Promoting Accessible ICT in Uganda

By Ashnah Kalemera |
The challenges faced by persons with disabilities (PWDs) in accessing information online and financial services since Uganda introduced taxes on social media access and mobile money transactions came to light last August. These taxes added to the catalogue of barriers to promoting access to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) for disabled persons in the country.
Indeed, national statistics for internet and telephone penetration (49% and 69% respectively), are not disaggregated by disability which in itself could be telling of the state of digital accessibility for PWDs in Uganda. General barriers to ICT use in Uganda include high costs of accessing and owning ICT; a shortage of usage skills which is linked to low adult literacy rates; poor electricity and telephone network coverage in rural and underserved areas.
Furthermore, uptake of ICT for PWDs is hampered by the high cost of assistive technology; low levels of ICT and disabilities literacy among policy makers, academia, civil society and other stakeholders; non-implementation of policies related to ICT access for PWDs; and unavailability of relevant software in local languages. See draft ICT for Disability Policy (2017).
As a party to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the government of Uganda has been working to ensure equal opportunities and inclusion of persons with disabilities.

Article 9 of the CRPD calls on state parties to take appropriate measures to ensure accessibility of ICT to persons with disability. The CRPD also calls on member states to ensure that private sector service providers, including through the internet, provide information and services in accessible and usable formats for persons with disabilities.

Following the drafting of the ICT Policy for Disability last year, the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance has also drafted Accessible Publishing Guidelines and an Accessible ICT Procurement Policy. The publishing guidelines are aimed at ensuring that government communications, documents and publications (print or electronic) are universally accessible at the same time and no extra cost to PWDs. They build on the Guidelines for Development and Management of Government Websites which set out requirements for accessibility for audio, visual and speech impaired users.
For its part, the proposed procurement policy requires all government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to ensure that PWDs have access to all government electronic facilities, resources and services by incorporating accessibility requirements in procurement of goods and services.
Speaking at an awareness-raising workshop on the proposed policies on October 11, 2018, Silas Ngabirano, the Assistant Commissioner for Information Management Services at the ICT ministry, stated that the policies had undergone participatory consultations, with input from MDAs, local government authorities, the private sector, civil society organisations, development partners and the media.
The proposed implementation plans for the policies include establishment of a national accessibility centre, set up of ICT and disability focal points at each MDA, monitoring of government ICT services for accessibility, and support to private sector initiatives working on accessible ICT products and services.
It remains unclear when the various policies are expected to be finalised. However, according to ICT Ministry, implementation of certain aspects of the proposed policies was already underway. For instance, all education institutions are currently required to have computer terminals accessible for students with disabilities. However, as highlighted by a lecturer participant from Makerere University, infrastructure at the university and many other institutions remained under-equipped for PWDs while course assessment procedures hardly took into account the needs of students with disabilities.
Meanwhile, the Uganda Communications Commission is working to enforce compliance with ICT licensing requirements and regulations with regards to sign language interpretation and subtitles by television broadcasters. In a notice issued on October 19, 2018, UCC states that effective January 1, 2019, it “shall not renew” licenses of any television operators not compliant with the provisions of the Persons with Disabilities Act, 2006. Section 21(2)(a) of the Act states that “Any person who owns a television station shall provide sign language inset or subtitles in at least one major news cast program each day and in all special programs of national significance.”
Further, in partnership with United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), the Uganda government is working to develop an information portal, which once finalised, will track implementation of policies on assistive technologies and provide information and experiences of ongoing accessibility initiatives in the country. Previously, UNESCO has helped to conduct a training for Uganda government officials on web accessibility for PWDs.
At the sensitisation workshop, stakeholders acknowledged that implementation of the proposed policies and existing legal and regulatory frameworks is hindered by inadequate data on PWDs for effective planning. Resource requirements for provision of assistive devices, large print or magnifiers, materials in braille and video captioning, were also cited as a challenge.

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.

Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age

Every year, 3 May is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom; to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.
Over 100 national celebrations take place each year to commemorate this Day. UNESCO leads the worldwide celebration by identifying the global thematic and organizing the main event in different parts of world every year.
The international day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. This in turn was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence.
To mark the 2015 World Press Freedom day, UNESCO will lead the global celebration with a main event under the theme “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, and Media Safety in the Digital Age”.  The event is co-organized by UNESCO and the Government of Latvia, and will take place from 2-4 May 2015 in Riga, Latvia.
The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) will be participating in the event represented by Wairagala Wakabi as one of the speakers in the Plenary 3 Session on “Digital Safety for Journalists” on 4 May 2015.  The discussions during this session will be enriched by CIPESA’s experience and expertise, particularly under its OpenNet Africa initiative.
Meanwhile, on May 2, CIPESA will convene journalists in Kampala, Uganda for digital safety training as part of its ongoing online security capacity building efforts for human rights defenders, minority groups, activists and the media in East Africa.

Recognising the Enablers Of Inclusive Knowledge Societies

By Juliet Nanfuka |
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in March 2015 published a draft study on internet-related issues that have the potential to advance online inclusivity. The study, titled ‘Keystones to Foster Inclusive Knowledge Societies’, explores how access to information and knowledge, freedom of expression, ethics and privacy are shaping use of the internet.
According to the study, balanced access to information and knowledge is hampered by filters on content, gender inequality, and limited access to technical tools and infrastructure required to obtain such information.
Meanwhile, freedom of expression globally is hindered by content filtering, regulation and in some instances severe criminalisation of online expression. Closely related to restrictions on online expression was the limited respect for the rights to privacy and data protection as fundamental online rights. The ethics of the internet, including ways through which it can be used to advance respect for cultural and other diversities, were also interrogated in the study.
The report calls for increased media and information literacy; balancing policies and practices on the conflict between freedom of expression and privacy; and reconciling global frameworks for addressing extra-territorial impacts of national censorship.
The study was based upon the crosscutting themes of UNESCO’s ROAM concept which incorporates a Rights based, Open Internet, which is Accessible to all and encompasses Multi-stakeholder participation.
The findings were discussed by representatives from civil society, academia, governments, the private sector, the technical community and inter-governmental entities at a meeting hosted at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
Speaking at the meeting, Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, Advocacy Officer at Privacy International, said the right to anonymity should be prioritised.  This sentiment was echoed at the African Internet Rights Meeting which also took place in March in Accra, Ghana where anonymity was raised as an important right to promote citizen participation, transparency, access to information and freedom of expression.
In East Africa, recent developments reflect mixed attitudes on online rights. Some clauses that curtail free press in Burundi have recently been invalidated, while Uganda is currently reviewing stakeholder input to a Data Protection and Privacy Bill. Rwanda, often accused of suppressing free expression, is reported as having the most affordable internet in the developing world, according to the Alliance for Affordable Internet.
Tanzania has recently presented to Parliament an Access of Information Bill and a Media Services Bill, and enacted a Cyber Crimes Act, criticised for negating freedom of expression and privacy, and giving excessive powers to law enforcement agencies.
Kenya has in recent months been plagued with reports of putting a chill on freedom of expression online. Particular focus has been on the Security Laws (Amendment) Act, 2014, which provides for surveillance and interception of communications by intelligence forces with limited judicial oversight.  The law was enacted as a means of combating terrorism in the country. Ironically, in 2014, Freedom House listed Kenya as one of only two African countries with internet and digital media freedom.
Indeed, as pointed out by Ayman Mhanna, Executive Director at the SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom during the March discussion of the UNESCO report, surveillance has been given legitimacy in regions of conflict and has also contributed to censorship of the media. He cited Lebanon where bloggers have faced punitive actions for comments posted online about public officials. The Middle Eastern country relies on a print media law dating back to 1962 – similar to Tanzania where outdated laws such as the Newspaper Act of 1976 are used to prosecute internet users including the media.
“There is need for more efforts to instill trust in privacy, security, and the authenticity of information and knowledge accessible online, and to protect the safety and dignity of journalists, social media users, and those imparting information and opinion in the online world,” states the UNESCO report.
The launch of the UNESCO study comes at a time when many countries across the world are still trying to address development challenges such as access to clean water, education and health. In many cases, ICT access has not received as much financial investment or political will to effectively drive its use particularly as a tool for good governance.
The study further encourages ethical reflection, research and public dialogue on the implications of new and emerging technologies and their potential social impacts by all governments particularly those in the developing world. Also at the Paris meeting, Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director of the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), called for inclusion of more civil society voices in internet governance processes to maintain a fair representation of the diversity of internet users globally.
With a series of other recommendations made in the Paris meeting outcome document, the extent to which they shall shape the internet policy debate will be the ultimate measure of success for this study.
Responses to the study will be consolidated into a report to be presented at the General Conference in November 2015. Addition information can be found here

Balancing Freedom of Expression And Privacy

Striking a balance between freedom of expression and privacy on the internet was the focus of a panel discussion at a review of one decade after the World Summit of the Information Society (WSIS). The WSIS+10 Review meeting took place at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris, France, February 25-27, 2013.
What convergences and tensions exist between freedom of expression and privacy online? What are the implications of approaching the balance between free expression and privacy from a freedom of expression–centric point of view? What actions can governments, civil society, media and the private sector take to balance privacy with freedom of expression online? And what is the best way to empower users? These are some of the questions addressed at the session on ‘Promoting of Freedom of Expression and Privacy Online’. CIPESA’s Lillian Nalwoga was the remote moderator for the session.
The session built on earlier discussions held at the 7th Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Baku, Azerbaijan on promoting both freedom of expression and privacy on the internet. It also drew from the Global Survey of Internet Privacy and Freedom of Expression – a UNESCO 2012 publication – which highlights a diverse international regulatory landscape, and the challenges posed by discrepancies in laws pertaining to the online and off-line spheres, and between national and international jurisdictions.
During the session, Pranesh Prakash from the India-based Center for Internet Society stressed the need for more relaxed regulations to govern the conduct of the private sector. He noted that “one must give the private sector enough leeway to safeguard them from responsibility for users’ actions and the requirement of taking down reasonable speech.” However, he added that the commercial sector has divergent interests and they do not necessarily align with public interests.
According to him, differing public and private sector interests coupled with unenforceability of self-regulation mechanisms and the jurisdictional issues of the internet mean that the conflict between freedom of expression and privacy cannot be easily resolved through public policy options that are only aimed at the private sector.
Patrick Ryan, a Policy Counsel from Google who was also a panelist, argued that the move to the “cloud” brings with it both enhanced privacy and security benefits, while at the same time putting data  potentially at risk. Noting that government surveillance remained one of the biggest threats to privacy, he stressed that the private sector needs to share more information on government take down requests that violate individuals’ privacy and free speech.
Meanwhile, William Dutton, a professor of Internet Studies at Oxford Internet Institute, stressed the importance of recognising the power of the internet in empowering networked individuals and enabling freedom of expression, like never before. He cautioned that if nations do not approach the issue of striking a balance between freedom of expression and privacy appropriately, some of the key benefits of the internet may be lost. He noted that whilst some nations have taken progressive steps, many others are moving in the wrong direction and various global policy choices are increasingly restricting freedom of expression.
Indeed, this has been illustrated by worldwide trends towards more content filtering and censorship. Dutton said adopting inappropriate models for internet governance and regulation, such as disproportionate levels of surveillance in the name of security, reliance on intermediaries to regulate content, and assertion of national sovereignty and jurisdiction in the online world are threatening privacy and freedom of expression.
Key recommendations from this session were: avoiding a moral panic over privacy; creating widespread awareness of issues concerning privacy and data protection among users especially the young generation; updating policy and regulatory frameworks that address freedom of expression and privacy online; and having a clear definition on national security interests.
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Promoting of Freedom of Expression and Privacy Online
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