Uganda's pornography detection machine
The machine, procured from South Korea, is capable of identifying any form of lewd and offensive content stored in any technological gadget.
Those found in possession of such a gadget may be liable for up to 10 years imprisonment. This extends to media houses who publish or are in possession of such materials. They also risk permanent closure.
The harsh penalties are contained in an anti-pornography law. Part (III) of the act spells out prohibition of pornography under the anti-pornography law with subsection (I) stating that a person shall not produce, traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export or sell any form of pornography.
The Act has also set up a special committee made up of religious leaders and government officials to police the country’s morals and implement the law. “We have appointed the anti-pornography committee. It had not been launched due to a lack of finance, but the Government has now approved the money to activate the operations,” said Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s Minister of Ethics and Integrity.
According to the Minister, Ugandans have taken advantage of the growing popularity of social media to publish and share nude photos on the public platforms.
An avowed conservative, Mr. Lokodo, who is also a former Catholic, has led a spirited campaign against what he considers an infiltration of the Western lifestyle on to Ugandan soil, which he insists has eroded Ugandans‘ morals. He was on the frontline advocating for the passage of the anti-homosexuality act which was later annulled. In an interview with the BBC, he threatened to have gay British comedian Stephen Fry arrested.
In 2014 he publicly insisted that women should never wear miniskirts and were bound by tradition to dress „decently“, since “men are so weak that if they saw an indecently dressed woman, they would just jump on her”.
What followed was a systematic attack on women wearing short skirts in the streets by men who claimed they were heeding the minister’s call. Women were beaten and stripped, a move that attracted international uproar.
Yet the tough-talking minister has vowed that the government will use the anti-pornography machine to ensure that Uganda will be „free from any content that seeks to corrupt the mind of decent Ugandans“.
But the purchase of the machine has not gone unnoticed by the Ugandan public. Ugandans have mocked, joked and chided the government for what it calls misplaced and warped priorities. On social media where the bulk of the protest is evident, Ugandans have called the purchase of the machine the height of immorality at a time when the country is struggling to fund key sectors, especially health.
Only recently did the country’s only radiation machine break down for days, risking the lives of the over 44,000 cancer patients who rely on it for radiotherapy. Breakdowns have been frequent and the government has not expressed any intention of replacing it in the near future. Cancer patients have been forced to seek treatment in neighbouring countries like Kenya, which has proven expensive.
Experts argue that whether the machine succeeds or fails in taming pornography, what will emerge is a growing desire by even those who traditionally wouldn’t be interested in such activities to try it out.
“There is something about the human mind and trying to satisfy curiosity. And human beings are naturally rebellious, especially when they feel they are being forced to subscribe to something they ordinarily wouldn’t. The more the government cracks the whip on sex and sexuality, the more it will sprout underground,” said Dr. Johnston Mugira, a sociologist in Kampala.
Dr. Mugira says there is a tendency by people to want to understand complex issues by demanding more information about such subjects, even when they don’t subscribe to them.
This is corroborated by a 2014 listing by search engine Google of countries with the greatest number of gay porn searches on the web. Uganda was third after Kenya and Pakistan. This, despite homosexuality being illegal in these countries.
“At around that time the Ugandan parliament was discussing the anti-homosexuality law, as was Kenya. A very negligible percentage of the population in the two countries are gay, so the majority of those who searched for such information did it out of curiosity. It is the same thing that the anti porn machine will fuel in Uganda, and that is a dangerous trend,” said Dr. Mugira.