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Published on 30/Sep/2009

Tensions between the government of Uganda and the media have risen in recent years as the government has raided independent media outlets and arrested journalists for political reasons. ONI testing found no evidence of Internet filtering in the country, however, indicating that governmental attempts to control information have not yet reached the Internet.

Results At A Glance

FILTERING No evidence of filtering Suspected filtering Selective filtering Substantial filtering Pervasive filtering
Internet tools      
OTHER FACTORS Not Applicable Low Medium High

Key Indicators

    worst best
GDP per capita, PPP (constant 2005 international $) 1104
Life expectancy at birth (years) 53
Literacy rate (% of people age 15+) 74.6
Human Development Index (out of 182 countries) 157
Rule of Law (scale of 0-5) 2.1
Voice and Accountability (scale of 0-5) 2
EIU Democracy Index (out of 167 countries) 101
Digital Opportunity Index (out of 181 countries) 158
Internet users (% of population) 9.8


When Uganda gained independence from Britain in 1962, the world held great hopes for its rapid and democratic development. These hopes were dashed by the military coup d’état that brought Idi Amin to power in 1971. Amin’s presidency was marked by military rule, political executions, ethnic persecution and the mass expulsion of the country’s Asian population in 1972, which destroyed the Ugandan economy. After Amin was deposed in 1979, a flurry of short-lived administrations ran the country with varying levels of success. In 1986, Yoweri Museveni’s National Resistance Movement took control, bringing stability and new hope to Uganda.1

Under Museveni, Uganda has seen consistent economic growth,2 led sub-Saharan Africa in lowering HIV infection rates3 and taken great strides toward democracy, holding its first multi-party elections in 2006.4 These elections were marred, though, by the amendment of the constitution to allow Museveni to run for a third term,5 as well as by reports of intimidation and violence against voters.6

Government has since become increasingly authoritarian. The years since the election have shown a marked crackdown on media, with government agents raiding the offices of independent newspapers7 and arresting reporters critical of the ruling party.8 Reports of widespread police brutality and torture have drawn severe criticism from human rights organizations,9 and in March 2007, the Ugandan judiciary went on strike to protest the storming of the High Court by armed security forces who attempted to-rearrest five political prisoners whom the High Court had just released on bail.10

Internet in Uganda

Internet use in Uganda grew from 0.2 percent to 7.8 percent of the population between 2000 and 2008.11 Expensive, unreliable bandwidth is the major obstacle to ICT growth. Most of the continent is served by a system of submarine fiber optic cables that bring bandwidth to Africa from the Middle East, Europe and South Asia.12 Until the arrival of the Seacom cable in July 2009, Eastern Africa was the only part of the continent without access to this system.13 Plans for a 23-nation East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) have been repeatedly stalled (though a June 2009 announcement estimates a 2010 completion date14).15 Most Internet service providers (ISPs) in Uganda purchase their bandwidth via satellite, which can be up to five times as expensive as bandwidth delivered via an undersea cable.16

In the summer of 2007 four of the country’s major ISPs consolidated their bandwidth purchase, reducing their costs by 25 percent and increasing the total amount purchased by more than 50 percent.17 Still, the lack of access to the international cable system prevents ISPs from delivering consistent, affordable Internet service to the majority of Uganda’s population.

Of the Ugandans who do use the Internet, most go to public cafés, where access costs between 1500 and 6000 Ugandan shillings (USD0.73 to USD2.90) per hour.18 In-home access is paid for in US dollars and can cost between USD35 for dial-up and USD350 for broadband per month, plus phone charges when applicable.19 Given that the GDP per capita is approximately USD1100, this effectively prices all but the wealthiest Ugandans out of regular Internet access.20

The capital city of Kampala has over a hundred Internet cafés that, for those who can afford them, offer anonymous, if slow and unreliable, browsing.21 All of the country’s ISPs are located in Kampala, and though nearly 20 are registered,22 more than half of these are inactive.23 Access outside the capital is limited by poor infrastructure: though most districts have a handful of Internet cafés, these are often closed due to power outages. Less than 5 percent of the country has access to electricity from the national grid, and fuel for generators is often prohibitively expensive.24

The National Information and Communication Technology Policy, released in 2003 by the Ministry of Works, Housing and Communications, established ICT development as a government priority. Emphasis is on providing access to basic communications services to all people in Uganda, which it hopes to accomplish by formulating an ICT policy for education that will promote ICT training in schools.25 A “Big Push Strategy” outlined by the Uganda Investment Authority in the 1998 Investment Policy Review26 spelled out plans for major government investment in ICT to take place between 2000 and 2005, but most ICT projects are currently supported by donor funding from foreign governments and private institutions.27

Uganda’s 2009/2010 government budget includes support for expanding current ICT infrastructure, linking most of the country’s major towns through 1500 km of optical fiber and providing for connectivity to ease the transition to EASSy, schedule to be completed in June 2010.28 Though this shows a commitment to ICT, in June 2009 Finance Minister Syda Bbumba banned the importation of used computers. According to the Ministry, the ban will help protect the environment, but members of Uganda’s ICT sector fear it will slow the development of ICT in the country.29

Legal and regulatory frameworks

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) regulates the Internet and advises the government on information and telecommunications policy. Before 1997, all information and telecommunications services were government-owned. The establishment of the UCC provided for the incorporation of Uganda Telecom Limited, a company that took on the role of providing these services, and opened the market to competitors.30

All ISPs are privately owned. Licensing is controlled by the UCC, with no limit on the number of licenses that can be issued. ISPs must be registered and incorporated in Uganda and have a documented business plan in order to obtain a license.31 The .ug domain is administered by Uganda OnLine Ltd, a subsidiary of Computer Frontiers International Uganda.32 It is unclear why a private company, rather than the UCC, controls domain registration, and there has been some concern over the neutrality of the .ug registration process. Uganda OnLine has disputed this, but the majority of web sites in Uganda do not use the .ug domain, nor are many Web sites hosted in Uganda due to bandwidth and infrastructure limitations.33

The Media Centre also plays a role in monitoring information access. It is in charge of accrediting foreign journalists and has been accused of refusing to accredit those who write critically of the ruling party.34 Established in 2005 to “cause positive and factual public awareness of government in the media,” it falls under the Office of the President and is run by the CEO of Uganda’s pro-government newspaper, the New Vision.35

The Electronic Media Act of 1996 governs the “communication of any message to the public by means of any electronic apparatus.” Broadcasters are prohibited from broadcasting content that controverts public morality, promotes violence or “ethnical youth,” distorts facts or creates public insecurity.36 Though the act was developed with television and radio in mind, its wording suggests that its provisions could be applied to online content as well. However, to date, there have been no Internet-related cases involving the act.

In 2004, Uganda introduced three bills — the Electronic Signature Bill, Electronic Transactions Bill, and Computer Misuse Bill — collectively designed to regulate online activity, particularly electronic commerce. The bills were still under review as of February 2009. If passed, they will impose penalties of up to seven years in prison and/or UGX3.36 million (approximately USD1600) for those convicted of malicious or unauthorized used of a computer, including using a computer to access or distribute child pornography, with harsher penalties imposed for crimes committed on “protected” computers, defined as those used in connection with matters of national security, criminal law, public infrastructure, banking, or public safety.37 The Electronic Transactions Bill exempts ISPs from criminal responsibility for disseminating or providing links to illegal or offensive material.38

In at least one case of Web site blocking, electoral laws prohibiting the defamation of a candidate and laws against "spreading rumours" and damaging the country’s “security and harmony” were cited.39 Freedom of expression and freedom of the media are theoretically protected by the country’s constitution, but Museveni’s regime has not hesitated to bring charges of defamation against journalists whom it felt posed a threat.40 Many journalists practice self-censorship to avoid arrest.41

Just prior to the presidential elections in February 2006, the UCC blocked the anti-government Web site RadioKatwe in the only internationally reported case of Internet filtering in Uganda thus far.42


In 2007, Uganda’s Parliament introduced the Interception of Communications Bill, which would allow phone tapping and other forms of electronic surveillance on people suspected of committing terrorism or crimes against the State without requiring a court order. The bill drew ire from Ugandan lawyers, human rights organizations and citizens, who criticized the bill for subverting the courts and giving power directly to security agents.43 Some members of Parliament have also come out against the bill, fearing that it may be used to monitor opposition politicians. In May 2009, the bill was altered, giving Uganda’s High Court, rather than the security minister, the power to issue the surveillance warrant. The change made the bill more likely to be approved, but some provisions in the bill — such as allowing security agents to intercept and open suspects’ mail — directly contradict pre-existing laws that protect privacy, such as the Communications Act of 1997.44

ONI testing results

ONI conducted testing on Interoute Communications Ltd, which provides connectivity to the Seacom cable system, in 2009. Testing revealed no evidence of filtering.


Though Uganda has made great technological strides in the past five years, the country still faces a number of challenges in obtaining affordable, reliable Internet bandwidth. This, rather than a formal government-sponsored filtering regime, is the major obstacle to Internet access.