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Promoting Freedom of Expression, Rule of Law, and Access to Justice in Tanzania and Uganda

Freedom of expression for civil society and the media in Tanzania and Uganda has faced ongoing challenges in recent years. Journalists have faced harassment for questioning or criticizing government actions, while civil society actors who voice public dissent have similarly been subject to raids, bank account freezes, physical attacks, and other forms of intimidation and suppression. To address these challenges, ABA ROLI implemented the Promoting Freedom of Expression, Rule of Law and Access to Justice in Tanzania and Uganda program from September 2019 until June 2023. The program’s goal was to promote and protect freedom of expression (FOE) and strengthen the capacity for the rule of law and access to justice in Tanzania and Uganda. ABA ROLI led a consortium of highly experienced local and international organizations with complementary expertise, strengths, and roles.

As consortium lead, ABA ROLI provided technical assistance through the implementation of training sessions and mentorship programs with partners over the course of the program and worked closely with a variety of relevant local stakeholders including public interest lawyers, human rights defenders and activists, civil society actors, media actors, the judiciary, law schools and students, and members of parliament to advance the program objectives. ABA ROLI consortium partners filed 23 strategic and public interest litigation cases at the national level and 15 cases at the regional level to mitigate infringement upon citizens’ right to FOE. This followed special litigation workshops conducted by ABA ROLI that trained 255 lawyers, judicial officers, civil society actors and journalists. Strategic litigation cases filed by consortium partners were particularly impactful in Tanzania, including a decision that increased protections for media content providers against fines imposed by the communications regulator. The consortium also launched public information campaigns and published studies on cases and trends relating to FOE, in addition to dozens of articles, policy briefs, rights violation reports, and research papers to document and raise awareness of salient issues. Advocacy initiatives conducted by partners were strategically leveraged to complement litigation efforts—further supporting policy changes that the program advocated for, including amendment of media laws in Tanzania and Uganda. Notable outcomes over the course of the project include the Ugandan government agreeing to establish a communications tribunal and reversing a decision to require all persons with online social media platforms to register with the Uganda Communications Commission. In addition, advocacy at the regional and international level helped draw international attention to FOE issues in both Uganda and Tanzania.

Due to ABA ROLI’s approach of working directly with local partners to achieve the program’s objectives, local partners developed an increased level of ownership over the activities and their outcomes. This local ownership and significant level of interest increases the program’s sustainability, as they point to a high likelihood that many of the activities conducted will be institutionalized, as was the case for legal education activities. In fact, partner networks such as the East African Network of University Clinics and the Network for Public Interest Lawyers mainstreamed FOE within their curricula, which will continue to have a lasting impact on educational practices and policies in shaping the discourse in East Africa. In addition to sustainable partnerships, the program led to the production of various resources and materials that will indefinitely remain at the disposal of partners. The program outcomes illustrated the importance of this progress monitoring and reporting of human rights violations, and future efforts should be dedicated towards sustaining these processes to ensure institutional reforms beyond the life of this project for long-term impacts.