• Francis Obonyo
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Is Freedom of Expression Really Free?

What usually comes to a person’s mind when they hear the word freedom of expression is really mind-blowing I am writing from a layman’s perspective to the liberty is construed in its literal sense that is, the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants. I am talking about an ordinary person on the streets. But what is this freedom? Freedom, in its sense, is subjective to whether it affects someone or not. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda expressly recognizes this freedom without a doubt; however, the extent of this freedom remains a mystery. As the judges say, it’s on a case by case basis. Today you may be free to do a particular act, and tomorrow, it may not be the case. A glance into the wording of Article 29 does not on the face of it show that there are limitations. It all looks rosy until the same law is put to the test. It reads as follows; every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. So how on earth is a person not forced to think that they are free? That is not so when it comes to the law because ignorance of the law is no defence.

Over the years, we have seen this freedom being put to the test; different regimes come up with various limitations; in my opinion, these limitations are usually dictated by the ruling authority. It has been a trend in Uganda for a long time now that freedom of expression is subject to the interests of the ruling authority. An example in case is the recent arrest of the Bizoonto comedian group for citing nepotism in the current government. Ordinarily from watching this video, on the face of it, the comedians try to share their opinion basing on the fact that majority of the ministries are led by people who come from the same part of the country. One would choose to look at it from two different angles. Firstly is the fact that most of the government ministries are indeed led by people coming from the same region, could it be coincidental? I cannot say. However, the law has procedures through which these people are appointed into various positions. Therefore, if there is any query, one might argue that it is better to question the process than the results. Another would say that the process is already manipulated and this affects the eventual results. So how does a person who feels like the whole system is a mess express themselves yet they have no proof?

Secondly, another would argue this out basing on truth, how true is what you are alleging?. Just because a certain percentage of ministry heads come from the same region, does that infer nepotism? What if they are the most suitable for the position? So it is crucial that before you decide to exercise your freedom of expression, ensure that there is the truth behind what you are saying. Your opinion must come from an informed point of view and not from the fact that you can talk or what you feel because of the circumstances surrounding you. It is my prayer that as we head towards this period of elections, we shall first ensure to be informed before we speak.

Anek Daisy Trinity
Law Knowledge and Development Officer
CEPIL