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90% of Ugandans Support the Right to Criticize President – Report

A new study has found that the vast majority of Ugandans support the idea of leaders being openly criticized when they under-perform.

The study by Twaweza a regional NGO found that up to 9 out of 10 of the citizens support their right to criticize the President for making bad decisions and not listening to advice (85%) the government for bad decisions (87%), and their MP for being lazy and not caring about constituents (89%).

A large majority believe that criticism is constructive, helping government to correct mistakes (78%) and making the country stronger (72%).

The study also found that 6 out of 10 think media should have the right to publish any views and ideas without government control (64%); 7 out of 10 think that radio and television stations should be free to produce their own news programs (68%); and a similar number (72%) think that the news media should investigate and report on government mistakes and corruption.

These findings were released by Twaweza in a research brief titled Frankly Speaking: Ugandans’ opinions and experiences of information and the media. The brief is based on data from Sauti za Wananchi, Africa’s first nationally representative high-frequency mobile phone survey. The findings are based on data collected from 1,980 respondents across Uganda in November 2017.

The study found that while most citizens do feel free to criticize leaders and institutions closer to them such as Local Council V Chairs (56%), their MP (59%), their Local Council III Chair (64%) and their village or street chairs (68%) they are unsure about criticizing national leaders including the President (44%), the Vice President (45%) and the Prime Minister (46%).

Marie Nanyanzi, Sauti za Wananchi Officer at Twaweza, said “On the positive side there is a fairly active culture of citizens seeking information from government offices and institutions, and of government responding to those requests. Citizens also support free expression for the media and themselves and see healthy debate and different opinions as constructive, providing support for government. On the other hand, citizens express low trust for all information they might receive publicly, are not confident of their own personal freedom to criticize and are less likely to seek sensitive information around resources.”

Dr Mary Goretti Nakabugo Country Lead in Uganda for Twaweza, said: “Citizens’ opinions on access to information and free expression present a challenging outlook for citizen agency. With low levels of trust and the feeling that they are not free to express themselves fully, citizens cannot be expected to participate actively in government processes and projects. However there is some cause for optimism in terms of Barazas where millions have been reached by this government feedback and sharing platform. And similarly, the prevalence of identification documents means that citizens are ‘visible’ in the system. Documenting citizens is a first and critical step in ensuring their participation and in delivering better services.”

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