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Freedom of expression crackdown in Uganda, why Social Media is not helpful.

Over the past one week, I have closely followed the story about the
recent media crackdown of one of Uganda’s leading independent newspapers TheDaily Monitor , RedPepper a tabloid and a couple of radio stations. I have, on daily
basis streamed local news via NTV Uganda ,
followed the social media buzz and read blogs from some of Uganda Journalist like Charles Onyango Obbo and Angelo Izama regarding the media besiege of 20th May 2013 in Kampala Uganda.
With many personalized African regimes, where you easily get thrown in
jail for publishing news that holds the government accountable, there is no
doubt that good journalists become an endangered species. Main stream
Journalist have become an easily target and have been victims of media crackdowns
with so many being thrown in jail and threatened or have their licenses
withdrawn by the communications regulator Like Rosebell Kagumire a Journalist and blogger shares.
 

 Snap shot of tweets about the Besiege on 20/5/13
Because of such risks, the advent of social media has shaped and continues to shape the
experience of news because, it not only enables real time reporting but also creates millions of witnesses to hold Governments accountable. We all witnessed
its impact during the Arab spring and how the narrative about Kenya is Changing
though an online movement on Twitter dubbed #KOT [Kenyans on twitter] who will not waste any chance
to correct  international media like CNN for wrongly broadcasting news about the various situations in Kenya. All
these have been very successful but the same approach has failed to yield
anything tangible in Uganda yet a reasonable number of Ugandan use social
media.
The obvious reasons will be attributed to issues of numbers; how
many people use social media in Uganda,what social media platforms are used, if any, what they are used for, if there are rules governing usage? Etc. While I personally agree that big numbers are essential for advocacy, they do not always guarantee positive impact. But for those
who use social media (which is quite a reasonable number) how is their online activism and advocacy
shaping and or impacting on the media freedom debate in Uganda? 

This is why I think social media is/has not been helpful in Uganda

  1. For
    many of us, action has become what we think. We have chosen to use social
    media as platforms to express our grievances and only stop at that, and
    then leave it for few ‘brave’ ones to act. And unfortunately, only few
    brave people have acted. This is why I think that, social media has not
    been an effective tool in advocating for positive social change or
    creating positive impact in instances where the government has silenced
    citizens who question its mandate, those who express their opinion freely
    and those who threaten its existence in one way or another through freedom
    of expression. 

  1. We
    advocate for connectivity without pushing for freedom yet at the back of
    our minds, we know that this cannot work. In many places worldwide, ordinary people
    have been tortured and continue to be toured because of censorship. Without
    freedom, many Ugandans are hesitant to participate in sensitive issues
    that jeopardize their existence, so they choose to follow the “bandwagon” effect and
    share information randomly without good coordination such that at the end of it all,
    no one is responsible for the online buzz and therefore one is to blame
    or held accountable because somehow everyone is responsible.
  1. When
    you look at a list of Ugandans on twitter
    you will notice that these are elite and mainly urban dwellers that have
    jobs to protect and fear to get on the wrong side of government. You will
    hardly find members of parliament, the police, ministers and other
    legislators with personal accounts that they manage and use to engage.
    For online campaigns to be successful in real life, there must be a
    leader, someone to guide the discussion and move it forward, someone to
    keep the interest strong right from the start to the end, to keep the
    online communities of practice focused and not easily swayed away by other
    “breaking news” a common trend on social media platform and above all someone
    ready to take up the biggest part of responsibility and willing to be
    accountable. We do not have many of such people in Uganda when it comes to sensitive
    issues that that are linked to or involve the government.
  1. The
    communication regulator, Uganda communication Commission (UCC) claims to recognize the fundamental importance of ICTs in all policies
    for development and says that it creates the conditions for the fullest
    participation by all sections of the population, yet the same regulator is
    quick to shut down radio stations and threaten to block social media
    websites when citizens use the internet to question issues of governance
    like it currently is with freedom of expression. In 2011, UCC,
    through Internet service providers attempted to block social media websites twitter and face book during the presidential elections and Walk to work riots. Major telecoms in Uganda
    were also accused of violating customer privacy because they were censoring SMS messages with key words like Egypt, Mubarak during the Arab
    spring. These actions by the country’s communications regulator raise suspicion among online internet users making them worry about their
    privacy thereby hindering online activism that could later on become physical
    activism.
    Aljazeera’s Malcom Webb (R) runs away from a teargas Canister during the journalist demo in Kampala, Uganda on 28/5/13: Photo by Isaac Kisamani 
    Like Chris Obore an
    investigative Journalist with the Daily Monitor recently said during the
    2013 Internet freedom Forum in Sweden , that “Until internet begins to determine politics in my Government, it
    will still remain useless for so many”. It is true that very little advantage can be taken of the opportunities
    social media provides if the policies needed to provide citizens with meaning
    and purpose are not conducive. And because we still have a small online
    community in Uganda, the newspapers and radio stations are effective ways
    of accessing relevant and timely information by the populace. We need our journalists to be protected because they are society watch dogs. Threatening them and beating
    them affects us all. We need to be informed so that we can question and hold
    our government accountable because we are all stakeholders. Journalists surely deserve better.

Youth, Skills & Employability at the 6th eLearning Conference in Dar es Salaam.

eLearning Africa is a conference and exhibition organised by ICWE GmbH that focuses on information and communication technologies (ICTs) for development, education and training in Africa. Serving as a pan-African platform, eLearning Africa links a network of decision-makers from governments and administrations with universities, schools, governmental and private training providers, industry and important partners in development cooperation. Each year a different country hosts the event. This year’s conference took place in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania from 24th to 28th May 2011 with the theme “Youth, Skills & Employability” and attracted delegates from 90 countries around the world.
This year’s event just like that of 2010 in Zambia was characterized by a photo competition.  The public was called upon  to capture photos on how Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) can nurture talent, skills and innovation across Africa. The public was invited to send in photos that depict outstanding achievements in Africa – empowered by ICTs – or that show innovative ways in which ICTs can foster the development of people, communities and society.  With over 120 images submitted, the following winner emerged 
Blogging and Technology camps for Vulnerable groups
I was privileged to chair a session on “How blogging and Technology camps can empower people at risk, women, girls” The session looked at the story of research about the way ICTs influence how girls and boys, women and men relate to each other in African schools. It also examined how blogs, technology camps and literacy programs can improve the livelihood of rural women, support groups at risk and enable the empowerment of girls.  It includes the following presenters:
Oreoluwa Abiodun Somulu from Nigeria: “Building Blocks: The W.TEC Girls Technology Camp”.
Steven Ouma Otieno from Kenya: “Positive Blogging for groups most at risk”.
Judith Sama from cameroon: Urban-Rural Gender Digital Divide in Selected Schools in Central Africa”
John Stephen Olouch from Kenya on the Role of ICT and Literacy in Achieving Sustainable Livelihoods Among Women, Southern Kenya.
African Women and ICT


Talk with Maureen Agena by Batier

For details about the 6th eLearning conference, please visit:

Contracted to Tweet and Blog at the 3rd Regional EastAfrica Internet Governace Forum (EAIGF) in Kampala.

The EAIGF twitter page
Globally, technological development has taken the place of face-to-face interaction; with an increasing range of devices for communicating and disseminating information. It is evident that the world is changing rapidly and African Media is catching up with the technological revolution.

At the third East African Internet Governace forum which is being held in Kampala Uganda with a theme:”Strengthening East Africa’s Critical Internet resources: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally”, Twitter an interactive micro blogging platform based on open publication of 140 character messages is one of the most powerful social media tools being used to share information and Network about the event.

A citizen Journalist and a professional Journalist working together.

Together with Ms. Esther Nakazzi a Journalist with the EastAfrican Newspaper, we were contracted as official resource persons in-charge of communication during the 3rd EAIGF. We were tasked with tweeting and blogging during the three days event. I must say that it is very interesting working with a professional Journalist. It is my very first time as a citizen Journalist to be contracted to tweet and blog at a regional workshop. I have always tweeted at workshops, conferences as well as meetings but that was mainly on voluntary basis. These include among others the digital citizen Indaba and Highway Africa 2009 conference in South Africa, the CTA2009Annual Seminar, art and science the international festival TREFFPUNKT AFRIKA among others.

Who inspired me?

Like the saying goes, “Credit must be given where and when it is due”. I first heard about social media and specifically twitter, blogs, facebook, youtube and skype when I Joined Women of Uganda Network as an information Officer in 2008 and was tasked to head the citizen Journalism in Africa Project (CJA) which was funded by Hivos and SANGONeT in SouthAfrica.  Citizen Journalism is a form of citizen media – where individuals write and or comment on issues they feel are left out of the mainstream media using social media and web2.0 tools.

A lot of motivation was from  a freelance Zambian Journalist known as Brenda Zulu who I first met during the 2009 highway African conference and thereafter during the CTA2009 Annual seminar who helped me start up my personal blog http://dignityinpoverty.blogspot.com/ .  

The idea of tweeting during major events is a very powerful one since very many people who would otherwise not have received such information are able to follow and contribute.

Please follow the tweets  https://twitter.com/EA_IGF  and the blog at http://www.eaigf-uganda.blogspot.com/

Cervical cancer: A threat to Women’s life expectancy

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women worldwide and the leading cause of cancer deaths among women in developing countries. According to the Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH), global statistics show that nearly nearly half a million new cases of invasive cervical cancer are diagnosed each year. And more than a quarter million women die of this disease annually, with the highest incidence and mortality rates being in sub-saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia. Cervical cancer is the most common female cancer in Uganda. At Mulago hospital alone, 80 percent of women diagnosed or referred with cervical cancer, have the disease in it’s advanced stage.
The causes of cervical cancer have been attributed to early engagement in sexual activities, multiple sexual partners and multiple marriages. Cecil Helman in her book Culture, Health and Illness, identifies that the disease is rare in nuns and common in prostitutes. And while in recent years, there has been a growing understanding of how people’s gender identity determines the nature of their ill health, their vulnerability to disease, their ability to prevent disease and their access to healthcare.  The dimension of feminist theory and females experience puts males’ hostile sexuality at the biopsychological core of men’s subjugation of women. In most situations, a woman’s risk of getting cervical cancer will depend less on her sexual behavior but more on that of her husband or male partner since the disease can be transmitted from woman to another, with men acting as carriers. This mostly applies in communities with cultures that expect men to have many premarital and extra marital affairs as proof of their masculinity, while barring women and looking at them as eminently available and seducible.
Usually women contract the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) between their late teenage years and their early 30’s. But most often cervical cancer is found much later, usually after age 40, with a peak incidence around 45. There is a long delay between infection and invasive cancer, hence killing many annually often because it goes undiagnosed for many years. And yet the disease is preventable and can be detected and treated at an early stage when the cure rate is virtually 100 percent. Ignorance of the disease of the disease might not be the only threat, but limited access to screening and therapy for precancerous lesions and the low acceptability of pelvic examinations are also contributing factors towards the high prevalence of cervical cancer. Women might also have no control over possible disease transmission if they fail to decide when and where to seek medical attention or when and how they have sex. The imbalance of power between women and men in gender relations curtails women’s sexual autonomy and expands male sexual freedom, thereby increasing women’s vulnerability.
According to PATH, prevention of cervical cancer can be done in two ways; Preventing infection initially or detecting the precursors to cervical cancer and providing treatment. The former can be accomplished by avoiding exposure to the virus through abstinence from sexual activity or through mutual monogamy(when both partners were not previously infected). Condoms only offer 70 percent protection against HPV when used all the time. Vaccination is the other preventive method. PATH is working on incorporating HPV vaccination into a comprehensive cervical cancer prevention programme, through developing a vaccine delivery strategy, a communications strategy for out reach to communities, and an advocacy strategy for outreach to policy makers. Vaccination can be combined with screening. Every woman deserves the right to the highest attainable standard of health, especially the many millions of women who confront illiteracy, poverty, poor sanitation, and medical facilities that are inadequate and physically/ economically inaccessible.

Proud to take the 6th Place in the e-learning Photo competition

Dissemination to Rural Communities through Radio (Uganda)
Owing to a lack of skills, high costs and limited access to ICTs, staff at Kubere Information Centre in Apac district, Northern Uganda, were holding face-to-face meetings (while listening to recorded speeches/ideas over the radio) with rural community members who do not have an opportunity to listen to live radio talk shows broadcast on “Radio Apac”, a local community radio.

Top ten photos

Citizen Journalists: The “Watchdogs” during the 2010 FIFA World cup.

Technological innovation is taking place at a breath-taking pace. Simple, open source internet-based applications and services designed to enhance on-line collaboration are now available to the wider public at little or no cost at all. These new online services known as Web 2.0 applications have enabled people, especially citizen Journalists to collaborate remotely in creating, sharing, networking, lobbying and publishing information about the FIFA 2010 worldcup . The 2010 FIFA world cup which is currently taking place in South Africa comes at a point when the use and application of web 2.0 tools has been adapted by many African people.
Globally, technological development has taken the place of face-to-face interaction; with an increasing range of devices for communicating and disseminating information. It is evident that the world is changing rapidly and African Media needs to catch up with the technological revolution. Africa cannot oppose the rise of this technology and the investment in “new and digital media”. But because of the low literacy levels, limited skills and high costs, it seems to be a fantasy than a reality to promote a larger use of online media in Africa. Never the less, this has not kept those who can access and use the technologies/web applications from making the best use of them during this 2010 FIFA worldcup.
Twitter an interactive micro blogging platform based on open publication of 140 character messages is one of the most popular web 2.0 tool being used to share information across the globe about the world cup. Being the largest sporting event in the world, twitter introduced the idea of having a picture of a ball after every tweet that bears the hush tag for the worldcup (#worldcup).
Facebook a privately owned social online networking website having users who can request for or add friends and send them messages as well as update their personal profiles in a chronological order to notify friends about themselves is another powerful tool being used by thousands of both soccer and non-soccer lovers during this 2010 FIFA world cup . It’s on these platforms that you find the latest updates about the different games in terms of the fixture, the winning teams, the “avoidable mistakes ” made during the different games, the online links to follow and watch the games, the vuvuzela discussions and people’s personal opinion about game.
We cannot ignore the blog, a type of website usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Many bloggers worldwide are having their blogs populated with the world cup event from all spheres; socially, politically and from an economic point of view.
A number of other tools like Youtube for sharing videos, flickr for photos and RSS for syndication are also being used. However, how are Africans benefiting from this worldcup and the various technologies?
The need to invest in citizen journalism and involve citizens in policies that affect them is now evident with the ongoing 2010 FIFA worldcup. The use of web 2.0 tools has enhanced real time communication, improved information sharing and networking. It is very important for different African governments to take advantage of these platforms to improve on key sectors electronically like health, education, governance and business. Each one of us can be a watch dog in our own societies or localities by reporting and sharing information on issues that affect us but have been left out by mainstream media. We are all citizen Journalist in one way or another.

The writer is a trained Citizen journalist

Ugandan Citizen Journalists among the Top Ten in the e-Learning Photo Competition

The recently concluded e-Learning Africa 2010 Photo Competition saw two Ugandan citizen Journalist featuring among the top ten finalist taking up the 4th and 6th position. The photo competition aimed at finding out “How ICTs Are Changing the Way We Live”. To know what this has meant for the African continent and to learn more about how digital media (mobile phones, the Internet, computers, radio and the audio-visual) have changed the lives of the people in Africa who use them in their day-today work.(Digital citizens). More than 100 images were submitted during the competition that lasted for months and only the top ten were chosen and presented.
Ugandan took five of the ten top positions, with two of the TOP ten coming from WOUGNET Staff Members (Ssozi Javie and Maureen Agena in the 4th and 6th positions respectively).
The TOP 10 photos :
  • Will be featured in an exhibition from May 26th – 28th at eLearning Africa 2010 in Lusaka, Zambia
  • Have been announced on the eLearning Africa website: http://www.elearning-africa.com/picturevoting_home.php
  • Will also be part of the next eLearning Africa Newsletter, which is distributed to thousands of people in Africa and all over the world (mail out: Thursday, May 20).
  • will be part of the eLA photo book and handed out to high-level conference participants.
HOW CITIZEN JOURNALISM INFLUENCED OUR POSTIONS.
 
Being one of the country focal for the Citizen Journalism in Africa (CJA) project, Women of Uganda Netwok (WOUGNET) was privileged to participate in the two year recently concluded project which targeted Citizen Journalists in six African countries of Uganda, SouthAfrica, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe. With support from SANGONeT and Hivos, several trainings were conducted in the mentioned countries and Uganda was not an exception.
Among the trained citizen Journalists in Uganda, Maureen Agena and Javie Ssozi from Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) were among those specifically trained as trainers. Photography was a major subject matter in all the CJA trainings and this improved on our photography skills. We also learnt about writing skills and how to describe scenes, situations and pictures. BROSDI is the second Country Focal point in Uganda for the CJA project. The key trainers were Brett Davidson, Mathew De Gale and Noma Rangana all from SouthAfrica. With these skills there was no doubt that we would fail to participate and either win or be among the winners. For details visit CJA :

HOW WE FEEL ABOUT THE FINAL RESULTS: 
Javie Ssozi: I am thrilled that I made it in the Top 10. The participants submitted very powerful photos and this made it even more competitive and interesting. This is a very good initiative that promotes citizen journalism in Africa and most of all shows how ICTs have improved livelihoods around the continent.
Maureen Agena: I feel that the Citizen Journalism trainings I received from the Hivos and SANGONeT team were not in vain, because out of Over 100 photos submitted, mine was the 6th best/relevant photo. Thanks to SANGONeT and Hivos for trusting the power and ability of Citizen Journalists like me. Thanks to the e-learning team that thought of such an innovative competition and for giving us the opportunity to participate. And to all those who voted, thanks for believing in me and seeing the relevance of the photo I submitted.
Conclusion.
It was a competition worth participating in, because it was the first of its kind especially by the e-learning team. It was interesting and yet challenging but as the saying goes, everything has to eventually come to an end. To all the top ten participants, well done and well won and to the rest of the participants, keep the fire burning with the use and application of technology in all your undertakings. To my fellow Ugandans who participated, thanks for scooping five of the top ten positions. Good luck and enjoy the conference on e-learning.