Since the evolution of social media around the world, there has been a challenge of distinguishing between the things that would considerably pass for normal in a limited private domain and those things which should be considered abnormal once they hit the public domain even though they were normal in a private domain.

For instance, it would be okay for someone to believe that a particular leader in their country is stupid, foolish, and not worthy of any respect based on a few facts they have at their disposal. However, due to the fact that they do not have all the facts in perspective before drawing their conclusion, or having a skewed view of a particular matter based on their background, once they make their opinion public; it will always attract different opinions.

Unfortunately, when these opinions arise, there is very limited room for a correction once two perfectly similar parties holding divergent opinions meet. Each tries their best to further their opinion based on their limited facts without any attempt to incorporate the facts of another party. Of late; what would have been public debate turns out to be public accusations and calling out names in an attempt to appear right while another party appears totally wrong.

What Are Debates Like In Uganda?

In Uganda, most of the popular debates are about coming out to show you are right and another person is wrong. It is rarely about presenting facts so that after throwing enough light on the facts, you can both proceed to make a properly informed conclusion. In Uganda, people go for debates to prove they are right. Unfortunately, their being right or wrong never changes anything in most cases.

What can we consider an ideal debate?

An ideal debate should be one where we all agree about the goal we want to achieve. After agreeing about the goal we want to achieve, then each party can present their facts on that matter. After presenting the facts, you can then use the facts at hand to formulate the best way forward towards the aspired goal. In this kind of submission, it is very easy to have a civil debate. I personally believe that before any debate kicks off, people should agree on what they want to achieve so that they do not get lost in arguments that are totally separate from what they want to discuss.

On Free Speech in Uganda

In Uganda; Free speech is mainly a spinoff of public debates. It is very hard to find a non-politically inspired Ugandan arguing about free speech. And once the free speech debate kicks off, it tends to further in the direction of the right to speak anything you want, where you want and how you want. However, this somehow voids one of the primary principles of rights. “Rights are not absolute”.

For instance, you have a right to move anywhere in Uganda; but you are not allowed to walk through someone’s compound sometimes. Someone denying you the freedom to walk through their compound is not an abuse of freedom of movement. The arguments presented on free speech in Uganda are often grounded on the right to say anything they like about anybody regardless of whether it is factually wrong or right.

The ones that are pro-free speech and those seeking to place some restrictions on free speech have failed to agree on whether what they want to regulate is free speech or hate speech!

Misconceptions of Free Speech In Uganda

The actual debate that Ugandans are trying to have is not a debate about free speech rather a debate on hate speech.¬† “Free speech is the right to express any opinions without censorship or restraint” while “Hate speech is abusive or threatening speech or writing that expresses prejudice against a particular group, especially on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation.”

Therefore free speech debate for the most part fights for the right to verbally abuse or redicule someone at your own discretion. Once someone fights for the right to verbally abuse someone, it seems to be part of their right to free speech  however what might have been considered free speech might amount to hate speech. This therefore raises an important question, should hate speech be regulated in Uganda?

Another question worth pondering, is there need to bring another law to address hate speech or we simply need to improve the ones that are already existing?

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