IGF 2022 Day 3 Launch / Award Event #11 The impact of internet shutdown on refugees and host communities in Uganda.

The following are the outputs of the captioning taken during an IGF intervention. Although it is largely accurate, in some cases it may be incomplete or inaccurate due to inaudible passages or transcription errors. It is posted as an aid, but should not be treated as an authoritative record.



>> FRED KWADWO AAZORE:  Thank you for waiting.  There will be a presentation by Frank, a team leader of Rural Aid Foundation, from Uganda.  He is an open Internet for Democracy leader, 2021‑2022.  So thank you for attending this session. 

 >> FRANK ATEGEKA:  Thank you.  Thank you so much for coming.  So I will be presenting ‑‑ it is a research that I did during my fellowship or my leadership program as part of the open Internet for democracy leadership.  So that's briefly about me. 

    And the research is going to be on the impact of the Internet shutdown on refugees and host communities in Uganda.  Just like he mentioned my name is Frank Ategeka, co‑founder and team leader at Rural Aid Foundation, an organization that works to address digital health and economic rights for refugees in Uganda.  So I have been part of the open Internet for Democracy Leader, that's the 2021‑2022 cohort.  And I'm also currently finalizing my master's in public health at the University of Manchester in the UK.  But I was previous also a global health core fellow in Uganda, 2018‑2019.  And I'm a computer engineer by profession as well as a digital health and economic rights advocate. 

So what is the open Internet for democracy leadership program?  It is a collective program that connects Civil Society midyear, the private sector to preserve the online civic space.  And the leadership program empowers emerging leaders across the globe to build their advocacy in order to organize and protect the Internet. 

    Then about this research, the overall objective of this research was to assist the impact of Internet shutdown on refugees and host communities in Uganda.  And the specific objectives are three.  We are looking at understanding the social and economic effects of Internet shutdowns specifically on refugees and host communities in Uganda. 

    But also objective No. 2 was to determine the coping strategies that are adopted by refugees and host communities.  Then thirdly is to understand laws and policies regulating Internet shutdown in Uganda's context. 

Then background about the study, by the end of the 2021 there were over 89.3 million forcefully displaced people worldwide, but also we had over 27.1 million refugees as part of those displaced.  And in Uganda's context by 2021 we had over 1.5 million refugees.  And Uganda was considered as the third largest refugee hosting country in the world. 

And refugees are 50% less likely compared to the general population to access Internet.  And also 20% of the rural refugees in Uganda have no access to the Internet at all.  And this information is good from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.  Then the Government of Uganda facilitated an Internet shutdown prior to the 2021 general elections.  And this resulted in two restrictions that occurred for online access. 

    What was the methodology that was used during this research?  We had ‑‑ we used mixed methods where we had utilization of desktop research.  And we had qualitative and quantitative methods as well. 

    The research was carried out in two refugee settlements in Uganda.  One is Kyaka II refugee settlement and then Kiryandongo  refugee settlements.  These are two of the largest refugee settlements in the country.  And we had two Focus Group discussions in every refugee settlement.  And the target respondents and participants, we had refugees and host community members but also key informant interviews.  So we had four focus group discussions in every refugee settlement.  And the target respondents or participants, we had refugees and host community members but also key informant interviews.  So we had four focus group discussions.  And all these four were conducted within the rural settings of Kyaka II and Kiryandongo refugee settlements. 

So of the respondents, we had those that were engaged in Focus Group discussions.  We had 14 males and 18 females, given the total of 32.  But also key informant interviews we conducted for total respondents seven within the rural setting and five at the national level. 

    And the level of utilization, this is the utilization of Internet, refugees and host community members, reported to be utilizing the Internet in so many ways.  As you can see, we have 6.19 using the Internet for ‑‑ using social media as a source of accessing information.  And then you have the majority 11.34% reported to be using Facebook as this ‑‑ as the most important ‑‑ the most used social media platform.  Then refugees reported to be using the Internet for different purposes.  And that's the chart in the middle. 

We see a majority of them, 10.31%, reported using Internet for communication.  And then 2.6 reported using the Internet for political campaigns or engagement.  And the rest I will not go through all the details of that. 

In terms of economic use of refugee and host communities, we see that 13.41% of the respondents reported that they used the Internet to communicate mainly with their clients as business people.  And then followed by 10.3% who reported using the Internet for business in the form of advertisement.  And then 6.19 for searching for jobs and entertainment.  And then skills and livelihoods which contributed 3.9.  Then key informant interviews showed a high level of understanding of the concept of Internet shutdown as a key digital rights issue.  While the refugees and host community members really showed limited understanding of the concept of digital ‑‑ of Internet shutdown as a Human Rights issue. 

    Then those effects of Internet shutdown the refugees and host community members noted that the Internet shutdown really affects research.  And one of the respondents noted that during the shutdown I could not do field work because the research tools that I use Internet connected.  So this was one of the voices from the Kiryandongo refugee settlement.  Internet shutdown affects access to education.  We see one of the refugees noting that me and my sister were doing an online course in business skills development at the CTA.  The CTA is a community technology center, in Magamaga, a facility within the refugee settlement that provides Internet.  So they were affected through their online studies.  Then ‑‑ sorry. 

For one reason or the other, I don't know, the slide is no longer moving.  Okay.  So access to health information was also affected by the Internet shutdown.  You would note the Internet shutdown, the most recent one in Uganda was carried out in 2021, a time when we had the COVID‑19 lockdown.  So it was lockdown squared.  So we had COVID‑19 and we had the Internet lockdown. 

So the Internet was a source of information to access information on COVID‑19 prevention, but it was affected by the Internet shutdown.  Then mental health and emotional health, we see that one of the respondents noted that during the lockdown there was no movement.  And the only way to socialize was through the Internet, but all that was hampered with due to the shutdown. 

    Then under ‑‑ to answer objective 2, coping strategies, a majority of the refugees and host community members did not report using any coping strategies.  So they were not aware of any coping strategies in the case of Internet shutdown.  So this is one of the voices that during the lockdown we gave up on Internet.  And we turned to radios where we could listen to some information, this information.  So most of the refugees actually when there is an Internet shutdown they just give up on everything.  And they wait when the Internet will be reinstalled or put back. 

Then only a few of the refugees reported using VPN as a ‑‑ as a coping strategy to improve access to the Internet.  And though this was not applicable in 2021, because in 2021 it was a total lockdown.  By those that we interviewed revealed that they utilized the VPN in 2011 and 2016 Internet shutdowns that happened in the country. 

    Then refugees and host communities resorted to using other applications.  Like TikTok, especially for the young people.  But this wasn't also possible in 2021 because it was a total lockdown; everything was down.  But in the previous lockdowns they were able to utilize those platforms. 

Then awareness, objective 3, we are looking at ‑‑ we wanted to establish the delivery of ‑‑ the awareness on laws and policies governing Internet shutdown in Uganda.  So refugees and host communities throughout the data collection process believed that Internet was a violation of their rights.  However they lacked awareness on the laws and policies that govern Internet shutdowns in the country.  And as we can see only from the key informant interviews both from rural and the urban setting only 25% were aware of the laws and policies regulating Internet access in the country. 

    So there is a capacity gap around that area.  Then you see 75% of all the respondents really didn't know about the laws and policies regulating Internet shutdown.  And the 25 that were aware could only mention some of these laws without details.  And they could talk about the Computer Misuse Act.  They mentioned about the Antiterrorism Act.  But also talked about access to information, though they lacked detailed information and how these laws were applied, and how they could be able to access justice using these policies. 

Then lastly, some of the respondents believed that the laws and policies were actually applied in favor of Government.  So these laws and policies are not there to defend the common person or the refugees and host community members, but they were mainly for or the interest of the Government. 

Now in terms of recommendations around the following:  Recommendations for Civil Society and local business community.  So we note that Civil Society Organizations need to create awareness on laws and policies for organizations that are working on digital rights, but also within the refugee and host communities, especially those organizations working in the refugee settlements. 

Then Civil Society Organizations also need to create awareness and call on Government to create awareness on the dangers of Internet shutdown as revealed by this study such that Government can refrain from imposing those shutdowns. 

Then Civil Society Organizations also were called upon or in terms of recommendation what they could do is to set up interventions like the rural community technology access centers which are computer centers, Internet enabled facilities within the refugee settlement to address the digital divide between the refugee and host communities compared to the general population. 

Just the Rural Aid Foundation, the organization that I work for, is already exploring this area within the Kiryandongo refugee settlement.  Then for Government and policymakers, we want Government or the recommendation for Government is that Government needs to realize the need for digital rights and freedoms as part of the wider scope of Human Rights but also renew their commitments to national, regional and international Human Rights standards in order to protect digital rights for the most vulnerable. 

And then Government should utilize the Human Rights based approach to implement laws and policies that regulate Internet as opposed to using Internet shutdown for their own interest.  Then for Internet service providers we cannot talk about the game of Internet shutdown without talking about the Internet service providers.  The Internet service provider system is mainly private.  And we would want them, where possible, to ensure that they develop and implement institutional policies that do not allow them to shut down the Internet. 

Most of the time Internet shutdowns are initiated by the state or Government.  Government will just write one letter through the Uganda Communication Commission.  And then that letter is copied to all the Internet service providers.  And then the next day the Internet is shut down because these Telecom companies do not have their own standard operating procedures to resist the orders from Government. 

Then Internet service providers also need to install BTSs or equipment and machines that are supposed to be providing Internet for the hard to reach rural communities.  Because one of the challenges for accessing Internet was lack of network which can be addressed through this. 

    Now I'm winding up.  As we go forward the participant reflections, I would want us as we leave this conference to reflect on some of these issues, especially for organizations and individuals that are working on refugees, on humanitarian agencies. 

One, in your opinion to what extent did the COVID‑19 pandemic really exacerbate the digital divide, particularly as it relates to refugees and host communities?  And how can digital rights advocacy to raise awareness of the impact of Internet shutdown? 

Then are there particular gaps in the existing legislation that could be addressed or advance digital inclusion for refugees in your own setting?  And then do you have any other recommendations that you would like to share as part of this? 

So I want to conclude by saying that we are currently working on having this final research published.  But I cannot conclude without thanking the team below that really supported this work during the time I was doing the open Internet for democracy leadership.  So the team at CIPE, I think that Morgan is right here.  Mahir is not in the building.  I was given Peace.  Peace is the Executive Director of Women of Uganda Network.  And she really supported during the review of the final research document.  And I would be happy to share everyone with this ‑‑ to share the final report or research with everyone.  Thank you so much. 


   >> FRED KWADWO AAZORE:  In the concern of time if there is any reflection from the audience we can give two or three questions. 

   >> AUDIENCE:  (Off microphone). 

   >> Just mention your question again. 

   >> AUDIENCE:  Sorry.  When you mentioned ‑‑ in the survey when you asked people did they think the Government was responsible for the shutdown, and they had said no, who did they think was responsible for the shutdown? 

   >> FRANK ATEGEKA:  Most of the community members, they are not aware of the role of Government in the entire system of Internet provision.  They look at the Internet service providers.  So when the Internet is down, they think it is MTM.  If I'm using MTM as my Internet service provider, they will blame MTM.  But they forget about the fact that it is the Government that writes to the key regulator asking Uganda Communication Commission to rate all the Telecom service providers to shutdown the Internet for a predetermined period of time, maybe two weeks or even more. 

For the layperson they do not understand the entire dynamic system, but for the key ‑‑ the key respondents at a national level those that are working in Civil Society Telecom companies, and those working in Human Rights organizations, of course, for them they are aware.  But the lay people, host communities it was a green area for them. 

   >> AUDIENCE:  Thank you very much.  You tried to show the impact of shutdowns around the social as well as economic.  But you tried to look at the health impact because they have missed a lot of information related to the COVID provision techniques.  So you try to touch the impact of which is health related impact can be tied directly to the shutdown.  What do you think the shutdown by any kind of stakeholder, what could be the impact on the health of those refugee participants, for example?  Thank you very much. 

   >> FRANK ATEGEKA:  Yeah, we ‑‑ there was something to do with health.  It was a general research.  Social and economic impact.  Among the social impact we had the effect of Internet shutdown on health care.  Then the aspect of mental health which was exacerbated.  But at the end of the day the Internet was done.  So people could not access the information.  Especially information on how to prevent COVID‑19, people were dying every day and the only way they would know whether their relatives had died or was in intensive care was using social media, WhatsApp and e‑mail.  And all of that was no longer possible.  The detailed report has all that information and we shall share it. 

   >> FRED KWADWO AAZORE:  Okay.  If there is no additional questions we can close ‑‑ do you have any closing remarks? 

   >> FRANK ATEGEKA:  Thank you.  Maybe to just thank everyone for taking time to attend this session.  I know it was very late.  And most people actually have not come because it was almost one of the last sessions of the day and people are tired.  But I thank everyone that maybe took time to the session.  And I would be happy to share the final report which we hope I can be able to also find a way of publishing it.  Thank you so much.  And lastly to thank the team at CIPE for giving me the opportunity to be part of the open Internet for democracy leadership.  Thank you so much. 

   >> FRED KWADWO AAZORE:  Thank you.