.54 0.38 0.72 0.35 0.58
eParticipation new, digital medium for public participation 0.51 0.82 0.32 0.65 0.36 0.53
Digital Inclusion Presence of policies and programs that support the public’s wider use of ICT 0.83 0.50 1.00 0.33 1.00 0.73
ICT empowered civil society ICT readiness and utilisation CSOs and other non-State organisations such as political parties and people’s organisations. 0.63 0.54 0.71 0.75 0.39 0.60
Enabling / constraining environment Extent that the government recognizes and fosters the right to freedom of expression, right over personal communication, cultural freedom and the use of local languages government’s ability to place its public functions online, which comprises many aspects of ICT enablement. 0.81 0.78 0.63 0.63 0.78 0.73
Average   0.74 0.64 0.61 0.62 0.58 0.64

In terms of  Meshed eGovernment, Colombia scored the highest at 0.92, followed by the Philippines at 0.72, Indonesia at 0.54, Pakistan at 0.38 and Uganda at 0.35. In the eParticipation channel dimension, Indonesia had the highest score at 0.82, followed by the Philippines at 0.63, Colombia at 0.51, Uganda at 0.36 and Pakistan at 0.32.
Pakistan and Uganda scored 1.00 in the Digital Inclusion dimension, followed by Colombia at 0.83, then Indonesia at 0.50, and the Philippines at 0.33. In the ICT empowered civil society dimension, the Philippines scored the highest at 0.75, followed by Pakistan at 0.71, Colombia at 0.63, Indonesia at 0.54 and Uganda at 0.39. In the Enabling/Constraining Environment dimension, Colombia scored the highest at 0.81, followed by Indonesia and Uganda both at 0.78, then Pakistan and the Philippines both with a score of 0.63.
Uganda’s highest score in Digital Inclusion reflects the presence of universal access and literacy policies in place, such as the National ICT Policy 2014, Rural Communications Development Fund Policy 2001 and draft broadband strategy although adoption and implementation is still challenge.
Despite, having the lowest average index score of 0.58 out of 1, the study indicates that Uganda is moving towards the right path to implementing eGovernance. This includes a growing number of e- services being offered by public agencies such as e-filling for taxes, presence of enabling laws and policies, some of which are positive for citizen participation, free expression and open governance and a growing use of ICT by both governments and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs).
Nonetheless, slow uptake and uncoordinated implementation of eGovernance across government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) is still hampering its full adoption. Thus, more commitment towards adoption of policies especially those focusing on promoting open data, open standards and privacy and data protection is needed.
Full findings of the study can be found here.

CIPESA Engages Ugandan Members of Parliament on Implementation of Access to Information Law

By Loyce Kyogabirwe |
It is 12 years since Uganda passed an access to information law with the purpose of promoting transparency and accountability in all organs of the state by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information. The law also empowers the public to scrutinise and to participate in government decisions. However, the law has remained largely unimplemented as many Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) ignore citizens’ requests for information and rarely release information pro-actively, which contravenes the law.
“I have sent several information requests to the Ask Your Government (AYG) Uganda portal. It is now three months and I have never received any feedback,” said Cuthbert Abigaba, Member of Parliament (MP) for Kibaale county in Kamwenge district, while speaking at an engagement of Uganda’s MPs on implementing the Access to Information Act 2005. Organised by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) on July 13, 2017, the convening was a follow up on an earlier engagement with the MPs on their duties and responsibilities in enforcing the access to information law.
Section 43 of the Access to Information Act requires parliament to receive annual reports from each minister detailing all requests received from citizens for access to records or information, and indicating whether access was granted or not, and where access was not given, the reasons for the denial.
However, Parliament has never received any such reports, nor has it asked ministries to comply with this provision of the law. This issue was also raised earlier in April 2017 when CIPESA presented a position paper on the State of Access to Information in Uganda to MPs on the ICT Committee. The paper highlights some government initiatives to promote access to information, identifies gaps in the law, and makes recommendations for amendments to the law in order to enhance citizens’ access to information.
At the this month’s meeting, CIPESA presented to 16 MPs a comparative analysis of access to information legislation in East Africa and urged the lawmakers to pursue the proposed amendments so as to align Uganda’s law with progressive provisions in some of the East African Community (EAC) Member States’ laws, as well as to international human rights instruments.

 “While it is recognised that the EAC region is progressing in promoting the right to information, there are a number of issues that have bottlenecked citizens’ right to information. These include: lack of access to information by non-citizens in Uganda, Kenya and South Sudan; lack of ATI regulations in Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and South Sudan; lack of a clear definition of security information by Uganda; lack of provision for transferability of requests in South Sudan; limited scope of bodies the law applies to in Uganda; prohibitive access fees in Uganda, as well as the lack of clear complaints mechanisms in Uganda.” Comparative Analysis of Access to Information Legislation in Africa, June 2017.

During the meeting, the MPs expressed concern over insufficient knowledge among legislators about their duties and responsibilities under the law. They also noted that citizens were not sufficiently aware of their rights and the obligations of public officials. The legislators called for wider awareness raising to increase citizens’ demand for information. “If a Member of Parliament like me did not know the access to information law, what about the citizens who are not even educated?” said Rose Mutonyi, MP for Bubulo West, Manafwa district.
On the other hand, the MPs appreciated the recommendations and proposed amendments contained in the two position papers and suggested an action plan for meaningfully implementing the access to information law. Among the strategies put forward was to engage the Office of the Speaker of Parliament, sensitise more MPs to demand for annual reports from ministers, and engage ministers to submit the annual reports.
Nonetheless, the MPs cited the need for more capacity building on access to information for the majority of legislators to inform their discussions in parliament. As noted by Majegere Kyewalabye, MP for Bunya East, Mayuge district, “We need to be prepared more before we can go on the floor of parliament to present these issues.”
The engagement with MPs was organised by CIPESA in partnership with the Greater Parliamentary North Forum in the context of the ICT4Democracy in East Africa initiative’s objective to engage stakeholders on supportive policies and practices for human rights and democratic governance in East Africa.

Apply for the CIPESA-ICT4Democracy Fellowship Programme: Media

Fellowship Opportunity | 

About the ICT4Democracy in East Africa network
The network works in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to achieve two top-line objectives: 1) Increased citizen participation in governance and the realisation of human rights through ICT; and 2) Improved transparency and accountability of governments through ICT. Partners in the network are the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), Transparency International Uganda, iHub Research (Kenya), the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), the Commission for Human Rights and Good Governance (CHRAGG, Tanzania) and Toro Development Network (ToroDev). Read more about the network here: www.ict4democracy.org.
Aim of the Fellowship Programme
The CIPESA-ICT4Democracy Fellowship (Media) aims to raise media understanding of, and its effective and consistent reporting of ICT-for-Democracy issues in East Africa. It is expected that the fellowships will result into increased quality and regularity of reporting, as well as a greater diversity of voices, in coverage related to ICT, democracy and human rights.
A total of 12 fellowships shall be issued each year starting May 2017. Applications will be accepted on a quarterly basis as per the below dates:

Fellowship round Application deadline
May – July April 1st
August – October July 1st
November – January September 1st
February – April January 1st

Duration: The fellowship shall last for up to three months but can in some circumstances be shorter.
Participants in the media fellowship programme will be expected to create various outputs, which may include print articles such as features, broadcast content, multimedia content (animations and infographics) and social media content, as will be agreed in advance of the start of the fellowship.
Applicants should be early career print, broadcast, online or multi-media journalists. Individuals passionate about media platforms such as bloggers and social media enthusiasts with relevant skills are also welcome to apply. Applicants must be based in Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania. It is preferred that applicants have experience in coverage of areas that are relevant to the work of ICT4Democracy in East Africa partners, which may include social accountability, gender and youth mainstreaming, technology, human rights and governance.
The fellows shall be given a modest allowance to cater for expenses related to producing the outputs of their fellowship engagement.
Application process
To apply, email [email protected] with subject line stating Application for Media Fellowship. Submissions should include:

  1. Your CV
  2. A statement of interest that mentions the outputs you intend to produce from the fellowship, how they will be disseminated, and how these outputs are beneficial to the work of the ICT4Democracy network or its partner organisation(s), a suggestion of which partner organisation you wish to be attached to, the duration for which you wish to have the fellowship, and anticipated expenses. The statement of interest should not exceed 3 pages.
  3. Two samples of your work (written or other)
  4. Two reference letters.


Analysis of Twitter Activity During the 2016 Presidential Debates in Uganda

By CIPESA Writer |
The 2015/2016 electioneering season in Uganda set a precedent in the use of social media as a means for politicians to reach out and engage with citizens. It was the first time in Uganda that a candidate announced they would run for President via YouTube and also saw candidate Yoweri Museveni (the incumbent) seek out a more tech-savvy media team to keep abreast with the widening channels of civic engagement.
While some of the candidates maintained personal Twitter accounts and actively engaged in the online conversations, others remained dormant, although they had Twitter accounts.
In partnership with Outbox we present the first of a three-part series into the key themes shaping the online conversation of Ugandans during the electioneering process.
The report explores the level of Twitter activity, interaction and conversational trends with specific focus on the #UgDebate16 hashtag during the 1st presidential debate held on January 15, 2016 and 2nd debate, which was held on February 13, 2016. During both debates, the hashtag trended locally and gained popularity as far as South Africa.
See the full report here: Analysis of Twitter Activity During the 2016 Presidential Debates in Uganda – Monitoring Uganda Elections Series 01 #UgDebate16