We, the African Studies Association stand in solidarity with the people of Uganda who are affected by the curtailing of freedoms under the regime of Uganda’s president. We are a community of Africanists who uphold the charge of Ghana’s first president and pan-Africanist par excellence, that the freedom of one group of Africans is meaningless without the freedoms of all. Over the years Yoweri Museveni’s regime has relied on a parliamentary majority to enact laws that curtail Freedom of Expression for individual Ugandans and that close the space for political and civil society groups.
The Public Order Management Act, 2013 regressively regulates public meetings, making it nearly impossible for citizens and political groups to duly exercise their freedom of association and assembly including the holding of rallies and other gatherings—a civic right enjoyed by all citizens in civil societies and democracies around the world.
Further, the Computer Misuse Act, 2011 regulates an individual’s freedom of expression and continues to be used to protect the president from scrutiny. It has been used to intimidate and arrest critics, and many face multiple criminal charges for merely expressing their views.
The introduction of a Social Media [OTT] Tax in 2018 also serves to silence a population in an age when information is distributed through social media channels.
In addition to all this, it has come to our notice that Uganda’s government is proposing to enact even more draconian laws, namely, new regulations that will include vetting new songs, videos, and film scripts, prior to their release. Artists will not be allowed to perform outside Uganda without prior approval. In addition to being a gross violation of freedom of speech and expression, this constitutes a death knell to creative expression, something Ugandan artistes are highly respected for. We are aware that in the aftermath of the unrest in Arua in August 2018, in which forces loyal to the State abducted Ugandan MP and artist Robert ‘Bobi Wine’ Kyagulanyi and over 30 others, Bobi Wine has been denied the necessary permissions to perform his music, even at his own premises. This is not the first censorship of his music and work.
We remain concerned that the activist Dr. Stella Nyanzi who was arrested in November 2018 and, after days held without charge, was arraigned before a Magistrate on charges of “Cyber Harassment and Offensive Communication”. It is difficult to see how an ordinary citizen could harass a state that has all the might of a sophisticated security and communications media at its behest. The fact that she remains in jail with a travel ban issued against her is disturbing.
We call on all well-meaning Africans and Ghanaians, including the African Union, to demand that the Ugandan government bring the harassment of its citizens to an end and resume governance according to the rule of law and natural justice, and to make way for open elections to be held on a level playing field.
On behalf of the African Studies Association of Africa
Professor Akosua Adomako Ampofo