I Freedom Uganda Network hosted partners and representatives of various member organizations to their 4th Annual General Meeting that took place on Friday 9th April 2021. The vent was themed SERVING IN THE FACE OF A PANDEMIC.
It also doubled as the official launch of a project report titled "Study on Access and Usage of ICTS among LGBTQ+ Persons in Uganda and Kenya" led by Sanyu Hajarah Batte, Uganda's Representative for Key Populations on the Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) for the Global Fund as well as the launch of the new three-year strategic plan being adapted by the ICT focused organization.
In his opening remarks, I Freedom’s Executive Director, Kelly Daniels Mukwano noted that 2020 was filled with many unprecedented incidents including the total lockdown and shut down as the entire world was brought to a standstill due to the COVID 19 pandemic.
"Members of the LGBTQ and sex workers' communities were even more affected due to intensified stigma, discrimination and attacks during this time. We all experienced firsthand the depression and anxiety because of the tension that surrounded these communities, the struggles by leaders to raise funds to support their respective communities that sought for relief in form of food,” he asserted. He acknowledged the need for post mental health services for LGBTQ persons and sex workers as well as thanked leaders that resiliently took on the responsibility of looking out for community members and ensuring their wellbeing.
In line with the day's theme, Kelly concluded that the work IFreedom does is very crucial in service delivery when it comes to such uncertain situations. "Both last year and this year, we have seen organizations restrain from physical social gatherings to now harness the more advanced and sophisticated tools such as zoom, microsoft teams and many others to convene meetings and collaborate on different projects which has been made possible largely by the internet and other ICT structures. This means that it is very important that we develop a free and open Internet, free from all forms of interruptions such as OTT, interference and shutdowns of any kind as it has now become as a tool of survival," Kelly stressed before he invited staff for introductions and recognition.
Projects ran by of IFreedom Uganda Network in 2020 as per the ED's annual report include; the Peers Connected Mobile App (KP Data Connect) which is a mobile application used by community peers to collect data in the field in real time. It is currently being used in Kampala and Wakiso with support from IDI. Also the core strengthening of IFreedom Uganda Network through capacity building, mental health retreats, impartation of leadership and financial skills for staff. Through research, the network seeks to expand to the rest of the East African region such as Kenya and Tanzania. Other services are web design and hosting, COVID19 emergency Digital support to some member organizations, KPIF, internet freedom campaigns, general IT support for different member organizations.
Other challenges that were highlighted included the total shutdown of the internet by the government during the election period, the increase in human rights violations especially caused by police brutality in a guise of enforcement of the presidential guidelines in regards to the spread of COVID 19 citing COSF Uganda case, volatile political environment and inadequate funding. In addition to COVID19 outbreak, these mishaps halted some of the network's programs while slowing others down.
The BOD report of 2020 was read by Board Representative, Keem Love Black who attributed very low internet penetration far from the global average and limited freedom of expression to the daily OTT, government shutdown and restrictions on the internet. She however applauded IFreedom Uganda for progress towards the promotion of internet freedom and digital security for all persons including sexual and gender minorities and sex workers in Uganda through digital security and website data collection tools especially in the area of health. Keem further credited for continued building of capacity for staff members and board of directors in different areas such finance management, resource mobilization, leadership, grants management and implementation and proposal writing.
This was followed with the Auditor's report was read by representative from MNA & Co. Certified Public Accountants
The function was crowned with an official launch of a report on access and usage of ICT among LGBTQ+ persons in Uganda and Kenya. They also launched the Peer Connected Mobile App with special appreciation extended to implementing partners; Freedom House, OSIEA, AJWS, Access Now, DPI and IDI for their monetary and capacity building support to the network.