Police officers detain Dr Kizza Besigye during protests in 2018. The report says there is suppression of Opposition parties, limited freedom of expression, among others. PHOTO/FILE


Uganda still not free - Freedom House report

What you need to know:

  • Uganda is rated “not free” with a score of 35/100, an improvement from last year’s ranking, which put the country at 34/100.

Uganda has once again been ranked “Not Free” by Freedom House in its annual Freedom in the World report although the country’s performance improved by one point.

Uganda is rated “not free” with a score of 35/100, an improvement from last year’s ranking, which put the country at 34/100. The country has consistently been ranked as “Not Free” on the Global Freedom Score since 2009 with the United States-based nonprofit, Freedom House raising a number of concerns on how the government has treated the political rights and civil liberties in the country. Freedom House conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights.

While Uganda holds regular elections, the latest report notes that “their credibility has deteriorated over time”. This is in contrast with neighbouring Kenya which is among the 34 countries in which freedom improved.

Kenya’s 2022 general elections were deemed more transparent. “The NRM retains power through patronage, intimidation, and politicised prosecutions of Opposition leaders. Uganda’s civil society and media sectors face legal and extralegal harassment and state violence,” the report authors write.

Key among the observations in the report is the enforced disappearances and political violence arising out of the 2021 General Election. These follow a pattern of concerns on excessive force by security personnel against civilians, particularly during protests or other forms of dissent, as well as reports of torture and extra-judicial killings that have been raised over the years.

“Disappearances and political violence around the 2021 election loom large in the public’s awareness, particularly as some people have not returned from detention, which may discourage many from engaging in the political sphere,” the authors observe.

Concerns about the suppression of Opposition parties, limited freedom of expression, and restricted activities of civil society organisations also persist.

The ongoing public debate and efforts to enact prohibitive legislation against LGBT+ people will likely tank Uganda’s ranking in the 2023 report. The 2022 report notes that LGBT+ people “face severe discrimination and are not represented in politics”.

On March 9, the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Bill, 2023 which seeks to further criminalise same-sex conduct and sexual and gender identity was tabled in Parliament. The Bill, which has support, also received condemnation with those against the move arguing that if adopted, it would violate multiple fundamental rights, such as the rights to freedom of expression, privacy, equality, and nondiscrimination.

Further, the ongoing major corruption scandals including the “iron sheets scandal” will likely affect the country’s rankings in 2023 negatively.  Corruption, the 2022 report notes, “remains a significant problem”.

Internet Freedom
Scoring 50 out of 100, Uganda has been ranked “partly free” on the internet freedom score. For example, Uganda’s performance relating to restrictions government imposes on the internet improved from three to four because “there was no repetition of the government’s attempts to restrict internet connectivity, social media platforms, and communication applications during 2022.

Access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp, Telegram, and other social media sites as well as about 100 VPN services was prohibited by the government in 2021. On February 10 of that year, the authorities reinstated access to all websites with the exception of Facebook. Facebook is still a restricted site.

The government had previously commanded the termination of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and mobile money services for a period of four days prior to the 2016 elections as well as once more prior to President Museveni’s inauguration that same year.

The “Freedom in the World 2023” report generally concludes that the difference between the number of nations where freedom has increased and those where it has decreased is at its tightest in 17 years.

Freedom House’s methodology for its annual Freedom in the World report is based on a set of indicators that assess a country’s political rights and civil liberties. 

Political rights indicators assess the degree to which political processes are free and fair, including the conduct of elections, the ability of citizens to participate in the political process, and the existence of a vibrant civil society. Civil liberties indicators assess the degree to which individuals are able to exercise their basic rights and freedoms, including freedom of expression, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.

The report evaluates countries based on 10 political rights and 15 civil liberties indicators, including political pluralism and participation, freedom of expression and belief, rule of law, and individual rights. A score is typically changed only if there has been a real-world development during the year that warrants a decline or improvement.

Each country is assigned a score for each of the indicators on a scale of 0 to 4, with 0 being the lowest and four being the highest. The scores are then used to determine a country’s overall status as “Free,”  “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.”

To ensure consistency and accuracy in its assessments, Freedom House uses a team of expert analysts with extensive knowledge of each country and region. The analysts review a wide range of sources, including media reports, academic research, and information provided by local civil society organisations.

Some reasons why Uganda is still ranked as not free 

1.The campaign period for the 2021 General Election was marred by repression and violence.
2.Authorities selectively used Covid-19 restrictions to violently disperse Opposition rallies and arrest journalists, while NRM events were allowed to proceed.
3.More than 50 people were killed.
4.Five-day internet blackout during the election.
5.Politically-motivated disappearances and reports of torture of Opposition supporters in detention increased months after the election.
6.The NRM government was accused of intervening in multiple by-elections in 2022, through bribery, ballot-box stuffing, military presence at polling stations, and arrests of Opposition members.
7.General lack of trust in the electoral commission.

Political pluralism and participation
8.The formation of political parties is legally protected, and many parties are registered.
9.However, in practice, restrictive registration requirements and candidate eligibility rules, limited media coverage, and violent harassment by state authorities and paramilitary groups hinder Opposition parties’ ability to compete.
10.The NRM dominates the political sphere and consistently wins elections deemed neither free nor fair.
11.Disproportionate enforcement of Covid-19 restrictions on Opposition parties.
12.The NRM dominates all levels of government, such that it is often difficult to distinguish the party from state institutions.
13.Election campaigns are characterised by violence, intimidation, and harassment of Opposition candidates and supporters.
14.Economic resources are also significantly tied to overtly or quietly supporting the NRM.
15. Leaders of Opposition parties and political movements are sometimes arrested on spurious criminal charges.
16.The military remains closely aligned with President Museveni and the ruling NRM.
17.The government is accused of bribing or coercing Opposition parliamentarians and supporters to join its ranks. 
Functioning of government
18. Power is concentrated in the hands of the NRM leadership, the security forces, and especially, Mr Museveni, who retains office through various undemocratic means.
19.The executive secures passage of key legislation through inducement, harassment, and intimidation of the legislative branch.
20.Petty corruption also characterises many government services, notably the Uganda Police Force.
21.Many government departments deny requests for information under the Access to Information Act (AIA), and laws related to national security and confidentiality impede open access to information in practice.
22. Public procurement decisions are generally opaque.

Associational and organisational rights
23.Civil society in Uganda is active, and several NGOs address politically sensitive issues. However, their operations are vulnerable to legal restrictions, burdensome registration requirements, and intimidation
24.Trade unions have been undermined by government co-optation, intimidation, and manipulation designed to frustrate their organizing and bargaining efforts.
Rule of Law
25.The Ugandan judiciary suffers from a lack of investment, executive influence, and systemic corruption, which weaken judicial independence.
26.Police routinely engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions, despite legal safeguards against such practices.
27.Due process is affected by prolonged pretrial detention, inadequate access to counsel for defendants, and corruption.
28.Rape, extrajudicial violence, and torture, and abuse of suspects and detainees by security forces are persistent problems, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted.
29.Prison conditions are poor. The prison system operates at triple its intended capacity, with pretrial detainees constituting nearly half of the inmate population as of August 2022.
Personal autonomy and rights
30.Freedom of movement is largely unrestricted, though this was not the case during the Covid-19 pandemic when the government violently enforced harsh restrictions.
31.Land disputes are common.
32.Domestic violence is widespread.
33.Poor enforcement of labour laws contributes to unsafe or exploitative conditions for some workers, including extremely low pay. Child labour in agriculture, domestic service, and a variety of other industries is a significant problem, and the issue is most prevalent in rural areas. Sexual exploitation of minors is also an ongoing problem.
34.While Uganda maintains domestic laws to promote workers’ rights, the government has failed to regulate the recruitment and transfer of Ugandan domestic workers to Middle Eastern countries.


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