Uganda: Positive developments in innovation overshadowed by digital rights limitations | #speakup barometer | Uganda | DW | 04.10.2018
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#speakup barometer | Uganda

Uganda: Positive developments in innovation overshadowed by digital rights limitations

Uganda features a large number of innovation centers and the quality of digital journalism in the country is improving. But restrictive media laws and low media literacy rates are limiting digital participation.

This article provides a short overview about the most pressing topics concerning digital participation in our five respective clusters: access, digital rights, media and journalism, society, and innovation. If you want more in-depth insight into the respective clusters, follow the links to access our cluster-specific research articles.

If you want to read more about our model of digital participation, you will find a comprehensive description here.

Uganda is full of extremes, including the digital divide between the countryside and the cities, the disconnect between constitutional guarantees regarding freedom of expression and the reality of its implementation in the face of controversial media laws and a powerful regulator. The traditional media scene in the capital is diverse (radio, TV, print and online) and quite critical and many people have access. On the countryside radio still dominates with much less access to social media. While there are many developments that influence digital participation negatively, there are also many trends that clearly point in a positive direction.

Our barometer reflects these developments as it points into the orange section of the barometer with a positive drift towards the green section.

Please find a detailed description of our four color ranges here. 

There are positive developments in the innovation and media and journalism clusters, including a high saturation of innovation centers and the generally good quality of digital journalism, including dialog formats. But, there are other developments that restrict digital participation. Restrictive media laws that weaken digital rights, low media literacy rates (also for journalists) as well as affordability of Internet data all had a negative effect on the barometer reading.

Following, the #speakup barometer results for uganda for our five clusters will be explained. For an overview, the here. visualizes the cluster-specific results in one view. 

 

To find out more about our five clusters, please follow this link.

Access  (Follow this link for a detailed analysis of the cluster access)

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Access in Uganda: Strong limitations

Internet access and affordability remain a challenge, especially in the rural regions. For many people, this is the main impediment to digital participation. The gap between Internet usage in urban and rural areas is still very high. While in urban areas, people have access to high-bandwidth connections, Internet quality in rural areas remains low. 

However, all indications are that Internet access in rural areas might become more affordable and of better quality. New plans by the government and private companies to expand network access in rural areas as well as the dynamic ISP market might lead to a fall in prices. Access might also be improved through Internet cafés and community centers as well as the establishment of public Wi-Fi areas. 

 

Digital Rights (follow this link for a detailed analysis of the cluster digital rights)

There are two opposing factors which strongly influence the digital rights cluster: the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in the constitution and repressive media laws such as passages from the Press and Journalism Act (2000) or the Uganda Communications Act (2013). Recently, the power of the government to influence the media sector has increased, mainly through controversial decisions made by the national regulator, the Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC). 

Digital security challenges such as cyberbullying and surveillance have a negative influence on digital participation. The awareness of digital security measures is still low among the wider population, and usually only a concern among journalists and activists currently. However, during the Internet shutdowns in 2016 during elections, people showed resilience and downloaded more than 1.4 Million VPNs to circumvent the Internet blackout. Capacity building in the field of digital rights, especially in areas of digital security, offers opportunities for citizens and digital rights organizations alike to further strengthen their positions against measures by the government or other stakeholders.
 

Media and Journalism (please follow this link for a detailed analysis of the cluster media and journalism)

In Uganda the digital media landscape is beginning to evolve. Radio is still dominant but online media is catching up and reaching more people, mainly via mobile devices. An increasing number of digital media outlets has resulted in more diversity and freedom of choice. In some cases users can get information in their regional languages. The concerns of minorities are almost not covered, especially at radio stations. Many radio stations are trying to engage with their users through call-in formats and on their social media channels but their focus is on entertainment not on information.

Thanks to new digital tools, like mobile reporting apps, journalists are able to strengthen their reporting capacities. But some outlets are still weak in the area of  reporting and focus mainly on entertainment. Journalists who work as investigators are sometimes exposed to attacks.

Job conditions of journalists are difficult. Pay is low; training and equipment are in need of improvement. In some cases, reporting and story selection are based on payment (purchased reports). Journalists and media houses still must contend with political pressure from the government and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC).  In addition, many media outlets are owned by politicians. Therefore, completely free and independent reporting does not exist.

On the other hand, citizen journalism projects are beginning to develop and bring information to the population. A basic journalistic blogger scene exists, and some bloggers now have a good reputation with their audiences.

The public broadcaster UBC is the only broadcaster with nationwide coverage as well as in local language. Along with its radio and TV stations UBC is also present on digital platforms but the existing program is unsufficient and does not meet the basic information needs. The management has been replaced recently and an attempt is being made to reform the broadcaster.

 

Society (please follow this link for a detailed analysis of the cluster society)

In Uganda social norms have a strong impact on digital participation. They are often the reason why some groups, e.g. women in rural areas, are excluded from digital participation. On the other hand, people long to have Internet access and are very eager to use digital services once they do have access. With the spread of digital technology and infrastructure (also in the countryside) more people have gotten the chance to participate. Low literacy rates as well as a lack of media and information literacy skills do result in restrictions on access since some people are not knowledgeable about digital media or cannot read written material. Often written content is published only in English; content in audio-visual form or in local languages is very rare, which also reduces access to information.

People who use online media have very little trust in journalism, according to experts. This has a negative effect on the discussion culture online because people believe the news they get from untrustworthy sources just as much as they do from credible journalists. Societal debates are often not constructive and there appears to be few strong signs for positive change. Phenomena such as fake news as well as personal attacks and hate speech are still common, especially regarding women and journalists. Therefore, people sometimes avoid expressing their opinion and are rarely involved in discussions on social or political issues.

 

Innovation (please follow this link for a detailed analysis for the cluster innovation)

The innovative landscape in Uganda is beginning to develop. There are several iHubs and other places where innovation is happening and where innovators can meet and exchange ideas. Several interesting projects in the field of digital innovation have resulted. However, innovation is concentrated in the cities (mainly Kampala) and rarely found in rural areas. Financing is also a problem. Investors are reluctant to invest their money in media startups.

Although media houses in Uganda publish their content on digital channels, the approach is mainly conventional. Some companies and editorial offices are beginning to discover innovative digital publishing options for their own work. However, examples of digital innovations at traditional media houses are still rare. There are some individual journalists who are engaged in the field of digital innovation and promote it actively (they also work as trainers and multipliers).

The adoption of open source started some years ago. The government adopted free and open source software as the preferred standard for electronic government (e-government) services and platforms in 2014. But project implementation remains slow.

The country's innovation scene is perceived abroad as having potential. International journals regularly point out the potential for innovation in Uganda.

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