Ugandan youths will learn more about their rights and how to defend them, thanks to a new human rights education strategy coined for them by the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC).
The new strategy was announced Monday by the Commission Chairperson Mariam F. Wangadya during a workshop at which a select group of UHRC staff were trained on the use of social media for Human Rights Education.
At the training which took place at Esella Country Hotel in Wakiso District, Wangadya revealed that the commission will take its human rights defence mandate to the digital platforms.
She said this is in a bid to touch base with the country’s youthful population who now consume most of their information via digital platforms, especially social media.
“The Uganda Human Rights Commission has no choice but to adjust to this changing environment and follow its clientele to the digital spaces. This is particularly so in respect to the youth who have easily embraced the technology,” Wangadya revealed to the first cohort of staff trainees.
According to the chairperson, the commission rolled out a plan to train all its staff and equip them with the necessary skills to utilise social media in human rights education work.
She however noted that due to financial constraints, they began with a few trainees but who will be tasked to pass on the skills they have acquired to their colleagues at work.
Why go digital?
Wangadya told participants that the advancement of technology, particularly the internet, has changed the consumption patterns of information and news, which requires all public organisations like UHRC to adjust to the new trends so as to remain effective and relevant in their work.
“It (technology) has transformed how information is now generated, stored, retrieved, disseminated or received. Interaction between individuals, entities, societies and nations has equally taken a new turn. The ability of the internet to facilitate information-sharing in real time and transcend barriers of physical distance, has comprehensively changed the communication dynamics… All these developments point to the fact that the Uganda Human Rights Commission has no choice but to adjust to this changing environment and follow its clientele to the digital spaces,” she said. The UHRC’s new strategy is vindicated by statistics which show this unprecedented shift, especially ever since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic which limited physical interactions.
“The Covid-19 pandemic that hit the world about three years ago brought another twist to this reality. In view of the restrictions that governments imposed to manage the pandemic, especially on physical gatherings, internet-based resources ceased to be a luxury for a few and became a necessity for individuals and corporate entities. The reality of digital migration came alive during that period of unprecedented challenges, as the shift from physical to cyberspace became for many, the most effective or even the only alternative,” she noted.
She also stressed that even after the pandemic has been largely managed, the reality is that the digital migrants have generally stayed put in cyberspace, thus necessitating deliberate strategies by organisations to find them there.
According to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Market Performance Report of April 2021, there was a significant increase in digitisation and dependence on online resources. The global picture showed that 4 out of every 10 persons have a social media account. For instance Facebook reported an active account base of 2.74 billion users closely followed by YouTube with 2.3 billion and WhatsApp Messenger at 2 billion, while Asian chat powerhouse WeChat/Weixin reported an estimated 1.2 billion active users. On the other hand, TikTok, Instagram and SnapChat reported a combined user base of 2.4 billion accounts at the end of March 2021.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams, which are meeting and conferencing applications, dominated the remote working market, accounting for 145 million and 300 million daily active users respectively. The UCC report acknowledged the inescapable presence that social media and online resources continue to have in the everyday lives of people.
Back home in Uganda, although the data was not as comprehensive, UCC estimated that internet users would be about 13.92 million by end of 2021 which is represents a rate of internet penetration of 29.1% of the total population. Social media had 2.8 million users representing 5.9% of the total population, up from 2.5 million the previous year. In the same period, 590,000 more subscriptions were made for mobile and fixed phone lines which translated into about 7 lines for every 10 individuals in Uganda. The use of smartphones also significantly increased from slightly over 6.6 million in December 2019 to about 8.2 million in March 2021.
Wangadya reminded his team that given the statistics above, “there is no doubt that the internet and digital spaces have presented great opportunities for human rights education.” She, however, cautioned the trainees to beware of the negative effects that come with social media usage, saying only adequate knowledge of these tools will help staff to mitigate such challenges.
“This ToT is therefore timely, since technology alone will not accomplish our work if we are unable to understand or appreciate it. It is an adequately skilled and well-prepared human resource that will be able to harness and operate the technology to effectively enhance the promotion of human rights. I therefore look forward to results from this training, which will be exemplified by staff capacity to apply and share the skills acquired; greater information sharing and dissemination across the world; more visibility of the Commission on social media; more innovative ways of promoting human rights; and ultimately an empowered citizenry able to participate in their governance and decision-making on their affairs,” she said.