State of Civic Space in Uganda: A Call to Action

Civic space is the physical, virtual, legal, regulatory, and policy space where people can, among other things, securely exercise their rights to the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, in keeping with human rights.

Civic space which is the bedrock of any democratic society, and it can only thrive in an open, secure and safe environment that is free from all acts of intimidation, harassment and reprisals, whether online or offline. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organizations are able to organize and play a role in policymaking and contribute to decision-making, political and peace building processes. In doing so, they are able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respects and facilitates their fundamental rights to associate, assemble peacefully and freely express views and opinions.

OECD[1] recognizes that civil society’s ability to exercise the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, in-person and online, is in jeopardy in many places and closing civic space is part of a broader concern of diminishing respect for human rights, democracy, and international humanitarian law, in a context of rising autocratisation that has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Closing civic space poses real danger to civil society actors in many countries, increases the vulnerability of civil society, and affects the quality and effectiveness of development co-operation, humanitarian assistance and peacebuilding.

As Uganda edges closer to the year 2026 when the country will hold her next general elections, it is noteworthy that democratic elections thrive on fundamental liberties namely; freedom of movement (mobility), freedom of assembly (campaign rallies and processions), and freedom of association (direct candidate and voter interaction). Yet, these are the very liberties that a growing number of citizens as revealed in ACFIM Report on State of Civic Space in Uganda, feel and opine that they are restricted.

The new Computer misuse laws which according to pro-democracy and human rights activists, threatens the freedom of expression, and coming on the heels of the extended suspension of Facebook in Uganda which remains in place for the second year running, paints a bleak future for netizens at a time when many Ugandan young people have taken refuge to social media to express their voices of dissent. The new Act prescribes punitive measures for sending or sharing false, malicious, and unsolicited information online.

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