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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withdrawn by the communications regulator Like Rosebell Kagumire a Journalist and blogger shares.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.
,

Can AFRICANS tell their own story through Social Media?

Highlights of a brief conversation:
Nova Scotian: Hello, Where do you come from? Or Hello, Are you from Africa?
Me: Africa/ yes
Nova Scotian: Oh, which part of Africa
Me: East Africa
Nova Scotian: Which Country
Me: Uganda
Nova Scotian: UGANDA!!!(With a smile)…….Idi Amin and LRA. That’s what it’s known for. Right?
Me: Because that’s what the media portrays. Right?
Nova Scotian: But that’s what we all we know about Uganda.
Me: Really? Never heard of the Rwenzori Mountains or Inzikuru in the Olympics?
Nova Scotian: No
And the conversation goes on and on and on depending on how much the individual knows or is willing to know about Uganda!!
Not one, not two and not even three but many people have asked me that question(Where do you come from/ Are you from Africa?) for the 3 months I have so far spent in Nova Scotia, Canada.  It’s amazing that they ask with lots of enthusiasm and when you mention that you come from Africa, they are quick to ask which part/Country.  I used to take this so lightly but after I noticed a similar response from all those I interacted with and talked to about Africa, I began noticing something funny.
Thirty two (32) years after Idi Amin stopped ruling Uganda, and about seven (7) years after his death, he is remembered and known more than all the presidents who ruled after him. The funniest thing is that he is known for the Tyranny and bloodshed. Second to Idi Amin is the Lord’s Resistance Army (a.k.a LRA) known for abduction, rape as well as cutting off lips and Noses of their victims? When I ask a question like; Is there anything good and positive that you know of, or have ever heard about Uganda? They innocently say no. Some are even quick to add that another bad thing they have heard that is so recent, is that Uganda is a homophobic country. 
The Media: They have the Power to influence and change perception.
I usually get so inquisitive and ask; How do you get to know all these details about Idi Amin, LRA etc yet you have never been to Uganda?, most people say through News. What do you mean by news? I ask. “We watch all that stuff on CNN and BBC is the response I get. Of course they are right and it’s true but what keeps me wondering, is that even after all this time with no Amin and LRA in Uganda, people think that it’s still the case even in 2011. Why is too much emphasis put on such issues? Can’t the news be balanced such that equal emphasis is put on both the good and bad? Just a handful of people know about our beautiful Muchision falls, our conducive weather, our Olympics heros and the fact that we are the ‘pearl of Africa’.  What exactly do professional journalists report about? Or what are they supposed to report? Are there journalists who write positive stories? I would love to meet them.
Can Africans tell their story though social Media to change negative perception?
Ivorycoast, then Tunisia, followed by Egypt then Libya took  over the news headlines despite the fact that Yemen, and Morrocco were in similar situations, A week later Japan  made news headlines with the earthquake that has claimed approximately 10,000 lives…..and the stories go on to celebrities like Lady Gaga visiting Google offices and Taylor Elizabeth passing on. That is main stream media for you! So what am I supposed to watch or listen to and follow with all this news coming up?
And who alerts the media houses about the situation? It’s the citizen Journalists through social sites like twitter, youtube and facebook which are now accessible on many mobile phones.  With more citizens owning phones and accessing internet, can Africans now tell their own story to the world? Can we have more African Journalists (both professional and citizen) reporting good things about Africa like the Americans and Europeans do about America and Europe? Can African Journalist produce documentaries featuring African Icons and heros that we can watch and feel proud of?  What about Africans in the diaspora who are contributing so much to these already developed countries socially, economically and politically, what are their stories?  I seem to have more questions. What do you think?
AFRICA= POVERTY? HUNGER? DISEASE?(Watch this!)

Information Poverty: A barrier to Agricultural Productivity in Rural areas.

The agricultural sector is one of the most under exploited in many African Countries today. In Uganda alone, about 80% of the now approximately 32 million people http://data.worldbank.org/country/uganda  are rural based and depend almost entirely on Agriculture at various Levels of livelihood.
Information poverty is the absolute lack of accurate and timely Agricultural information to effect positive change in this case in the Agriculture Sector. Much as it is believed by many, that access to timely information by rural communities cannot only increase agricultural productivity but enhance social and economic development, many farmers in rural areas lack even the basic access to information.
Can ICTs bridge the Information Poverty gap?
Technologies affects all aspects of life be it social, economic or political. It’s therefore important to understand the role technology can play in Agriculture; to increase productivity, reduce costs as well as increase on the customer base. ICTs have been used as enablers in other sectors like Education, Entrepreneurship, health and sports but their adoption, usage and application in Agriculture is low despite the big role agriculture plays in society.
The inability to access accurate and timely information by rural farmers on climate change, market prices and best practices has negatively affected the final out put in terms of yields and profits. ICTs can play a big role is solving the problem of information poverty among rural farmers. The mobile phone whose penetration into Africa alone is over 500M http://ht.ly/37Ks7 a hand tool that can be used for several purposes because of its ability to combine text, Audio and Video functionality in addition to its ability to cut across literacy levels(Farmers are able to communicate in their local languages). The community radios, Telecenters/Information resource centre and print Media like farmer Magazines are all ICTs that farmers can use to access agricultural information.

MobileActive Video: Mobile phones in rural development & agriculture

Way Forward

Despite a number of challenges faced by the Agricultural sector, there are some things to consider inorder to bridge the Agricultural divide. Some of them are;
·          -Actively involving the Youth in Agricultural initiatives because being the biggest users of ICTs, their potential can be tapped into to divert their skills to Agriculture. They need to start looking at Agriculture as a source of income(Agrobusiness) and not as a dirty job like it has been potryed to them.
·         The agricultural projects must be very Gender sensitive right from the start. In most African Counties, women dominate in agricultural production yet the men do lots of marketing. It’s important to let each Gender play a role right from production to marketing in order to achieve Agricultural food security.
·         Agriculturalists need to work very closely with Journalists. Media plays a very big role in changing the perception people have towards agriculture as a dirty job and a sector of failures. Since journalists set the news agenda, they have to be well informed such that they can document agricultural success stories and stop focusing on only agricultural disasters like famine and floods.
·         Take advantage of New and social media to educate, inform, motivate and involve a number of different stakeholders about the role agriculture can play in economic development of society.