MISA Zimbabwe remains in solidarity with the rest of the region and more specifically the citizens of Uganda in advocating against internet shutdowns.
On 13 January 2021 the Uganda Commission acting in terms of Sections 5(1) and 56 of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013 ordered a temporary suspension of all internet gateways and associated access points.
The next day, on 14 January 2021 as the nation held its elections, the internet still remained restricted. To date, the internet shutdown continues, with the citizens in Uganda not having access to, or the capacity to use social media platforms and all online messaging applications.
By so doing, the government of Uganda disregarded the call by several organisations around the globe, to ensure internet access before, during and after the elections.
On 11 January 2020, MISA Zimbabwe and 55 other organisations affiliated to the #KeepItOn Campaign, spearheaded by Access Now, wrote an open letter to the government of Uganda requesting the following:
Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, and secure across Uganda throughout the election and inauguration.
Ensure that mobile money, banking, and other financial avenues for transactions remain accessible and secure across Uganda throughout the election.
Order Internet service providers operating in Uganda to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access throughout the election period and thereafter; and
Order Internet service providers operating in the country to inform internet users of any potential disruptions and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.
MISA Zimbabwe position
In that regard, MISA Zimbabwe condemns the shutdown of the internet in Uganda a day before the elections to date, given that elections are at the core of the exercise of democracy and respect of citizens’ rights.
MISA Zimbabwe reiterates its call on the need to respect regional and international legal standards and State responsibilities highlighted in instruments such as the Universal Declaration for Human rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Governments should also take note and comply with the 2020 Joint Declaration by Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression and Elections in the Digital Age.
The Declaration calls on all states to promote effective access to the Internet and other digital technologies by closing digital gaps based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, socio-economic status, among others.
There should also be clear requirements and policies to ensure respect for the principle of net neutrality.
Access to the internet and social media platforms is very critical during an election as it facilitates transparency around the processes and fosters active citizen participation.
Internet access equates to access to information and to the realisation of the right to freedom of expression.
MISA Zimbabwe, therefore, calls on the Ugandan government and all other governments in the region, to recognise that free and accessible internet plays an essential role in promoting free and fair elections.
Digital technologies have become key tools during elections by facilitating access to information by voters, empowering voters to express their opinions and interact directly with candidates. It also enables the candidates to disseminate their messages and mobilise support.
These are the fundamental tenets of an open and democratic society.