Strengthening Networks for Digital Security in Rural Uganda
Civil Rights Defenders has together with Unwanted Witness Uganda recently launched the first phase of a series of trainings focusing on strengthening digital security for human rights defenders at risk across Uganda. A core aim is to increase the respect for online freedom of expression, and decentralise digital security in all regions of the country.
The sessions are the first in a series of unique trainings that intent to create a larger network of human rights defenders with a focus on strengthening digital literacy in all regions including rural areas across Uganda. The trainings have so far been implemented by Unwanted Witness, which is one of Civil Rights Defenders’ long-term partner organisations in Uganda. It is also one of Uganda’s key internet-based human rights organisations, working to create secure online platforms to guarantee internet freedoms, free expression, and improve the human rights situation in the country.
“84% of Ugandans live in the rural areas and a majority of these are women. They are challenged by limited service delivery and high levels of human rights violations perpetrated by state and non-state actors. The digital vulnerability of human rights defenders in the rural areas is extremely visible,” said Dorothy Mukasa, Executive Director of Unwanted Witness.
While securing digital space for defending human rights and freedom of expression is increasingly relevant, many human rights defenders in Uganda feel they lack the technical competencies, knowledge and skills to mitigate and prevent attacks and threats online.
“Although human rights defenders do commendable work of defending the rights of grass root communities and do use technology in their daily work, their literacy in digital security is limited,” notes Dorothy Mukasa.
One of the participants in the recent trainings was feminist and journalist, Michael Nelson Byaruhanga. In his view, the trainings have been an eye-opener in terms of better protecting his personal data online:
“I should say I have been lousy with my digital security, habitually trusting those that I love with my weak passwords, not changing them, caring less to back up my data. I would even send e-mails with confidential information unprotected. In truth, I had no idea as far as secure browsing or safe digital communication is concerned. No wonder that hackers for years have had easy access to my accounts, stole data time and again and have used it to undermine my integrity in the eyes of my social media friends, donors and editors.”
Michael Nelson Byaruhanga further notes that the digital security training by Unwanted Witness Uganda has helped him strengthen his safety and security so that he can establish more secure communication networks with fellow feminists.
“It is very helpful that I can now block spying ads and invisible trackers, practice safe data backup both online and offline, encrypt my computer and share protected (encrypted) messages for confidentiality.”
Civil Rights Defenders will continue working with our partners in Uganda to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists, activists and those vulnerable to threats online and offline due of their human rights work have the skills, knowledge and networks to mitigate potential attacks.