A month after the Ugandan parliament passed the controversial Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has signed it into law.
The announcement was made today, Thursday October 14, by the Presidential Press Unit (PPU). According to the PPU, the president signed four bills into law: the Physical Planners’ Registration Act, the Kampala Capital City (Amendment) Act, the Mining and Minerals Act, and the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill.
A quick glance
The bill—now an act—is an amendment to the 2011 Computer Misuse Bill.
In July of this year, a member of the Ugandan parliament, Muhammed Nsereko, proposed an amendment to the 2011 Act, arguing that the Act doesn’t take into consideration sharing information across social media.
According to the bill, its objectives are “…to enhance the provisions on unauthorised access to information or data; to prohibit the sharing of any information relating to a child without authorisation from a parent or guardian; to prohibit the sending or sharing of information that promotes hate speech; to provide for the prohibition of sending or sharing false, malicious and unsolicited information…”
While most of the bill is similar to its 2011 predecessor, the parliament introduced clauses for amendment of Section 12 of the bill. Clause 2 of the amendment reads:
The bill also includes provisions combating online harassment with further amendments prohibiting Ugandans from writing, sending or sharing information which is likely to ridicule, degrade or demean another person, tribe, religion, or gender.
For penalties, the bill initially proposed the adoption of fines up to UGX 15 million ($3,900), and imprisonment of up to 10 years, or both for the listed offences. All public officials found guilty of offences under the bill would also face disbarment from holding public positions for 10 years. These proposed amendments, however, were struck out by the parliament in September.
A controversial and unnecessary amendment
Since its initial proposition in July, critics have taken to online forums to contest the bill.
For some like the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), it’s a “blow to online civil liberties”.
While these amendments would naturally help national cohesion and deter cybercrime, countries like Uganda can and have used them to suppress free speech and digital rights.
For example, writer and social critic, Stella Nyanzi, has been arrested and jailed at least twice for “insulting” Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, on social media—once for calling him “a pair of buttocks” in a Facebook post. More recently, acclaimed novelist Kakwenza Rukirabashaija, was detained and tortured after he made a series of tweets criticising Museveni and calling his son “plump” and “pigheaded”.
Legal critics also claim that the bill is filling a lacuna that isn’t there. CIPESA, for example, explains that the bill duplicates existing the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act 2010, and Data Protection and Privacy Act, both of which already speak to unlawful interception and unlawful access to personal information.
Uganda’s ministry of information communication technology (ICT) is also against the bill with Aminah Zawedde, permanent secretary for the ministry, calling for the withdrawal of the bill in August. Zawedde, who also called for collaboration between the ICT ministry and the parliament, said the ministry is working on a more robust computer bill which would provide for the regulation of media content. “We currently have overlaps and decided to come up with the Information and Communications Bill 2022 to be the encompassing Bill for the sector. We are reviewing all the Acts in the ICT sector including the Computer Misuse Act,” she added.
The parliament, however, denied the Ministry’s request and passed the bill weeks later. The bill has now passed its final stage of becoming law—with Museveni’s approval. The Ugandan government, however, is yet to announce the date from when it will be enforced.
The bill comes at a crucial time when many African countries are facing tough social media restrictions. Nigeria, for example, has its debated Social Media, Hate Speech Bill, and NITDA Code of Practice Bills while Kenya is presently battling its ICT Practitioners’ Bill.