Thursday September 14 2017

Uganda tightens grip on online communication


By Stephen Kafeero

Kampala. Government has moved to tighten its grip on online communication especially social media with new rules aimed at preventing “illegal and/or offensive content”.

In a statement issued late Thursday, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the regulator of the communications and broadcasting sector in the country warns of dire consequences should users fail to abide by the warning.

Online communications users who post comments considered to be slanderous could face prosecution and prison if the posts are deemed illegal by authorities.

“Social and electronic communication platform users, account managers and administrators should restrain themselves and group members against authoring, posting, receiving and sharing or forwarding any forms of electronic communications containing and or referring to illegal and/or offensive content to avoid the risk of being investigated and/or prosecuted for aiding and abetting the commission of any resultant offences,” the statement reads in part.

The warning, UCC says, has been precipitated by increasing complaints against offensive and illegal content “that is sent, shared and/or otherwise broadcast through electronic communication platforms.”

It is not clear whether the move is a lead up to an anticipated clampdown after government reached a deal with the Chinese government to offer Uganda a comprehensive cyber-security solution, including technical capacity to monitor and prevent social media abuse.

The Chinese government is expected to offer its services through a statutory company, China National Electronics Import & Export Corp (CEIEC) which has committed to build the capacity of Uganda Communications Commission, Police and ministry of Internal Affairs to guard against cyber criminals, according to details of preliminary agreements reached with Ugandan officials in Beijing.
In 2015, President Museveni directed Police to arrest three people whose voices have been heard in a trending WhatsApp audio that seemed to ridicule the Bahima a sub ethnic group from Ankole, Western Uganda.

In the audio, what seems to be a Mukiga, another tribe from western Uganda and woman are heard engaging offensive language.
President Museveni who said he had received the complaint about the WhatsApp audio from First Lady Janet Museveni at the time described the unidentified individuals as “foolish” and “enemies of unity.”

Another WatsApp audio was recently circulated on social media insulting Buganda King, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi 1.
Social media was last year shut down as Mr Museveni was sworn in for a fifth elective term.
Internet service providers, MTN, Airtel and others, blocked access to Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter via handled devices which UCC said was ordered by "security organs.

Ahead of the February 18, 2016 polls, social media was shut down for 48 hours in a widely condemned move.
Police have arrested a number of Ugandans, some facing prosecution, for their social media posts deemed offensive or abusive under the Computer Misuse Act, 2011.

According to the Africa Internet Users, Facebook and 2017 Population Statistics, Uganda with a population of 38 million people has about 13 million Internet users as of March, 2017 and 2.2 million Facebook users as of June 30, 2016. Majority Facebook users log in using mobile devices.