As Uganda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the World Press day, this year’s global theme is around shaping a future of rights, looking at freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights.
The Uganda Media Sector Working Group, on this years’ World Press Freedom Day 3rd May 2023, recognizes and awards Mr. Edward Baliddawa for his outstanding contribution to media development through Information and Communications Technology and Justice Kenneth Kakuru for his outstanding contribution to the protection of freedom of speech, access to information and the whole gamut of rights that he fought to protect and spread.
But who are these people being recognized?
Hon. Justice Keneth K. Kakuru, JA
Justice Kenneth Kakuru is one of a handful of people that can be said to have been involved in nearly all facets of human rights. He was a human rights activist, an environmental activist, a public interest litigant, a seasoned lawyer, an arbiter and dispenser of justice as a judge, a teacher – mention them!
He believed not just in personal rights but also in group rights and collective rights. His involvement in defending Butamira forest and Mabira forests against destruction by sugar barons was a demonstration of his belief in the community’s right to a good environment.
Justice Kakuru believed in harnessing collective voices to impact collective good. His founding and leadership of the environmental NGO, Green Watch Uganda Chapter was testament to this.
He was a stickler to the law and believed no one, even when it is a popular thing, should operate outside the law. He challenged in court the coronation of the Kabaka in 1993 when the 1967 Constitution was still in force and only withdrew case when it was amended to allow restoration of traditional leaders. He said he only wanted things done properly, legally.
He believed that the means were as important as the end, which is why many times he was the lone dissenting judge in significant constitutional cases where, in the end, he was vindicated.
Most important for media and journalism, Justice Kakuru believed in freedom of expression as a key plank in the chain of human rights. One of his last judgments in the case challenging the Computer Misuse Act (as Amended) was testament to this.
On the occasion to mark World Press Freedom Day in 2021, Justice Kakuru was the chief guest of Uganda Media Sector Working Group and delivered a keynote address titled, “Enhancing the Legal and Regulatory Measures for the Protection of Information as a Public Good in Uganda.”
Mr. Edward Baliddawa
Mr. Edward Baliddawa is not one Ugandans who the mention of name or showing of face will elicit instant recognition from many countrymen, let alone those in the media and communications sector. Those who know him, however, describe him as the “Father of Internet in Uganda” and for good reason. He was one of the early adopters and spreaders on the internet and associated information communications technology that many take for granted today.
Thanks to a chance encounter with American missionaries at the University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1985 that would lead him to Abilene Christian University in Texas (USA) in 1992, Mr. Baliddawa would interface with scientists at National Aeronautics Space Agency (NASA) and get steeped in the new information technology spreading out of the US military, space research and security agencies. This would change him, and Uganda forever.
Mr. Baliddawa had gone to train as a preacher of the word of God but he would end up not as a disciple of Jesus but a fanatical disciple of the Internet – a new technology that was only starting to take shape around the world.
Mr. Balidawa started picking and curating Uganda news onto his new platform UGANDANET hosted at his university so that Ugandans in the diaspora could read news from home faster. They were mostly from The Monitor whose editors had agreed to send to him monthly copies of the newspaper by mail. Thus, he made The Monitor the first newspaper in Africa to go online, and Uganda the second country to embrace the internet after he met President Museveni in 1996
On return home, Mr. Baliddawa would be instrumental in the establishment and popularizing of Starcom which later merged with Informal to form Infocom- that biggest internet company in Uganda before the arrival of the mobile phone companies.
He preached the goodness of the Internet in universities and in government, getting them connected onto the web. His company, Uganda Home Pages Ltd (UHPL), built most of the first websites in this country for private and government entities. He would also serve as chairperson of Parliament’s ICT committee and play a leading role in establishment of Uganda’s ICT infrastructure backbone.
Today, the Internet is everywhere in our homes, in our pockets and in our palms for news, trade, studies, and social relations.