How Social Media is transforming Uganda's Political and Social Landscape

By Mwebya Fred
The Uganda Social Media conference which took place at Kampala Serena Hotel on 19 July 2016 has created new hope for Democracy and Development in Uganda. The conference aimed at bringing together key stake holders from academia, government, civil society and media to have a constructive exchange on the opportunities and challenges of the growing social media sphere in Uganda. They also wanted to assess how Social Media is shaping the political and social landscape.  Around 250 participants participated at the conference which was organized by KAS.

A keynote address by Daniel Kalinaki who is a senior media and communications expert/ practitioner contextualized the topic which stimulated the debate and set pace for the discussions. The conversation at the conference also hit the waves by being the number one trending topic on Twitter with the hash tag #UgandaSocialMedia . A high level panel which comprised of top social media influencers, activists and media practitioners took the stage. They deeply explored the general perspectives into the role of social media in redefining democratic space. The panel engaged in key issues like Security, Human Rights and the most controversial shut down of social media by the Ugandan government a few months ago.

On social media shut down by government , the representative of the Minister for ICT clearly faced tough questions from the other members of the panel asking whether it was justified for government to shut down social media. Although he left6 many not convinced , he clearly explained that the security agencies had to take action to prevent any situations that could have created insecurity for the nation during the February elections. Its at this stage that the government representative was told that "intention has never been a crime" otherwise all citizens would be guilty. The prominent human rights activist and lawyer Nicholas Opiyo emphasized that there was no justified reason for government to have shut down social media during elections. He also mentioned that the United Nations now recognizes access to Broadband (Internet) as a fundamental right of all individuals.

There were four additional breakaway sessions which provided space for deeper reflection on the different topics which included,
1. Women and social media in Uganda
2.Traditional media in the age of Social Media
3. Contemporary culture and social media
4.  Good governance and service delivery.

Each of the four above sessions had expert panelists who provided more insights and how social media can play a role in advancing democracy and development. During the good Governance and service delivery session, the renowned media consultant and TV personality  Gawaya Tegule chaired the panel which included Iganga District LC5 chairman Patrick Kayemba, Programme Mnager Parliament Watch Eshban Kwesiga, ICT4D Consultant Maureen Agena, Journalist and Media Advocate Prossy Kawala and Kampala City Council Authority's Spokesperson Peter Kaujju. They clearly explained the role of social media in service delivery by government bodies and how the communications platforms are helping government officials communicate more effectively.

The magnificent event was conclude by another panel of experts who gave close attention to the challenges and opportunities of social media and where we are heading as a country. This was the second social media conference organized under the KAS Social Media Programmes which focuses on promotion of democracy and good governance. The programme also has a long history of promoting free and professional media through journalism trainings and scholarship programmes as well as facilitating networking and dialogue platforms. KAS supports journalists, bloggers and political communicators across the continent.

By Mwebya Fred