Uganda held Presidential and Parliamentary elections today. I came into Uganda this morning from a meeting on freedom of expression in South Africa in time to cast my vote. I largely used online sources to monitor the events in three days before the election date.
In the last days, I have had chats with some Ugandan journalists trying to understand why they were not utilizing new media for news coverage and putting their opinions across even when price wars have forced Telecom companies in Uganda to provide free access to social networks like facebook. For the few that I spoke with they cited issues like lack computers for each journalist in a newsroom while mostly we agreed that Ugandan journalists are yet to fully appreciate the use of new media.
I am glad that some journalists did take a step and signed up on twitter while others increased their use of facebook for better discussions on the country’s political situation. The change in attitude however has not only been on individual level. In the last three days we have seen all leading media launch twitter accounts among them @Newvisionwire @dailymonitor @observerug , @UBCnewsjournal.
We have seen newspapers and magazines push to get their share of attention online. Uganda’s top tabloid @RedpepperUG launched their twitter account and they have joined The Independent newsmagazine @Uganda Talks and @dispatchug to consistently update content from different parts of the country. While Red Pepper did a great job on the political reporting they never fail to insert in the sex aspects. Presidential candidate Olara Otunnu did not vote and not much is yet known why but one of the reactions was that the only unmarried candidate is good at abstaining.
Howver radio stations which are the major medium of mass communication in the country are yet to venture into online spaces or it probably their owners who are largely politicians are yet to wake up.
The most prominent elections hashtag #Ugandavotes has been vibrant in the last 48 hours and many Ugandans increased their presence on twitter. This could be a vital point for those interested in tapping into citizen journalism in the country. Most of these discussions are dominated by Ugandans telling their stories and also sharing their experiences with each other and world.
Traditional media in Uganda has largely not invested in new media; in fact few have a well working digital media department with well qualified people. Whatever happens in this election, we will be waiting to see if Uganda’s media keeps up the momentum and the use of new ICT tools to communicate to a largely youthful population using social networks.