By David Lewis Rubongoya
Following the 2009 Kayunga protests, the regime banned public meetings popularly known as Bimeeza and withdrew licences from several radio stations, including CBS. That opened a new phase of repression using the law.
In 2013, they passed the Uganda Communications Commission Act which gave UCC sweeping powers to withdraw licences for media stations that will be deemed troublesome, in the name of enforcing minimum broadcasting standards. And since then, media houses have been treading cautiously. Many are apparently operating on provisional licenses. They will remind us whenever a guest goes bare knuckles, that the views expressed are not of the station, but those of the guests. The fear is apparent.
EFFECTIVELY THEY HAD FOUND A WAY OF CONTROLLING MAINSTREAM MEDIA.
The next problem was how to deal with public gatherings.
Following the 2011 Walk to Work Protests, the regime became desperate to ban all public gatherings of a political nature.
In 2013, they enacted the Public Order Management Act (POMA) which effectively required every citizen to get police permission before organising or participating in any demonstration. How the POMA has been used to crack down dissent since then is well known world over. To date, there are people rotting at Kitalya, Luzira and other prisons for several years for going against this draconian law. The very mover and arch-defender of the law, Amama Mbabazi faced its wrath at some point, just like the present law is bound to catch its mover and supporters.
AND SO, THROUGH THE PUBLIC MANAGEMENT ACT, THE REGIME EFFECTIVELY BANNED PUBLIC GATHERINGS AND DEMONSTRATIONS.
The next challenge for the regime was social media!
With public gatherings banned and media stations severely restricted, the regime thought it would have a smooth sail. But since the advent of the People Power Movement in 2018, the regime found itself with a new problem to deal with, and that was social media! As more and more young people expressed contrary views on social media, the regime felt threatened.
They immediately introduced a daily social media tax of 200 UgX called OTT. That did not deter people. Those who had the means paid it, while others bypassed it using VPN. Frustrated and desperate, they decided to ban Facebook in Uganda, which remains banned to-date.
But the people still by-passed the ban using VPN networks. And so it has been a huge challenge to them. They could rig elections with impunity, carry out abductions and illegal arrests and exercise all manner of illegalities, but they couldn’t prevent citizens from expressing their disgust and discontent with the corrupt and inept regime via Facebook, tiktok, twitter, etc.
In between, a new problem emerged for the regime. That was in form of the People Power dresscode comprised of red berets, red overalls, etc. These dressings emboldened the people and are a symbol of resistance! As they became widespread all over the country, the regime immediately gazetted them in accordance with the UPDF Act, and said they belong to the military henceforth. This has since been used to abduct, torture and detain thousands and charge them before the military court.
But the social media problem persisted for the regime. They have been relying on Section 25 of the Computer Misuse Act to abduct, arrest, torture and detain several social media users for being so critical to the regime or exposing its dark side. As we speak, several journalists and online activists are on the run or in exile for fear of being abducted or violently arrested over their publications on social media.
But it is now clear that according to the regime, that provision was not enough for repressive purposes, because the highest punishment is 480,000/= and/or imprisonment for one year or less. Secondly, it requires the offended person to come and testify that their peace has been disturbed or their privacy infringed upon. Of course no regime official wants to embarrass themselves testifying how they want to muzzle criticism.
That is how the regime decided to enlist Muhammad Nsereko’s services! His law effectively bans the use of social media and other electronic mechanisms to criticise the regime and its officials. Under that law,
1. You cannot record someone’s voice or video without authorisation.
2. You cannot share information about or that relates to another person without authorisation.
3. You cannot write, share or send information about anyone which is likely to demean, ridicule or degrade another person.
4. You cannot share unsolicited information with anyone.
5. The punishment for doing any of these things will range from paying fines of up to fifteen million shillings, and imprisonment of up to 7 or 10 years, depending on which section you have violated. In addition, a person convicted under Nsereko’s law will not be allowed to hold public office for 10 years. You can see who the target is!
You can imagine what the military regime can use this law for! If Gen. Museveni has been using a knife to deal with the threat of social media, Nsereko has now handed him a machete. If he has been using a stone, he now has a hammer. In terms of unconstitutionality, this law goes far beyond all the repressive laws highlighted above.
History will be harsh not only to the oppressors, but mostly to those who aided the oppressors in oppressing the people.
The beauty is that repressive laws have never stopped any regime from falling. No single law has ever stopped the people from eventually reclaiming their power and sovereignty. They could have since forgotten, but this fact was captured aptly by the NRA while in the bush, in their book Mission to Freedom, Page 2. “The right of rebellion against tyranny has been recognised from the ancient days to the present day by men of all creeds…..It transcends any narrow laws enacted by petty dictators and despots.”
Our struggle will end in victory!