Our work in East Africa

Rule of Law Programs in Uganda and Tanzania

In 2019, ABA ROLI launched the “Promoting and Protecting Freedom of Expression in East Africa” Project in Uganda and Tanzania. The project is being implemented by a consortium of partners, including the Network for Public Interest Lawyers (NETPIL), the East African Network of University Clinics (EANULAC), Media Institute of Southern Africa-Tanzania (MISATAN), Tanzania Human Rights Defenders (THRDC), the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the International Center for Not-Profit Law (ICNL). The consortium members will employ an array of approaches such as strategic litigation— the provision of direct legal services to human rights defenders or others whose basic rights have been violated— and advocacy and research for the protection of these fundamental rights.

 Many countries across East Africa, including Uganda and Tanzania, have seen an increase in threats to freedom of expression and restrictions on the liberalization of the media. Also, the region has witnessed an exponential growth in the use of the Internet and communication technologies—enabling widespread access to information. However, in response to this growth, new restrictions were put into place to limit freedom of expression in the region. These measures were facilitated through internet shutdowns, website blocking, and oppressive tax regimes aimed to restrict access to public information. 

Through overt and covert actions by state agents, legislators, policy-makers, and administration representatives, the principles of freedom of expression and media freedom have been further reduced.

Despite existing Constitutional guarantees in these countries— freedom of expression and Assembly— the respect for civic space and human rights is progressively diminishing.   This is combined with a decline in the rule of law and a rise in impunity.   

To address these issues, the “Promoting and Protecting Freedom of Expression in East Africa” Project in Uganda and Tanzania employs several areas of intervention, including:

Supporting University Law Clinics

ABA ROLI engages with several universities and their law clinics to sustainably promote public interest law and pro bono practice, as well as mainstream freedom of expression as a theme in university settings. This facet of the program endeavors to mainstream this theme at the student level (promotion of freedom of expression and engaging student body) and integrate this subject into the law school curricula of select universities through curriculum development and training sessions— with a goal to create a new generation of lawyers and media practitioners to advance and protect the freedom of expression.  

Organizing Public Lecture Series

To keep with this theme of freedom of speech, ABA ROLI organizes public lectures featuring jurists, practitioners, academics, civil society leaders, and other experts to share knowledge and discuss the state of freedom of expression in East Africa, and the path forward.  This public platform encourages engagement and discourse among audience members, promotes awareness of these freedoms. The public lectures will be organized in conjunction with universities based in Uganda and Tanzania. 

Partnering with Civil Society Organizations 

ABA ROLI supports several civil society organizations (CSOs) in both Uganda and Tanzania, in a number of areas ranging from strategic public interest litigation at the national and regional level, promotion and advocacy on media freedoms, capacity building for lawyers and media practitioners, the provision of direct and emergency assistance to human rights defenders (HRDs) under threat, human rights documentation, and the publication of thematic reports. Through engagement withCSOs in both countries, ABA ROLI aims to fortify the regional East African response to freedom of expression attacks and access to information infringements, while also developing a regional strategy on advancing and protecting these rights.

Past work in Uganda

Technical Assistance towards drafting Anti-Human Trafficking Legislation

ABA ROLI began working in Uganda in 2005, providing technical assistance towards drafting anti-human trafficking legislation. This led to the  2009 passage of the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act. Subsequently from 2011-2012, ABA ROLI worked with national, local government, and civil society partners, to organize a task force to have a coordinated response to human trafficking.