July 6th, 2018, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) gave a directive to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country to block 27 websites for “streaming pornographic content to Uganda.”
The UCC directive list 10 international and 17 local websites it has identified to be advertising escort services. You might not have heard of this announcement as the news around protests against the government imposition of daily tax on the use of social media buried any other UCC’s directives.
The move to block porn sites is in line with the recent government directive under the UCC to control how Ugandans use and/or consume content on the internet. In March, the Uganda government gave another directive blocking bloggers, podcasters, news sites, and YouTubers to get a license from the UCC to continue producing content online.
The Executive Director of the Uganda Internet Exchange Point, Kyle Spencer, says the move to block porn sites is just “another nail in the coffin” trying to muzzle Ugandans freedom of expression and viewership online.
Before the government came up with these latest legislation to control Ugandans online content consumptions. The authorities used to arbitrarily arrest online content produces who publish anything that they deem is critical of the government or leader.
“Not only is it censorship, it also reduces demand for the internet. It has an impact on how much you then can scale internet use,” added Spencer.
Echoing the same sentiments, Wairagala Wakabi, the executive director of CIPESA, an authoritative think tank on matters internet governance within the region accused the UCC and by extension the government for being “overzealous” and “obsessed with regulations that violate the privacy of individuals or infringe on free speech.”
In their directive the UCC said it go the list of 27 sites to block from Uganda’s Pornography Control Committee. That is a nine-member team who were given the mandate to sieve through the internet and detect and then forward the names of sites serving pornographic contents to Ugandans. The Committee has previously tried to procure a porn detection machine but failed, but the chairperson of the committee has previously boasted to journalists that “the biggest machine is UCC.”
Wakabi has denounced the UCC for merely following directive given by the Pornography Control Committee. In a statement, he said, “A communications regulators should know better. They didn’t have to issue a directive simply because they were asked by pornography committee. UCC can stand up to that.”
Wakabi uses neighboring Rwanda’s communication commission as an excellent example for the UCC to emulate. The Rwandese communication commission rebutted a directive by Rwanda’s electoral commission calling on all presidential candidates running for the May 2017 elections to submit all their posts on social media for approval before posting. The commission re-affirmed “the right of citizens to express themselves on social media and other ICT platforms.”