In Uganda, advocates for the right to access information are urging the government to restore access to Facebook, a popular social networking platform owned by Meta Platforms, an American technology company.
This call comes after President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni banned Facebook in January 2021. The ban was imposed when Facebook deleted accounts belonging to government officials, accusing them of attempting to manipulate public discussions leading up to the general elections.
The appeal was made during the observance of the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the National Information Communication Technology – ICT Innovation Hub Nakawa in Kampala. The event was organized by Twaweza, a non-governmental organization operating in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.
The theme for the 2023 celebration, following the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) guidelines, was “The Importance of the Online Space for Access to Information.” The subtheme was “Ensuring Universal Access in a Digital Era,” with the objective of promoting free and secure online spaces and digital access to information.
Dr. John Baptist Imoka, a Lecturer at Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication, called on the government to refrain from limiting access to information on online platforms, specifically mentioning Facebook. Dr. Imokola argued that these restrictions infringed upon people’s rights to access and share information online, which is against the Access to Information Act (No. 6 of 2005) and Article 41 of the Constitution.
Speaking at the same event, Charity Komujjurizi, a representative from the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC), pointed out that more than 33 out of 45 million Ugandans currently lack access to the internet. She highlighted that restricting access to information also hindered people from obtaining information about job opportunities and other development programs.
Safia Nalule Jjuuko, the Chairperson of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), emphasized that the digital information era is indispensable in today’s world. She stated that it serves as the foundation for genuine democracy, transparent governance, and sustainable development.
According to a 2021 report by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), which is a specialized United Nations agency, 33 percent of the world’s population, out of 7.888 billion people, remains without internet access.
Godfrey Kabbyanga, the Minister of State for National Guidance, presided over the event and highlighted the government’s commitment to digitally transform the country. He emphasized that this transformation is not just an abstract vision but a practical strategy implemented daily.
Minister Kabbyanga mentioned several key initiatives within this transformation roadmap, including Digital Literacy Programs targeting youth and elders, expanding digital infrastructure to ensure internet access in remote areas, and government e-services to enhance transparency and accountability.
He also commended the Africa Freedom of Information Centre (AFIC) and Twaweza East Africa for their role in Uganda’s digital transformation. Their efforts include raising awareness about the Access to Information Act, creating portals like the Ask Your Government portal, and enhancing the capacity of public officials, citizens, and community groups.
Kabbyanga acknowledged the invaluable insights and tireless efforts of these organizations, which have influenced various policies and projects, including the ongoing process to review and amend the ATI Act of 2005 and the digital transformation roadmap, among others.