Refugees in Uganda Combating Information Precarity

HTIL are delighted to share some examples of the excellent work by our partners CDC and CEDED in Uganda. From trauma healing and reconciliation programs to providing counselling training and skills for refugee women leaders in Rhino Camp. Allowing women to change their experiences and empowering them to in turn help their communities.

A recent Youth Peace Forum took place in the Ofua Zone of Rhino Camp.  It focused on the role of youth in community peacebuilding and conflict transformation. A new project Mobilizing Action To Counter Hate Speech (MATCH) has been designed to empower people with strategies to effectively deal with online hate speech that occurs in camps.

The MATCH project can benefit refugees by extending already established strategies even further through the sharing of refugees own narratives and experiences online. This post explores how information is shared by refugees and the strategies that they have developed to combat information precarity.

The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso was living in Paris during the Spanish civil war. Working on a mural for the Paris Exhibition when he discovered the news of the bombing of Guernica in his native Spain. Hearing this information had a profound effect on him, in response he created a piece of art with a theme of suffering titled as ‘Guernica’ in 1937.

It was circulated around the world, received as an anti-war symbol and an embodiment of peace. Inspiring people to consider places where defenceless civilians have become under attack, raising funds for Spanish refugees in the process. How did Picasso hear about the bombing?

When we use mobile phones it allows us to connect with people and places at a great distance from where we might be physically located on a daily basis. Mobile phones are an example of a piece of technology that we use for this.

Companies design and make features that we can add to a phone’s original design to extend how we use it. Through people using these digital devices as part of their lives in a very normal way, it keeps these pieces of technology in existence and extends their value beyond that of a commodity.

When people migrate they are leaving their original kinship ties in a geographical sense and establishing new relationships. A phone that facilitates web access and apps support people to connect with a broader network of relationships through how a person chooses to use the digital device.

Social media is one way that people extend the use of their phone in order to connect with people around the world. Social media has also been considered as an increasingly popular channel of’ information on which migrants base their decisions on whether to migrate and the destinations where to settle’

The ability to connect in this way has been taken into account by organisations such as the UNHCR, who published a report Connected Refugees: How the Internet and Mobile Connectivity Can Improve Refugee Well-being and Transform Humanitarian Action. The report draws from research that was undertaken in 44 countries on four continents. It supports the idea that for refugees a ‘connected device is a lifeline and a critical tool for self-empowerment.’ 

This report defines the type of social media that was used by refugees at that time.
UNHCR statistics

Social media can be used to help maintain a connection with people’s original kinship ties and countries of origin. People can also use social media to extend these networks as they move about their daily lives in new places. It can be used to find out information in relation to ‘accessing water, food, healthcare, and education for their children; how to qualify and collect assistance’ as well as information about the current conditions in their country of origin.

How is information shared?

Information on ‘social media is not only filtered by customised algorithms based on users’ personal information but is also filtered by people’s personal social network onlineThis allows us to consider how each of the people we are connected with through our networks has a role to play in the curation of the information we are receiving.

Xinyuan Wang’s research on Social Media use in Industrial China brought her in contact with migrant factory workers. Fake news and various types of stories emerged in their use of social media. Revealing that the news they often shared was believed to be ‘news was based on true stories and those who were not 100% sure certainly enjoyed the reading – as a kind of entertainment.’

This supports the idea that ‘the most powerful information control comes from people’s sociality – on social media, there is a certain truism: ‘who you know may decide what you know’. Among like-minded friends, on social media one receives news that is in most cases only confirming the beliefs shared by the social group one belongs to.’ Xinyuan Wang.

Refugees around the world have accounted for this and have developed methods for dealing with it. Research that explores Syrian refugees and information precarity reveal the type of strategies that are used. The information that they receive is often checked by calling their country of origin to verify if the information is accurate.

This allows refugees to counter the media’s portrayal of a war an example of this would be a refugee calling home and asking ‘Has there been a bombing or not? If there is a bombing, hopefully, nobody died. We don’t ask about anything except for this.” Another refugee said, “I trust only this 100%,” holding up his mobile phone. ‘.This suggests that what people really trust is the information coming from people that they have close ties with ‘family and friends—who they communicated with either in person or via the phone’.

The strategies used by refugees have been developed by them in response to their daily lives. Valuable strategies that help to validate ‘rumors that are present on social media and come from unknown sources. These strategies include checking the source of information, validating information with trusted social ties, triangulation of online sources, and comparing information with their own experience.’

What happens when there is a lack of connectivity?

Lack of connectivity has a profound effect on the sharing of information within these networks of knowledge. The effects of this coupled with unstable environments directly affect how information is shared. Consider how Picasso responded to information he received about his native country and how he channelled his response to that information. 

Uganda is currently hosting ‘one million South Sudanese refugees’. It has a more established network for connectivity because of its access to the internet. If a refugee from South Sudan picks up on a rumour concerning their country of origin while being in Uganda, they could like Syrian refugees use the strategy of contacting people they know to verify this information. Unfortunately, the same quality of connectivity does not exist in ’South Sudan 94% of refugees have no internet coverage. Connectivity is directly impacting the flow of information and contributing to information precarity.

One way of counteracting the effects of negative stories that emerge is by creating new ones. An article by Daniel Friday Martin explores how a community development centre is ‘operating in several refugee camps in Northern Uganda has launched a new project entitled ‘Mobilizing Action To Counter Hate Speech (MATCH) for peace aimed at laying strategies to address online hate speech in the camps.’ 

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CEDED) has its roots in civic education and access to information. They aim to make a difference at grass root level and to lead by example and work in partnerships.

Community Development Centre (CDC) based in Uganda work for the welfare of communities through empowerment initiatives, capacity building, educational programs and promotion of social, environmental, cultural, healthful values and prudent utilization of life support resources.

Read More about CEDED – Centre for Democracy and Development

Read More about CDC – Community Development Centre 

Read More of Daniel Friday Martin’s article about the project Mobilizing Action To Counter Hate Speech (MATCH)



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.