Freedom in the World 2023 - Uganda

/ 100
Political Rights 11 / 40
Civil Liberties 24 / 60
34 / 100 Not Free
Global freedom statuses are calculated on a weighted scale. See the methodology.


While Uganda holds regular elections, their credibility has deteriorated over time. The country has been ruled by National Resistance Movement (NRM) and President Yoweri Museveni since 1986. The NRM retains power through patronage, intimidation, and politicized prosecutions of opposition leaders. Uganda’s civil society and media sectors face legal and extralegal harassment and state violence.

Key Developments in 2022

  • In October, authorities established a new requirement for NGOs to register with the Personal Data Protection Office, providing organizations less than a month to complete the registration. The swiftness of the law, as well as the arbitrary nature of the requirement, is consistent with the tactics the government has used since 2019 shut down civil society groups. The deadline was later extended until the end of November.
  • Also in October, President Museveni announced new lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of an outbreak of Ebola. The government was initially hesitant to address the outbreak of the virus, which began in September, likely resulting in an increased number of deaths.

Political Rights

A Electoral Process

A1 0-4 pts
Was the current head of government or other chief national authority elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The president is directly elected to serve five-year terms. Incumbent Yoweri Museveni, who first seized power in a 1986 coup, won the 2021 election with 58.6 percent of the vote, while National Unity Party (NUP) candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu—known as Bobi Wine—won 34.8 percent. Turnout stood at 59 percent.

The campaign period, which began in late 2020, was marred by repression and violence, though polling day itself was calm besides a military presence in Kampala. Wine, who had been arrested several times in 2020, was placed under house arrest after casting his ballot, though the High Court of Kampala ordered his release later in January 2021. Leading up to the election, authorities selectively used COVID-19 restrictions to violently disperse opposition rallies and arrest journalists, while NRM events were allowed to proceed; police killed over 50 people. During the election, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered a five-day internet blackout. Internet access was largely restored by February 2021. Politically-motivated disappearances and reports of torture of opposition supporters in detention increased in the months after the election.

Few observers monitored the vote, and both foreign and domestic accreditation requests to observe the elections were denied. Wine accused the government of stuffing ballot boxes and filed a legal challenge that he later withdrew. The Citizens’ Coalition for Electoral Democracy in Uganda (CCEDU) claimed the results were not credible due to COVID-19-related restrictions and the preelection violence and arrests, though they did not report incidents of stuffing ballot boxes.

A2 0-4 pts
Were the current national legislative representatives elected through free and fair elections? 1 / 4

The 2021 elections for members of the unicameral Parliament were held concurrently with the presidential vote. A total of 499 representatives were directly elected, including parliamentarians for 353 single-member constituencies and 146 seats reserved for women. Another 30 were chosen to represent special interest groups (youth, the elderly, workers, the military, and persons with disabilities). Ex officio members hold 27 seats.

The NRM won 336 directly elected seats in January 2021. The NUP won 57, the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) won 32; other parties won fewer than 10 seats. As with the presidential election, parliamentary contests were affected by violence, selectively enforced COVID-19 restrictions, internet shutdowns, and restrictions on journalists.

The NRM government was accused of intervening in multiple by-elections in 2022, through bribery, ballot-box stuffing, military presence at polling stations, and arrests of opposition members.

A3 0-4 pts
Are the electoral laws and framework fair, and are they implemented impartially by the relevant election management bodies? 1 / 4

Independent observers, civil society, and opposition leaders have long called for substantive electoral-law reforms, which have been largely neglected. In early 2020, Parliament passed five overdue electoral reform bills, four of which received assent that July. Most Ugandans, however, do not trust the Electoral Commission (EC), which has repeatedly been accused of favoring the NRM, whether through fraud or voter disenfranchisement. The NUP criticized the management of the 2021 elections, citing the EC’s admission that it did not add results from over 1,200 polling sites—many of them in Kampala—to its count, and that voter registration was halted over a year before the election, allegedly due to limitations in technical capacity.

B Political Pluralism and Participation

B1 0-4 pts
Do the people have the right to organize in different political parties or other competitive political groupings of their choice, and is the system free of undue obstacles to the rise and fall of these competing parties or groupings? 1 / 4

Uganda adopted a multi-party political system in 2005 after two decades of effectively one-party rule. The formation of political parties is legally protected, and many parties are registered. However, in practice, restrictive registration requirements and candidate eligibility rules, limited media coverage, and violent harassment by state authorities and paramilitary groups hinder opposition parties’ ability to compete. The NRM dominates the political sphere and consistently wins elections deemed neither free nor fair.

The NUP has experienced significant repression from the authorities, particularly after the January 2021 elections. Several days after the polls, the party reported that military personnel raided its headquarters. In early February, Wine claimed that over 3,000 NUP members had been abducted by authorities, though the government claimed only 31 people had been arrested. As of September 2022, the NUP had refused to sign onto the 2022 memorandum of understanding for the Interparty Organization for Dialogue, a long-running entity that seeks to bring together parties in Parliament to discuss democratic reform, which the NRM leads.

In June 2020, the government prohibited all political gatherings, nominally as a health measure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ban was disproportionately enforced on opposition parties.

B2 0-4 pts
Is there a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or gain power through elections? 1 / 4

The NRM dominates all levels of government, such that it is often difficult to distinguish the party from state institutions. There are several dozen opposition lawmakers, as well as numerous independents (though many independents support the NRM). Election campaigns are characterized by violence, intimidation, and harassment of opposition candidates and supporters. Economic resources are also significantly tied to overtly or quietly supporting the NRM.

Leaders of opposition parties and political movements are sometimes arrested on spurious criminal charges. For example, Wine was arrested several times during the 2020–21 campaign period and was placed under house arrest on polling day. He had previously been charged with treason over a 2018 incident. In July 2022, over 70 opposition party members were arrested during by-elections in Soroti and other parts of the country.

B3 0-4 pts
Are the people’s political choices free from domination by forces that are external to the political sphere, or by political forces that employ extrapolitical means? 1 / 4

The military, which remains closely aligned with Museveni and the NRM, has 10 reserve seats in Parliament. The government and NRM reportedly use public resources and patronage networks to build political support among religious leaders and other influential figures. The government has also been accused of bribing or coercing opposition parliamentarians and supporters to join its ranks; in July 2022, Democratic Party (DP) leader Norbert Mao, agreed to join the NRM and was subsequently appointed justice minister.

Disappearances and political violence around the 2021 election loom large in the public’s awareness, particularly as some people have not returned from detention, which may discourage many from engaging in the political sphere.

B4 0-4 pts
Do various segments of the population (including ethnic, racial, religious, gender, LGBT+, and other relevant groups) have full political rights and electoral opportunities? 2 / 4

Although Uganda has many diverse ethnic groups, they lack equal representation. Groups like Alur, Ik, Bagungu, Bakonzo, Kakwa, Batwa, and Karamojong are disproportionately affected by violent conflicts, have less access to education, and receive inadequate health care. The NRM has repressed the political representation of and advocacy by these various ethnic groups, including those affiliated with subnational kingdoms.

The political system includes quotas for special interest groups including youth, people with disabilities, elderly people, and women. Quotas for women span all levels of government, including Parliament where women held 33.8 percent of seats as of 2021. However, reserve seats have been criticized for creating the perception that directly elected positions are meant for men and have been called a means to co-opt women through patronage networks rather than meaningfully improving their representation and rights. LGBT+ people in Uganda face severe discrimination and are not represented in politics.

C Functioning of Government

C1 0-4 pts
Do the freely elected head of government and national legislative representatives determine the policies of the government? 1 / 4

Power is concentrated in the hands of the NRM leadership, the security forces, and especially Museveni, who retains office through various undemocratic means. Ministers have little ability to influence legislation in which the government has a particular interest, though there is more consultation on ordinary policy matters. The executive secures passage of key legislation through inducement, harassment, and intimidation of the legislative branch.

C2 0-4 pts
Are safeguards against official corruption strong and effective? 1 / 4

Despite laws and institutions designed to combat official malfeasance, including the Anti-Corruption Act of 2009 and the Inspectorate of Government, corruption remains a significant problem. A December 2021 Inspectorate of Government report found that the country loses an estimated $5.5 billion annually to corruption in key government agencies, and $161.7 million in fraudulent procurement deals. Petty corruption also characterizes many government services, notably the Uganda Police Force.

C3 0-4 pts
Does the government operate with openness and transparency? 1 / 4

Many government departments deny requests for information under the Access to Information Act (AIA), and laws related to national security and confidentiality impede open access to information in practice. Government agencies seem to release information that only favors the regime. For example, in 2020, the EC made public the academic documents of Wine while refusing to release those of President Museveni, despite numerous petitions. Public procurement decisions are generally opaque.

In October 2022, President Museveni announced new lockdown restrictions to curb the spread of an outbreak of Ebola. The government was initially hesitant to address the outbreak of the virus, which began in September, likely resulting in an increased number of deaths.

Civil Liberties

D Freedom of Expression and Belief

D1 0-4 pts
Are there free and independent media? 2 / 4

The media sector features many formally independent outlets; however, journalists face intimidation including arrest, harassment, and assault, especially for writing that is critical of the president and his inner circle. Particularly in election years, government authorities raid and shut down radio stations and other outlets and remove accreditation from journalists as retribution for critical reporting.

Throughout 2022, journalists were more able to publish articles critical of the government than in previous years, though self-censorship is still common. Social media is a significant part of a robust culture of independent journalism and contributed to the opening of journalistic space.

Score Change: The score improved from 1 to 2 because independent journalists and media outlets were more able to report critically on the government than in previous years, though journalists still self-censor and risk arrest for engaging in their work.

D2 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to practice and express their religious faith or nonbelief in public and private? 3 / 4

There is no state religion, and freedom of worship is both constitutionally protected and generally respected in practice. The government seeks to limit and control political statements by religious leaders, tolerating those who support for Museveni and the NRM while subjecting those with more critical views to intimidation, harassment, and arrest.

A number of Muslim clerics have been murdered in recent years, and the investigations into the crimes have not yet led to any convictions.

D3 0-4 pts
Is there academic freedom, and is the educational system free from extensive political indoctrination? 2 / 4

Academic freedom has been undermined by alleged government surveillance of university lectures, and the requirement for professors to obtain permission to hold public meetings at universities. Instances of dismissal and detention of university faculty and leadership are broadly seen as government attempts to censor critical voices. Academics working at public universities fear that researching politically sensitive topics could hinder their career progression. Authorities often respond harshly to campus protests by student groups.

D4 0-4 pts
Are individuals free to express their personal views on political or other sensitive topics without fear of surveillance or retribution? 2 / 4

Individuals are nominally free to express their personal views on political and other sensitive topics; however, there is a widespread belief that supporting the opposition will limit one’s future opportunities for education, employment, and government services. Media reports in 2021 indicated that Ugandan intelligence officials used spyware to monitor journalists, political opposition, and foreign diplomats.

In addition to monitoring social media platforms, the government has implemented various policies to limit individuals’ online political expression. Facebook has been banned in the country since 2021, though many people access it through virtual private networks (VPNs). In late 2020, the UCC required online content creators to register and pay a $27 fee. In October 2022, the government signed into law the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act, which criminalizes sharing false or unsolicited information online. Some analysts fear the law will be weaponized against Ugandans who criticize the government online.

E Associational and Organizational Rights

E1 0-4 pts
Is there freedom of assembly? 1 / 4

Freedom of assembly for political opposition is severely restricted in Uganda. From 2013 until early 2020, the police imposed the Public Order Management Act (POMA), which required prior registration with local police to hold any public meeting. While POMA was annulled in March 2020, the decision was appealed to the Supreme Court—which had as of December 2022 not made a ruling—and that same month, strict COVID-19 restrictions went into effect. These were then similarly used to restrict public gatherings, particularly those organized by the political opposition. Police and security forces enforced restrictions violently and without respect for due process, resulting in injury and arbitrary detention.

E2 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for nongovernmental organizations, particularly those that are engaged in human rights– and governance-related work? 1 / 4

Civil society in Uganda is active, and several NGOs address politically sensitive issues. However, their operations are vulnerable to legal restrictions, burdensome registration requirements, and intimidation. Human rights NGOs have reported office break-ins and burglaries; police have failed to adequately investigate the incidents. In September 2022, four human rights activists were arrested as they marched to Parliament to petition for action on behalf of Ugandan migrant workers.

Other government requirements restrict civic space, including one from 2019 forcing NGOs to inform the National Bureau for NGOs on staffing, finances, and activities. That November, some 12,000 NGOs were closed for failing to renew their registration. In 2022, the government continued to close NGOs for failing to comply with legal requirements, including those working on human rights issues like rights for LGBT+ people. In October, authorities established a new requirement for NGOs to register with the Personal Data Protection Office, providing organizations less than a month to complete the registration. The swiftness of the law, as well as the arbitrary nature of the requirement, is consistent with the tactics the government has used since 2019 shut down civil society groups. The deadline to register was later extended until the end of November.

E3 0-4 pts
Is there freedom for trade unions and similar professional or labor organizations? 2 / 4

Workers’ rights to organize, bargain collectively, and strike are recognized by law, except for workers providing essential government services. As of 2020, there were 42 trade unions in Uganda, representing about a million people. Most are grouped under two umbrella entities—the National Organization of Trade Unions (NOTU) and the Central Organization of Free Trade Unions (COFTU). Despite legal and institutional protections, trade unions have been undermined by government co-optation, intimidation, and manipulation designed to frustrate their organizing and bargaining efforts. While some unions cater to informal workers, they generally prioritize the formal sector.

F Rule of Law

F1 0-4 pts
Is there an independent judiciary? 1 / 4

The Ugandan judiciary suffers from lack of investment, executive influence, and systemic corruption, which weaken judicial independence. Many critics see the judiciary as a political tool for the NRM, particularly as it consistently rules in line with President Museveni’s interests. High Court justices are selected by the president after recommendation from the Judicial Services Commission; the members of the Judicial Service Commission are themselves appointed by the president with approval from Parliament.

Critics argued that a 2022 proposal to expand the Supreme Court from 11 to 21 judges would further politicize the court in favor of the NRM. Others claim it reflects a continued expansion of a political patronage system, since the president’s cabinet cannot be further expanded, and Parliament has already been expanded significantly.

F2 0-4 pts
Does due process prevail in civil and criminal matters? 1 / 4

Police routinely engage in arbitrary arrests and detentions, despite legal safeguards against such practices. Due process is also affected by prolonged pretrial detention, inadequate access to counsel for defendants, and corruption. A number of reform initiatives in recent years, including the introduction of plea bargaining in 2015, have reportedly had some success in reducing case backlogs. Police are known to rearrest suspects who have been released from detention.

F3 0-4 pts
Is there protection from the illegitimate use of physical force and freedom from war and insurgencies? 1 / 4

The Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), a militant group that sought to overthrow the government, was active from the 1980s until its forced withdrawal from Ugandan territory in the mid-2000s. The Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) still operate in the western region on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and were linked to bombings in Kampala in October and November 2021. Throughout 2021, the Ugandan and Congolese militaries joined efforts to fight the ADF in the DRC and have reported that their efforts have been largely successful. The Karamoja region has also seen ongoing insecurity mainly caused by cattle raiding; by September 2022, the Ugandan government had built seven new police posts in an effort to quell the violence. State violence remains a real threat for many, especially those active in political opposition; gender-based violence is also prevalent.

Rape, extrajudicial violence, and torture and abuse of suspects and detainees by security forces are persistent problems, and perpetrators are rarely prosecuted. Prison conditions are poor. The prison system operates at triple its intended capacity, with pretrial detainees constituting nearly half of the inmate population as of August 2022, according to the World Prison Brief database.

F4 0-4 pts
Do laws, policies, and practices guarantee equal treatment of various segments of the population? 1 / 4

Ugandan laws prohibit discrimination based on ethnicity, religion, age, race, disability, color, and sex. However, LGBT+ people face overt hostility from the government and society. Same-sex relations are criminalized under a colonial-era law, and people accused of same-sex relations are at significant risk of being tortured and killed. Numerous parliamentary and presidential attempts to pass new and even harsher legislation against LGBT+ people have made it a common talking point in the media.

While employment discrimination based on gender and other criteria is legally prohibited, in practice it is poorly enforced and does not apply to the vast informal sector.

There were nearly 1.5 million refugees living in Uganda as of mid-2022, and the United Nations has praised the government for its progressive asylum policies. However, it struggles to fund basic services for some refugee populations.

G Personal Autonomy and Individual Rights

G1 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy freedom of movement, including the ability to change their place of residence, employment, or education? 3 / 4

Freedom of movement is largely unrestricted, though this was not the case during the COVID-19 pandemic when the government violently enforced harsh restrictions. The last curfew restrictions were lifted in February 2022. However, economic barriers to movement often limit Ugandans’ mobility in practice.

G2 0-4 pts
Are individuals able to exercise the right to own property and establish private businesses without undue interference from state or nonstate actors? 2 / 4

Land disputes are common, especially in the post-conflict north, and throughout the country where private investors seek to develop land or extract resources, resulting in forced evictions which are sometimes but not always compensated. While women have a legal right to own and inherit land, they are often excluded from doing so.

In 2020, the government received a commission of inquiry (COI) report on land rights, which recommended the establishment of land courts and an ombudsman, among other measures. In March 2022, President Museveni banned all land evictions not approved by the District Security Committee, chaired by the presidentially appointed Resident District Commissioner.

Despite Museveni’s actions, evictions due to environmental concerns including flooding and landslides are increasingly common. Throughout 2022, opposition politicians criticized the government for selectively evicting people from environmentally sensitive areas, whether to protect the land or the people.

G3 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy personal social freedoms, including choice of marriage partner and size of family, protection from domestic violence, and control over appearance? 1 / 4

Aside from restrictions on same-sex relations including marriage, personal social freedoms are largely regulated at a societal and familial level. The median age of marriage for women is 18.7 years, compared to 23.3 years for men, according to a 2016 national survey. In the same survey, 25 percent of women reported that their husband or partner had multiple wives. Domestic violence is widespread; more than 60 percent of young adults experienced physical abuse as children, according to a 2019 UN Children’s Fund report, while in the 2016 national survey, 46 percent of ever-married women and 23 percent of ever-married men report that they are afraid of their current or most recent partner some or most of the time. As noted in other sections, there is very low tolerance for LGBT+ people, who face serious persecution and physical danger.

A Nordic Africa Institute report published in May 2021 noted that Ugandan girls were at higher risk of gender-based violence (GBV) due to COVID-19-related school closures and stringent lockdown measures. Nearly 645,000 teenage pregnancies were reported between March 2020 and September 2021, according to the UN Population Fund.

G4 0-4 pts
Do individuals enjoy equality of opportunity and freedom from economic exploitation? 1 / 4

Poor enforcement of labor laws contributes to unsafe or exploitative conditions for some workers, including extremely low pay. Child labor in agriculture, domestic service, and a variety of other industries is a significant problem, and the issue is most prevalent in rural areas. Sexual exploitation of minors is also an ongoing problem.

While Uganda maintains domestic laws to promote workers’ rights, the government has failed to regulate the recruitment and transfer of Ugandan domestic workers to Middle Eastern countries. An estimated 165,000 Ugandans have migrated to Saudi Arabia since 2017. Accounts describe workers experiencing sexual abuse, beatings, exploitation, and torture. In July 2022, the Committee on Gender, Labour, and Social Development urged the government to put in place a system to monitor and protect Ugandans employed as domestic workers abroad; in September, the government announced its plan to repatriate 500 Ugandan migrant workers from the Arabian Peninsula.