‘Restricting online information worries activists in Uganda’
On eve of International Day for Universal Access to Information, lawyers call for strategy to combat frequent internet blockades in Africa
Even as social media has become a tool to access information in the wake of frequent crackdowns on mainstream media in Uganda and elsewhere in Africa, experts complain that lately, the governments have frequently targeted internet-based platforms as well.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the occasion of the International Day for Universal Access to Information (IDUAI) on Tuesday, Ugandan lawyer Andrew Karamagi said the internet-based platforms had been circumventing the crackdown on mainstream media by exposing several instances of the alleged killing of people by police and army.
“Most of the arguments made by governments are not justified under international law and there is often evidence of arbitrary use of state power,” he said.
Another Kampala-based lawyer, Juma Nyango, called for a coordinated front to combat frequent internet shutdowns in Africa, which has of late become a tool for the governments to deny information to the public.
“There is a need for a coordinated front in combating internet shutdowns in the continent, which does not need to be cut off from the world. It needs to stay connected to it,” he said.
The lawyer said governments in Africa must look inwards to harness the fast pace technologies to develop democratic institutions.
Lately, the opposition has been using online platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube to connect with their supporters because of alleged gag on the mainstream media.
According to Access Now, a public policy and advocacy group for internet users around the world, several African governments have shut down the internet frequently.
In January, Uganda issued an order to Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to block social media platforms. Another order issued later blocked internet access on the election day. But the blockade lasted nearly a month.
Other African countries like Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea have also restricted access to the internet and social media platforms at various times in 2020, according to Access Now.
Defending such restrictions, the government says that the menace of fake news, spreading online during the election season was creating law-and-order problems.
Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni said that it was important to shut down the internet because some people were hell-bent on using it to destabilize the country.
“I know the internet was shut down on Jan. 13, 2021, I also know that this was necessary to curb the continued spread of false news and incitement to violence to ensure a peaceful polling day,” he said.
But analysts say the major reason is to suppress groups critical of the government, which often organize on social media and provide an avenue for them to highlight electoral malpractices.