On Friday 20th August, 2021, business came to a standstill for 54 Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in Uganda, in what was said to be a crackdown on illegal operations and non-compliance of CSOs to the Non-Governmental Organisations Act of 2016.
In a statement issued by the NGO Bureau of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the CSOs in question were accused of “non-compliance” to the law. It was said, that these organisations were operating without being registered or with expired permits or had repeatedly failed to submit their annual returns to the Bureau.
However, many affected CSOs came out strongly to condemn what they referred to as continuous harassment and annihilation of civil society space and muzzling by government to continually defend human rights and freedoms. Some affected CSOs like Chapter Four Uganda and Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) vehemently rejected any allegations, stating that there were operating lawfully within the current NGO legal framework.
The dismissal of operations of the 54 CSOs is not an isolated case but rather a sequential add-up to several related actions in the past where government has continued to caution CSOs on the alleged irregularities. For instance, in October 2020, towards the 2020/2021 general elections, the National Bureau for NGOs halted the activities of New Election Watch Uganda, on grounds that the coalition was not a legally registered entity. However, under the NGO Act of 2016, many CSOs castigated the Bureau that the Act does not provide for registration of loose coalitions with the bureau.
The contestation on what explains CSO shutdown is whether it’s deliberate attack by government of civil society and muzzling citizens’ voice in a shrinking space or whether CSOs have veered off their mandate and obligations. Bothe questions remain to be answered.
By Francis Musinguzi, Information, Research and Communication Manager, KRC