Freedom of speech is like regular exercises, good feeding, and regular health checks, if people do not have it, they die slowly.
There is a thin line between speech that causes a clear and present danger to the national security and society and the one that does not. Because it is more harmful to suppress freedom of expression — laws and courts generally promote rather than curtail it. One of the interesting case references is here Clarence BRANDENBURG, Appellant, v. State of OHIO, where “in 1969, the court declared that even inflammatory speech, such as racist language by a leader of the Ku Klux Klan, should generally be protected unless it is likely to cause imminent violence.”
Freedom of speech is a right that requires self-control, else it could be abused with dangerous implications. As one writer once said, “freedom of speech is about protecting the speech we hate. Not what is popular.”
The government’s decision to block social media in Uganda is not a good decision and should be reversed immediately. It is like trying to stop the natural flow of water, by blocking its path. With time, the water will find its way, and will surely breakthrough. The increasing use of virtual private networks (VPNs) is likely to cause wider national security risks! In the past, it would be easy to track people who post anonymous abusive messages or emails, however, with the government’s promotion of VPNs, it is increasingly difficult. In such a situation, the government must invest more money in cyber weaponry capabilities as people become sophisticated Internet users. Slowly, the number of people accessing social media via VPNs is increasing. And this should be a cause for worry.
Now, the popular subject is the Uganda Presidential and Parliamentary elections held on 14th January 2021. Everyone wants to have their say about the election and the results. To me, allowing free speech and debate on the subject benefits national security other than undermining it.
Our leaders make decisions informed by so many years of hands-on experience, deep intelligence country-wide, and insights from experts and advisors on the best way forward. However, any interventions that lack a strategic outlook or embrace the values of civility and freedoms, are costly and not ideal.
At this time when the country needs national reconciliation and healing, the government must open social media, remove over the top tax (OTT) and provide free Internet to increase access to information and spur open speech. The government can identify and hold to account any person or group of persons who abuse their right to free speech through prosecution in courts of law.
When people speak up about what is bothering, they clear their mind and feel relieved and are likely to become more understanding and accommodative.
This is my humble submission and requests to the President-elect, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, to open social media and allow people to talk about the election, and any other topics. And anyone who abuses their rights could be prosecuted. Government has the capacity and machinery to do so.
A vibrant social media discussion on contemporary national issues benefits the ruling government than anyone else. People only keep and accumulate their anger when they are put in the corner, and not allowed to say anything. Such an approach is not good for national reconciliation and security.
Managing society is like parenting, if you continuously quarrel, shout at your kids, tell them how dull they are, they will give you a hell of a hard time. However, if you act diplomatically, and look at your kids as special needs, listen to them and discuss issues, they will grow into confident adults. Shutting down social media is like shouting at the kids. They are more stubborn than you may think!
Give them their space and respect their ideas. Allow them to talk. That is a sustainable and superior strategic approach.
For God and My Country.