Influencers on Ugandan social media and others with large, commercialised online followings must register their activities for monitoring by the state, the country’s communications regulator said.
Authorities say the scheme, which levies a $20 fee, is designed to clamp down on immoral or prejudiced content. Critics view it as part of an escalating campaign by President Yoweri Museveni to suppress online content disapproving of him and his government.
Last week, university lecturer and social researcher Stella Nyanzi was jailed for 18 months on cyber harassment charges stemming from a Facebook post criticising Museveni.
According to digital communications rights watchdog Unwanted Witness, between 2016 and 2018 at least 33 Ugandans were either summoned and interrogated by police or charged with online communications offences.
The registration scheme is “not a positive move, it infringes on the rights to freedom of expression. People are able express themselves well when they know somebody is not watching over them,” said the organisation’s chief executive, Dorothy Mukasa.
Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa said “data communicators” to be registered included individuals with heavily followed social media and other online accounts carrying ads alongside other content on platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.
It includes prominent musicians, journalists and socialites.
“As a data communicator you’re pushing out content which could violate the known parameters of morality, of incitement, of ethnic prejudice or not be factual,” Bbosa said.
“We want online platforms to register with the commission so we can monitor them,” a process the $20 fee was designed to fund.
Robert Ssempala, national co-ordinator for Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, said for many the fee was prohibitive.
“The spirit of the regulation is essentially to make it unaffordable, to make it frightening for people to engage in sharing information on social media,” he added.
Last year government introduced a tax on the use of popular social media platforms.
Museveni repeatedly complained Ugandan social media is a vehicle for “lying” and “gossip”, interpreted as referring to information critical of government.