Over the past week I have continued to research the civil society space in Uganda and learn more about the rules, regulations and difficulties that this area is facing. There are currently around 2,000 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) that the government has authorized to operate. In 2019, the government did not give authorization to over 12,000 NGO’s.
Last week, I interviewed a lawyer that works with NGO’s, their employees and other activists. It was a fascinating conversation, in which we discussed the Ugandan election, the changing laws and other aspects of what makes it challenging to operate an NGO in the country.
In this meeting we discussed the NGO law of 2016 and how difficult it is to register and start up an NGO. The laws are written in such a way that they are difficult to comply with all of them. In this way, the government is able to enforce laws selectively to shut down NGO’s that are advocating for ideas that the government does not support.
Another way that the government harasses NGO’s that they don’t agree with is by charging leaders or employees of the group with money laundering. This is an important topic that many in the international community are concerned about as money can be quickly moved around the globe without much of a trace. Many governments are watching for money laundering as these funds are used to fund terrorist groups and other criminals. In Uganda, this label is not used just on people that are actually laundering money, but also on critics of the government. With this charge, the funding quickly dries up and the NGO is forced to close.
NGO’s that advocate or work for better healthcare or education are generally left alone, but those that work for human rights are normally watched with suspicion by the government. The lawyer I interviewed works with these organizations and analyzes laws and bills so that he can help the groups work towards their mission while also navigating the complex and difficult legal environment.
I was very impressed with the courage and perseverance that the lawyer and these NGO groups possess to continue to fight for what they believe in under such difficult circumstances. Being well informed and engaged in the political process is important for everyone, so that freedom and liberty can be expanded and defended.