What are people's personal challenges, fears and ambitions regarding digital participation? We asked seven people in Uganda what digital participation means for them and what challenges they face.
Gira Emmanuel is a citizen journalist who leads the “Common Community” project, a radio soap opera that won theRising Voices citizen journalism micro-grant in 2014. He is based in Lira, a city in Uganda’s Northern Region, and uses the Internet in his journalism work.
In our office we use a modem to access the internet – a very simple mobile device – and mobile phones and a laptop. For our mobile phones we buy internet bundles like ordinary people, but they’re very expensive. Affordability is a big issue for many people. So is the acceptance of the Internet. Many people still don’t want to use the Internet since they don’t see any use for it and don’t think it improves their daily lives. Another problem for us in the office is Internet quality and speed. We live in an upcountry region where the services of telecommunication providers are not very efficient. That’s why radio is still the most popular medium, also because it is exactly tailored to people’s needs in terms of local languages.
Prudence Nyamishana is a blogger and lives in Kampala. She works for numerous organizations and is the founder ofKweeta Uganda, a communications agency at the intersection between communication and development and the storytelling platform This is Uganda. She is especially interested in Internet governance and women’s rights issues.
Digital participation means that all genders can learn to use digital platforms and contribute information to them. As an outspoken woman, it is hard sometimes. Most times, trolls waiting for you. There is sexism, misogyny and body shaming. So sometimes as a woman, before I write and post online I have to ask myself what backlash my message might cause. At the end of the day, you have to put out your message without fear or favour. But I have hope in the young people coming online these days. They want to change the narrative around stereotypes of Ugandans. Bloggers are writing about their situation and many more people are getting on social media to create an impact. I hope the situation for women changes as well.
Isaac is 27 years old and lives in an upcountry village in Namulonge, Uganda. He is currently a research assistant at World Visionand volunteers as a community reporter where he provides local radio stations with information from remote regions.
The internet is my career. The Internet is part of my life. I can’t go one day without the Internet. I use it for my research, to inform myself about current affairs and to communicate with my friends. But I am lucky because I have a university education that most people in my community don’t have. Many people lack the necessary education to be online. Also, it is expensive to buy a smartphone and buy data for it – 1 GB cost around 2 US Dollars. Many people in my community use feature phones instead.
Stella Manake is 21 years old and comes from Mbale. She is a student at the Islamic University in Uganda in Mable and currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mass communications. At the same time she volunteers with the community radio station Step FM.
I think life without the Internet would be really boring. The Internet helps young people to learn other things – about life, about politics, about people from other parts of the world. You can also learn about innovative ideas. Life in urban areas is so different than life in rural areas because people (in the countryside) have feature phones and don’t have so much access to the Internet. However, a problem with the Internet and social media is fake news which spreads so fast on WhatsApp. The Internet also changes relationships to other people. Your phone districts you and sometimes you find yourself busy reading a WhatsApp message instead of interacting face to face with the person you’re actually with.
Maya Aquitel is a community reporter with Step FM in Mbale in Uganda’s Eastern Region. She has been working there for two years.
Before the community reporting project started, people lacked news, especially local news. There was no information on their community available at all. But community reporters really helped change the situation by gathering information and getting it to the people. For example, hygiene and sanitary issues are important. The same is true for nutrition. For my StepFM stories, I use my smartphone and WhatsApp to gather information and post them directly on social media. The smartphone and social media are really good ways to directly speak to our audience. At the beginning I had to get used to working with a smartphone, but I got training and learned and adapted. Sometimes I have problems affording Internet data bundles. If I don’t have any data on my phone, I miss out on information.
James Propa is a radio presenter in Kampala, Uganda, working mainly with musicians, publishers and content creators. He is also an author at Global Voices.
Digital participation for me personally means going beyond chatting and communicating with friends about leisure. It means getting involved in issues that affect people. Just 10 percent of the people in Uganda have access to social media, so we have to represent the people who are not online and are voiceless. I can represent people in my own way, since I have followers on social media. I can engage them so that we can all have a voice on these issues. Service delivery, for example, is a big topic that engages a lot of people online. Same with health issues. We get better informed and can proactively protect ourselves from diseases such as yellow fever.
Michael Tebere is a senior governance technical advisor working with the USAID-funded GAPP program(Governance, Accountability, Participation, Performance), which seeks to strengthen Uganda’s service-delivery systems as well as civil society to give Ugandans a voice in local and national government.
Our task is to strengthen systems with local governments and we work in teams of three in each region. I work with leadership and local council development which includes building capacity to apply the Access to Information Act. The Act is not well known by local government officials which results in very few responses to information requests. Record management systems are not up to date and hard-copies of records are still kept. Every little issue requires a lot of paperwork and there is not enough space to keep all the paper. In addition, sometimes the hard copies get eaten by termites. I think updating the laws so that digital or scanned documents can act as legal documents would really improve the current situation.