It seems that African governments may have found yet another thing to have in common—other than devaluing currencies and national debts of course: controversial bills on tech and digital issues. 

Nigeria has its debated Social Media, Hate Speech, and NITDA Code of Practice Bills; Kenya has its ICT Practitioners’ Bill; and Uganda has recently come up with its Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill. 

On Thursday, September 9, during plenary, the House considered and passed the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Bill, 2022 with amendments.

What’s wrong with the bill?

According to the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA), it’s a “blow to online civil liberties”.

In July, a member of the Ugandan parliament, Muhammed Nsereko, proposed an amendment to the Computer Misuse Act of 2011, arguing that the present act doesn’t take into consideration sharing information across social media. 

The bill wants to amend Section 12 of the act and criminalise hacking another person’s electronic device and publishing information obtained from the hack. The bill also proposes that no person shall write, send or share information which is likely to ridicule, degrade or demean another person, tribe, religion, or gender.

The bill proposes the adoption of penalties of a UGX 15 million ($3,900) fine, imprisonment not exceeding 10 years, or both for the listed offences. 

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, 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 gap 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 of personal information.

Many Ugandan critics don’t trust the motives of the bill, and they’re backed by the Ministry of Information, Communication Technology (ICT) which called for the withdrawal of the bill. 

Unfortunately, their call fell on deaf ears. 

And now?

The bill has been passed by parliament but not without a few changes. 

The parliament reportedly removed clause 7, the clause that lists out heavy penalties of fines, imprisonment and— unsurprisingly—disbarment from holding public positions for 10 years. 

The bill will now be passed on to Museveni for assent, after which it’ll become law in Uganda.