How the COVID-19 Fight has Hurt Digital Rights in East Africa
The fight against the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda has dealt a blow to the promotion and preservation of human rights in the region. Moreover, the outbreak of COVID-19 could not have come at a worse time, as the countries were preparing for their respective general elections (October 2020 for Tanzania, January 2021 for Uganda, and a potential referendum in 2021 and the August 2022 elections in Kenya). Even before confirmation of COVID-19 cases in the region, the three East African countries had instituted COVID-19 mitigation measures. Many of these measures are still being implemented, and some of them have negatively affected peoples’ fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, access to information, privacy and data protection as well as freedom of assembly and association. On March 18, 2020, Uganda instituted its first set of measures that included the closure of schools and a ban on all political, religious, and social gatherings. A week after the March 22, 2020 confirmation of the first case in the country, the Ministry of Health issued the Public Health (Control of COVID-19) (No. 2) Rules, 2020 that introduced further restrictions including a dusk-to-dawn curfew, the closure of institutions of learning and places of worship, the suspension of public gatherings, a ban on public transport and the closure of the country’s borders and the international airport to passenger traffic. In Kenya, the government introduced several measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 that included the suspension of public gatherings and other social distancing requirements; limitation of travel into and outside the country; imposition of a dusk-to-dawn curfew under the Public Order Act, 2003; as well as inter-county travel bans between the capital, Nairobi, and three other high-risk counties of Mombasa, Kilifi and Kwale. A day after the government confirmed its first coronavirus case, Tanzania introduced a series of measures that included the closure of schools and the suspension of sports events on March 17, 2020. Additional directives, including quarantining travellers from countries with confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the travellers’ own cost, were announced by President Pombe Magufuli.