Lived experience of advocating for data protection in Uganda

By Dorothy Mukasa

Data privacy is a global policy issue, and during the past 30 years, data protection laws started gaining ground on the African continent. At the East African level, Uganda became the first country in the region to enact a comprehensive data protection law in February 2019.

The Data Protection and Privacy Act, 2019 reinforces Article 27 of the 1995 Ugandan constitution, which guarantees citizens’ right to privacy. It thus took the authorities 24 years after promulgation of the national constitution to regulate data protection and 20 years for the drafting of the bill, placing vulnerable communities at risk.

Throughout the legislative process, Unwanted Witness Uganda and other civil society actors undertook a series of advocacy efforts aimed at fostering a rights-based approach to data protection, given the fact that privacy is a fundamental human right. At this year’s workshop on “Privacy and data protection in Africa: Challenges and prospects”, organised by the University of Pretoria and the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms (AfDec) Coalition, we shared Uganda’s lived experience advocating for data protection legislation.

Changes at the policy making level

In accordance with Uganda’s electoral laws, the country conducts general elections every five years, and the changes usually eliminate over 70% of incumbents. This coupled with a prolonged policy-making process affected the already established networks as well as the advocacy strides made, since a new breed of leaders assumed legislative positions.  

The advocacy strategy then had to be revised from simply targeting only policy makers to also include the technical personnel at parliament, since they are more permanent compared to members of parliament.

Technical capacity

The majority of policy makers are elected to parliament for different reasons other than their legislative capacity. This lack of technical capacity is particularly concerning when it comes to regulating technology and human rights – a relatively new policy area in the country. Therefore, capacity building and awareness raising became a critical advocacy approach to achieving comprehensive data protection legislation.

Building an active citizenry

While privacy is as old as creation, the low level of data privacy consciousness in the digital era among the public is glaring. Citizens are not aware of the social contract between them, the state and tech companies, creating a lot of power imbalance and subsequent abuse of the right to privacy. Research exposing the effects of unregulated data-intensive systems on citizens’ privacy and subsequent media campaigns greatly contributed to raising privacy awareness among the public. The change in public attitude and perception about data privacy culminated in demanding accountability from both state and non-state data collectors and processors.

Working with the national human rights institution

The Uganda Human Rights Commission is a constitutional body mandated to, among other roles, monitor the government’s compliance with international treaty and convention obligations on human rights and recommend to parliament effective measures to promote human rights. We engaged the commission through sharing our research findings and recommendations and constantly raising the need to monitor and provide recommendations for safeguarding the right to privacy in the digital age. The commission is important because recommendations made in its annual report are debated and implemented by policy makers.

Coalition building

We spearheaded the formation of the privacy coalition with the aim of having a strong and unified voice. The coalition comprises civil society actors working on different thematic areas including health care, media freedom, freedom of association and assembly, education and migration, among others.

Creating a link between the right to privacy and the enjoyment of other human rights was an opportunity to amplify data privacy as a fundamental human right that needs to be advocated for by all right holders and not a reserve for only digital rights advocates.

Law and compliance

Passage of the data protection law remains a milestone for the different advocates over the years. However, the biggest hurdle still remains: enforcement/compliance.

The new law lacks an independent oversight mechanism as it simply establishes a Data Protection Office (DPO) within an existing government agency, raising concerns around conflict of interest, effective compliance, resource capacity and transparency for the appointment of members of the authority.

Indeed, to effectively protect the right to privacy, more strategic advocacy is required during the law enforcement stage. This therefore makes the privacy and personal data protection in Africa advocacy toolkit, as designed by the AfDec initiative, very relevant in shaping the data protection legal regime.      


Feminism online in West and Central Africa: Identities and digital colonisation

Caroline is the West and Central Africa Programs Coordinator for the Coalition of African Lesbians. Based in Johannesburg, she is interested in how the internet can be a catalyst for women's rights and sexual rights activism. In her blog she writes about the challenges and realities that feminist in West and Central Africa face. She relates her blog to the African Declaration on Internet Rights and Freedoms, where she cites principles on Gender Equality and Marginalised groups and groups at risk. Click here to read her blog

AfriSIG2015: Policy and regulation that impacts internet-related human rights

Sandra Kambo is from Kenya where she works at AS&K Digital Communications, as a software and test engineer. She has practiced in this role for the past six years, while being in the ICT industry for over a decade npw. In her blog post she reflects on her experience at the African School on Internet Governance and how it can be applied to eveyday life situations from her country's perspective.

Meha Jouini at AfriSIG 2015: The internet has allowed me to publicly express my identity as an Amazigh woman activist

Maha Jouini is an Addis Ababa-based Tunisian blogger, and women’s rights and indigenous rights activist, with a special focus on the Amazigh community. She collaborates with the Campaign to End Child Marriage and is on the executive board of the Regional Coalition of Women Human Rights Defenders in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). She is also a translator for Global Voices. APC’s Leila Nachawati interviewed Meha in Addis Ababa during the African School on Internet Governance (AfriSIG) in September.

DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO: Exploring technology-related violence against women - "My ex tarnished my image"

This is the last in a series of mini editions highlighting the “End violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project. Drawing on documented case studies, The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) research documents some of the characteristics of online violence against women, including different routes women took in search of protection and remedies for these situations.

Democratic Republic of Congo: Exploring technology-related violence against women - "A reputation destroyed"

This report emerges from research carried out in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) between November 2013 and April 2014 by Si Jeunesse Savait and the Association for Progressive Communications (APC). Mobile phones had been the most frequently involved platform in the cases of technology-related VAW explored by the local research team. In all three of the cases, the survivors were victim to multiple acts of violence, either by the same person or different people who, for the most part, were in better control of the technology than the victims.

What does internet policy mean for the average Ugandan?

This is a blog post by Kembabazi Gloria who holds a Bachelor's Degree in Law from Uganda Christian University where she also completed the Honour's College Leadership Program. She has worked as a Mentor Fellow with Educate!. She is currently a trainee in Legal Practice at Law Development Center (LDC) Uganda and works with the Department of Law Reporting, Research and Law Reform. She is passionate about women's rights and their inclusion in social transformation. In her blog she takes the reader through the context of Uganda and how Internet Policy is understood in that context.

When a stolen photograph leads to threats of voilence

This is the sixth in a series of mini editions highlighting the “End violence: Women’s rights and safety online” project. Each edition focuses on one country in which the research was conducted, and brings together major findings, and interviews with the research teams. Drawing case studies, the Kenya research documents the local characteristics of online violence against women, including an exploration of the policy and political background of the situation around technology-related violence. In the research some interesting themes/trends were picked up and some valuable recommendations were made.