detail - Foundation Office Uganda
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After the successful first social media conference in 2015 - which focused on the perspectives of journalists, politicians and civil society activists on social media - the second conference had generated immense interest in the weeks prior to the event. More than 4.000 users followed the event on Facebook and on the conference day the hashtag #SocialMediaUganda not only dominated the Twitter discussions in Uganda but generated such high interest that it trended beyond Uganda.
The invited guests and the lucky early birds who managed to register successfully witnessed an extraordinary event. The conference centre at the Kampala Serena Hotel was with filled with key media personalities, journalists, social media influencers, ICT experts, scholars and representatives from a wide range of civil society organisations and government institutions.
The format of the annual conference aims at facilitating a constructive exchange on the opportunities and challenges of the growing social media sphere with a specific focus on the societal and political implications. Through expert inputs, plenary discussions and breakaway panels different dimensions of the topic are explored.
The 2016 conference started with a keynote address from Daniel Kalinaki, Managing Editor for Regional Projects and Convergence at the Nation Media Group in Nairobi and one of the most respected Uganda media practitioners. He systematically analysed the growing importance of social media in Uganda and the implications for political engagement. Kalinaki acknowledged the power of social media to drive discussions and the importance for critical voices in a democracy, stating that social media had made it easier for people to mobilize for social action. He however also emphasised that social media are not an end in themselves and concluded that “offline activism is as important, if not more, than online engagement”. (A full manuscript of the keynote address is available here.)
In altogether four breakaway panels - each of them with a selection of key experts and practitioners sharing their perspectives - participants further explored a range of topics related to social media:
1.Women and social media in Uganda: breaking barriers - but at what cost?
2.Contemporary culture and social media: Big opportunities - tough questions
3.Traditional media in the age of social media: challenges and opportunities for a Ugandan journalist today
4.Advancing good governance and service delivery through social media
The plenary discussions were dominated by questions about the positive as well as negative effects of social media with regard to democratic development and the need to empower a well-informed citizenry. In light of the recent government-ordered shutdowns of social media in Uganda the issue of regulation is a source of controversy. While the government representatives cited security concerns as a justification, other panelists - among them the renowned human rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo - criticized the measure as a government attempt of limiting democratic space.
Despite this controversy, it was observed that government representatives and state institutions are increasingly embracing social media as a tool and platform to engage with the citizenry and enhance transparency. As Julius Mucunguzi, Communications Advisor in the Office of the Prime Minister, put it: “Government cannot afford ignore the need to engage on social media. The time for lecturing people is over. The people we serve as government want to have a say.”
A detailed conference report including a summary of all breakaway panel sessions will be published shortly.