Online Activism is Moving the Dial on Social Accountability in Uganda

By Peter G. Mwesige |

The viral #UgandaParliamentExhibition hashtag campaign on X on the excesses of the Ugandan parliament has once again put digital media at the centre of debate on citizen agency in the demand for transparency and accountability from duty bearers.

Fifteen years or so ago, the jury was still out on whether digital platforms including social media were a boon to citizen participation or the bane of meaningful political action. Even more recently, “hashtag activism” or what some called “slacktivism” was still being dismissed as “performative activism” that inhibited offline participation or created the illusion of participation.

The debate remains unsettled, but there is no denying that social media platforms have “democratised access to information” and offered alternative avenues for citizens to amplify their voice in the demand for accountability from those that hold power.    

The Ugandan online exhibitions were started last year by Dr. Jimmy Spire Ssentongo, an academic, cartoonist, and social commentator. He has described them as “an open invitation to the public, to whoever has an issue about a particular institution or sector to come out … a public initiative to demand for accountability; to showcase things (people) are not happy about; to showcase their pain.”

From the #UgandaPotholeExhibition, the #UgandaHealthExhibition, the #UgandaNGOExhibition (where the activists appeared to devour their own), the #UgandaLabourExhibition, the #UgandaSecurityExhibition and so on, activists have been joined by Ugandans from all walks of life to shine the torchlight on pressing public concerns.

The #UgandaParliamentExhibition is slightly different. It has been organised under the AGORA Centre for Research, the brainchild of journalist and lawyer Agather Atuhaire, who recently won the U.S. State Department International Women of Courage Award (and last year won the European Union’s Human Rights Defenders’ Award in Uganda), fellow lawyer Godwin Toko, and others. Sharing evidence from official records, highlighting standout posts on digital flyers, throwing in the occasional handwritten satirical stingers from Ssentongo, and complementing tweeting with X Spaces, AGORA has flooded the zone with evidence of abuse of public funds at parliament. The vociferous Anthony Natif of Public Square and exiled activist and author Kakwenza Rukirabasaija have also lit up the exhibition.

In a space of about two weeks the #UgandaParliamentExhibition laid bare the scope of the abuse of public funds in the August House as well as blatant nepotism and favouritism in recruitment of staff.  The exhibition laid this at the door of the Speaker of Parliament Anita Among and the Parliamentary Commission that she heads, whose members include the Prime Minister, the Minister of Finance, the Leader of the Opposition (LoP) and a few Members of Parliament (MPs) representing both the ruling party and the opposition.

At the heart of the expose is the billions of shillings that have been spent in travel allowances, and the so-called corporate social responsibility by the Speaker, as well as the “service awards” that were passed as “personal to holder” for the former LoP Mathias Mpuuga and Commissioners Solomon Silwany, Prossy Akampurira Mbabazi, and Esther Afoyochan, all representing the ruling National Resistance Movement. Mpuuga bagged Uganda Shillings (UGX) 500 million, equivalent to 130,000 US Dollars (USD) while three Commissioners received UGX 400 million each.

The service award for the former LoP has already caused a storm in his party, the National Unity Platform, which has asked him to resign from the Commission. Other interest groups, such as the Uganda Law Society, have also weighed in, saying by participating in a meeting that passed awards which would benefit them personally, Mpuuga and the other commissioners violated the Leadership Code. 

The Speaker has refused to entertain any debate on what has been exposed by the #UgandaParliamentExhibition despite calls by a number of MPs that the institution should be held accountable in the same way it holds other government agencies to account. She remained adamant last week when new LoP Joel Ssenyonyi condemned the “deafening silence” by parliament on the issues raised on social media and the ruling party “rebel MP” Theodore Ssekikubo demanded a response to the “grave allegations” of impropriety and profligacy. “Me to answer you on hearsay, on things you have cooked on social media because I have said no to bum-shafting, I will not,” Among responded.

“Bum-shafting” was a derogatory reference to homosexuality, which is outlawed in Uganda. Under Among’s stewardship, parliament last year passed the Anti-Homosexuality Act, 2023, attracting backlash from the international community that has seen Uganda lose development funding.

Interestingly, Speaker Among had previously commended the online exhibitions. During the #UgandaHealthExhibition last year, she “urge(d) both public servants and political leaders to take feedback from the public in good faith and use it to improve further.”

President Yoweri Museveni had earlier responded to the #KampalaPotholeExhibition by directing the Ministry of Finance to release UGX 6 billion for emergency road repairs in the city. He has this time joined the Speaker to condemn the online activists. “How can you talk so much about Anita Among? (What) about those working for foreigners? We are going to expose those traitors,” Museveni said on March 23, 2024, after commissioning the Speaker’s Bukedea Teaching Hospital and College of Health Sciences in her home district. 

Clearly, online activism has moved the dial on social accountability. The government and others who have been the subject of the exhibitions may not always be responsive, but they can’t claim they haven’t heard the voice of the people.

One can argue that the traction of online social justice campaigns makes the riskier street protests unnecessary. Indeed, in a country where public demonstrations on hot button issues have been criminalised in complete disregard of the constitutional right of citizens to protest and petition the government, the alternative offered by digital platforms should be embraced.

But the digital warriors leading these campaigns still face the same risks that the street activists before them confronted – such as surveillance, online smear attacks, threats of arrests and other forms of intimidation. Accordingly, online activism should not be seen as a replacement of traditional forms of protest. As Dr. Ssentongo argued when he appeared on Robert Kabushenga’s #360Mentor X Space in April last year, it should not be an either-or-question. “Those who can organise online should and those who can organise (through) other means should (also do so),” he said.

The other issue that has been raised quite a lot especially during the #UgandaParliamentExhibition is the failure of the traditional news media (newspapers, radio, and television) to uncover the corruption in parliament.

The credibility of the journalists who cover parliament has taken a major knock, but this does not mean social media should replace mainstream media as our only sources of news as some have suggested.

In defence of the journalists who are still passionate about public affairs reporting, the gatekeeping bar for what gets to be published in the major media houses is much higher. On social media, anything goes, although to AGORA’s credit, most of the information they have released about parliament has been verified.

But it would be unrealistic to expect citizen-driven online campaigns to bring the same “discipline of verification” parliament’s Director of Communication and Public Affairs Chris Obore, a former journalist, seems to demand. Social media will always be messy. Just like democracy, some would say.

We need a multiplicity of platforms (both digital/social media as well as credible mainstream media) to provide information about what is happening in parliament and other public sectors, provide the public with platforms for debate, and hold duty bearers accountable.  

And we need sustained pressure both online and offline to continue driving the demand for accountability and meaningful change. In a democracy, what has been exposed through Uganda’s online exhibitions would have been enough to drive action and change. But in a country where leaders are openly contemptuous of public opinion, and where the public cannot count on free and fair elections to kick out those who abuse their trust, online activists and other social justice actors still have their work cut out.

About the author: Dr. Peter G. Mwesige is Chief of Party of the USAID Your Rights Activity led by CIPESA.

Advancing Awareness of the UNESCO Internet Universality Assessments in Africa

By Juliet Nanfuka |

In 2015, the 38th General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) endorsed a new definition on the universality of the internet. It was based upon four principles, namely Rights, Openness, Accessibility to all and Multi-stakeholder participation, or the ROAM principles. 

The addition of cross-cutting indicators in 2018 resulted in the ROAM-X Indicator framework comprising 303 indicators that assess the extent to which national stakeholders, including governments, businesses and civil society, comply with the ROAM principles. It was recognised that these indicators were central to the growth and evolution of the internet, and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

Over the years, UNESCO has partnered with the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) to increase awareness of the Internet Universality Indicators (IUI’s) and the ROAM-X framework. In 2015, at the CIPESA-convened Forum on Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica), the ROAM principles were featured in the opening discussion of the event, with then UNESCO regional advisor for Communication and Information, Jaco du Toit, explaining the practical use of the Internet Universality principles of human-rights, openness, accessibility and multi-stakeholder participation and their link to African development.

The  2018 edition of FIFAfrica again provided a collaborative platform for experts, policymakers, activists, and technologists to exchange ideas and strategies for advancing a more inclusive and accessible digital space. CIPESA also contributed to discussions at the 2018 Internet Governance Forum (IGF) where the link between internet shutdowns and the need for national assessments through the use of the ROAM-X framework was stressed.

At the October 2020 Africa IGF, CIPESA contributed to a discussion that served as a launch of the IGF Dynamic Coalition on Internet Universality Indicators (IUIs). The Dynamic Coalition is a shared space for advocating Internet Universality ROAM principles worldwide, sharing experiences and raising awareness of the value of the related indicators and good practice in applying them in more countries. Further discussions were held at the global IGF in November 2020. 

In March 2022, CIPESA hosted a regional dialogue on the Indicators, which highlighted lessons from countries where IUI assessments had been conducted, namely  Benin, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Niger and Senegal. This effort aimed to garner best practices in conducting national assessments of media and internet ecosystems using the indicators.

Later that year, CIPESA convened a regional training webinar to raise awareness of the Internet Universality ROAM-X indicators and their potential to promote internet development to advance media freedom and digital rights in Africa. The UNESCO Information for All Programme (IFAP) and International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC) jointly supported the training which targeted participants from Cameroon, Malawi, Namibia,  Somalia and Uganda. Outputs from the webinar went on to feed into discussions at the 2022 IGF which included sessions on the ROAM-X indicators and a session on the Internet Universality Indicators as part of the Dynamic Coalition.

At the 2023 edition of  FIFAfrica held in September in Tanzania, UNESCO hosted a session titled “Foster Internet Freedom in Africa through UNESCO’s ROAM-X Internet Universality Indicators Assessments”. The panel consisted of UNESCO experts, including John Okande, Programme Officer, Tatevik Grigoryan, Associate Programme Specialist; and Xiaojie Sun, Junior Professional Officer. Also on the panel were participants from earlier UNESCO/CIPESA collaborative efforts on ROAM-X, including Asrat M. Beyene from the Internet Society Ethiopia Chapter and Addis Ababa Science and Technology University; Grace Githaiga, Convenor of the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANet); and Dr. Simon-Peter Kafui Aheto of the University of Ghana.

The various speakers showcased the main findings and recommendations from the IUI  assessments they conducted,  and impacts of ongoing and completed ROAM-X national assessments in Africa (see some assessments here). They also shared best practices and lessons learnt during the implementation process. Panelists also highlighted that the IUI is due for revision following the amount of data collected over the years and the evolving digital landscape globally.   Since its introduction, ROAM-X has been integrated into discussions at FIFAfrica and into CIPESA programming, both of which have served as collaborative platforms for experts and policymakers to advance inclusivity and accessibility in the digital space.

Uganda’s Digital ID System Hinders Citizens’ Access to Social Services

By Alice Aparo |

Uganda’s biometric digital identity program was introduced to enhance security and ease access to public services, including health units. The government embarked on a nationwide mass registration of citizens for digital national identification (ID) cards in April 2014. During the process, biometric data such as fingerprints and facial images of Ugandans above the age of 16 years are captured on enrollment and stored in a centralised database.  However, more than 15 million Ugandans remain at risk of being excluded from accessing essential public services and entitlements as they lack national digital identity cards.  

Uganda’s digital ID system is an extensive, data-intensive system that links the national ID to public social services. In August 2022, Uganda announced plans to upgrade the current national identity card to include additional personal details such as blood type, palm print, and eye scan information. This system is administered primarily by the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA) which is also responsible for the issuance of the IDs to citizens. However, the implementation of the system falls short of the expectations of some Ugandans due to technical gaps, denial of entitlements, and the corruption among officials. By September 2022, the National Identification Register had 25.9 million Ugandans registered, with an estimated 17.4 million citizens yet to register to attain a national ID. 

The Uganda digital ID card that is commonly known as Ndaga Muntu has become a mandatory “gate pass” to access several public services and government premises. Older persons living in poverty face peculiar difficulties with the national ID system, especially those aged more than 80 years, and those who live with disabilities and are required to travel to the NIRA district offices for enrolment. Citizens who do not have the national ID cards are denied access to services such as Uganda’s Senior Citizens’ Grants, National Health System, School capitation grants, property acquisition, access to land title deeds and assets registration, National Social Security Fund’s social security benefits delivery, driving permits, SIM card registration, bank account opening, passport acquisition and voter registration. 

In addition, unregistered pregnant women are sometimes unable to access health services without the Ndaga Muntu. Further, citizens without the Ndaga Muntu, are often questioned by law enforcement officials about their identity and nationality.

Given these challenges, Ugandan-based civil society organisations (CSOs) sued the government of Uganda over the national digital ID at the Uganda High Court. They highlighted the exclusion of millions of unregistered Ugandans, such as aged persons, vulnerable persons, and persons with disabilities, and people with errors on the ID Cards who are limited from accessing potential life-saving services. The CSOs requested the court to declare that sole reliance on the national ID system to access health services and Social Assistant Grants for Empowerment (SAGE) benefits, among other social services, is exclusionary and discriminatory and violates human rights. 

On March 23, 2023, Uganda’s High Court accepted an ‘Amicus Curiae’ brief from three human rights organisations, Access Now, ARTICLE 19, and the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), in a suit challenging the country’s national digital identity scheme. The brief presents expert opinion to the Court on the potential impact of the digital ID program on human rights including the right to privacy, the right to freedom of expression, as well as intersecting economic, social, and cultural rights, by providing experiences from national, sub-regional, regional and international levels.

In conclusion, many Ugandans still lack the national ID. Therefore, the government should implement alternative means of identification to enable those without a national ID to access national public services without discrimination. In addition, it should put in place measures to address the challenges faced in the roll-out of the cards and fast-track the issuance of cards to those already enrolled.

Ford Foundation Launches First Global South Network to Strengthen the Digital Resilience of Civil Society

Announcement |

With $15 million in seed funding, the Global Network for Social Justice and Digital Resilience supports 10 Global South-led organizations that provide technical support to civil society in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.

Kyoto, Japan (October 10, 2023) – Today, the Ford Foundation announced the launch of the Global Network for Social Justice and Digital Resilience, a first-of-its-kind initiative that aims to increase the technical capacities of civil society organizations across the Global South. 

With $15 million in seed funding, the mission of the Digital Resilience Network is to ensure frontline organizations across the Global South can better leverage the benefits of technology while minimizing its harms, which can include online surveillance, censorship, and misinformation. The Digital Resilience Network is managed by an independent board. 

This initiative supports an initial cohort of 10 organizations that provide technical support to civil society organizations in the Global South. These groups are predominantly based in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East, where the harms and uneven benefits of technology are most pronounced. 

Over the past decade, technologies have grown increasingly sophisticated in restricting, excluding, and intimidating the work of social justice communities in the Global South, including those advancing gender and environmental justice. From escalating uses of spyware that targets human rights defenders to widespread misinformation campaigns and internet shutdowns, online tactics have been weaponized to increase polarization, compromise elections, and undermine democratic processes.

Groups offering technical support and consultation to civil society are limited and have long been concentrated in the Global North. Civil society in the Global South lacks access to in-region technical experts who can answer the growing needs and demands of frontline social justice organizations in their local and cultural contexts. 

The Digital Resilience Network, launched at a side event at the United Nations Internet Governance Forum, addresses these field-wide issues by supporting a cohort of Global South-based technical support organizations who will network, accelerate learning, and transfer technical capacities and knowledge to frontline civil society organizations, where the greatest needs and threats related to technology exist. The Network incorporates equality, inclusion, diversity, and feminist values into its processes. It aims to:

  • Increase domestic and regional tech capacity among social justice organizations in the Global South
  • Diversify the field of technologists to include more leaders who are women, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming, are people of color, and are from communities of color
  • Foster South-to-South peer learning among organizations working to strengthen digital infrastructure and resilience
  • Increase global strategic collaboration among social justice and technology organizations
  • Increase funds supporting the strengthening of digital resilience for social justice organizations

“The Global Network for Social Justice and Digital Resilience is a critical tool to advance social equity and counter the digitally-driven democratic backslide across the Global South,” said Alberto Cerda Silva, program officer of Ford Foundation’s Technology and Society program. “Whether it’s confronting malicious software that targets civil society or building avenues for social justice communities to leverage the benefits of technology, in-region technical support is key. This initiative brings to life the thesis that those closest to the challenge are closest to the solution. We hope this project serves as a model for philanthropy going forward.” 

Network members have spent years at the leading edge of digital resilience but have lacked the resources needed to address the manifold digital threats that civil society faces. The work of these groups has ranged from conducting threat intelligence to providing security support including digital, legal, and physical elements; from equipping disconnected communities with autonomous infrastructures to  advancing digital inclusion for people with disabilities.

“It’s impossible to overstate the need for a digital resilience network focused on the Global South,” said Ashnah Kalemera, program manager for the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa. “It promotes South-to-South peer learning and a chance to share experiences from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. The opportunity to share knowledge about opportunities and challenges excites us the most. We are grateful to have the chance to learn, reflect, and adapt with sister organizations.” 

The initial cohort supported by the Digital Resilience Network are Núcleo de Pesquizas, Estudios y Formación (Brazil)the Citizen Lab (Canada)Derechos Digitales (Chile)Fundación Acceso (Costa Rica)The Engine Room (Global)Centre for Internet & Society (India)Social Media Exchange (Lebanon)SocialTIC (Mexico)Co-Creation Hub (Nigeria), and Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (Uganda).

“Digital resilience holds equity at its core,” said Paola Mosso, co-deputy director of The Engine Room. “It points to the ability of organizations to design digital ecosystems where everyone can participate in meaningful ways by keeping infrastructures human and environment-centered, safe, and adaptable to ever-changing contexts.”

This article was first posted by the Global Network for Social Justice and Digital Resilience on Oct 10, 2023

Job Opportunity: Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Announcement |

We are searching for the Monitoring and Evaluation Officer (M&E Officer) will carry out monitoring and evaluation activities including data collection and reporting on project outcomes.

See below for further details;

Job Description

Position: Monitoring and Evaluation Officer

Organisation: Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA)

Location: Kampala, Uganda

Duration: Two (2) years Full time- renewable

Reports to: Programme Manager

About Us: Established in 2004, CIPESA is a leading centre for research and analysis of information aimed to enable policy makers in the region to understand ICT policy issues, and for various multi-stakeholders to effectively use ICT to improve governance and livelihoods. Our work responds to the shortage of information, resources and actors consistently working at the nexus of technology, human rights and society in Africa. We conduct our work mostly through research, advocacy, capacity development, and convenings.

Job Summary:  The Monitoring and Evaluation Officer (M&E Officer) will carry out monitoring and evaluation activities including data collection and reporting on project outcomes. The M&E Officer will oversee data collection, consolidate and analyse monitoring data and draft reports, conduct specific research activities, and conduct regular Data Quality Assessment (DQA). 


  1. Develop M&E Framework:
    • Finetune and implement a comprehensive M&E framework for CIPESA, including indicators, data collection methods, and reporting mechanisms.
    • Ensure alignment of the M&E framework with programme objectives and donor requirements.
  2. Data Collection, Management, and Analysis:
    • Coordinate data collection activities, including surveys, interviews, focus groups, and other data sources.
    • Establish data collection tools and ensure they are used consistently.
    • Manage and maintain a database for storing project data.
    • Analyse collected data to assess project progress and impact.
    • Identify trends, successes, challenges, and lessons learned.
    • Provide timely and relevant feedback to project staff.
  3. Reporting:
    • Prepare regular M&E reports for project management and donors, highlighting key findings and recommendations.
    • Ensure that project reports are submitted on time and in compliance with organisational and donor requirements.
  4. Capacity Building:
    • Train project staff and partners on M&E tools and techniques.
    • Provide ongoing support and mentorship to improve data collection and reporting.
  5. Quality Assurance:
    • Conduct data quality assessments to ensure the accuracy and reliability of project data.
    • Recommend corrective actions when data quality issues are identified.
  6. Learning and Adaptation:
    • Promote a culture of learning within the CIPESA team by facilitating discussions on M&E findings and implications for programme design.
    • Support the organisation in making data-driven decisions and adapting strategies as needed.
  7. Risk Assessment and Mitigation:
    • Identify potential risks and challenges in project implementation through M&E activities.
    • Collaborate with the CIPESA management to develop risk mitigation strategies.
  8. Stakeholder Engagement:
    • Engage with project stakeholders, including beneficiaries and partners, to gather feedback and incorporate their perspectives into the M&E process.

Qualifications and Skills:

  • Bachelor’s degree in statistics, demography, M&E or related field. A master degree or a bachelors plus an advanced certificate in M&E, and statistics preferred.
  • Proven three-year experience in monitoring and evaluation, preferably in a non-government/ development/ humanitarian context.
  • Strong data analysis and interpretation skills.
  • Proficiency in relevant data analysis software and tools.
  • Excellent written and verbal communication skills.
  • Ability to work independently and as part of a team.
  • Attention to detail and a commitment to producing high-quality work.
  • Knowledge of USAID reporting requirements and standards.

Standards of Professional Conduct:

CIPESA staff and partners must adhere to the values and principles outlined in the Code of Conduct, Equal Opportunity Policy, and Safeguarding against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and Sexual Harassment (SEAH) Policy. In accordance with these CIPESA operates and enforces policies on Beneficiary Protection from Exploitation and Abuse, Child Safeguarding, Harassment-Free Workplace, Fiscal Integrity, Anti-Retaliation, and several others.

Application Process:

Kindly send applications to  [email protected] latest September 12, 2023 at 18:00 East African Time (EAST), including a cover letter outlining how you fit the job requirements and your areas of expertise; a CV; names and contacts of three referees and the salary expectations.