Social media outage in Uganda ahead of presidential elections
KAMPALA, Uganda – Ugandans will have to bear the brunt of a dictatorship in the wake of the government’s decision to ban social media sites, a move aimed at managing the flow of information ahead of the presidential elections which are scheduled for Thursday.
President Yoweri Museveni, who has been at the helm for more than 33 years, will face young politician Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine, a renowned musician who also plays the role of MP for Kyadondo East. The young politician gave Museveni a headache.
Museveni’s traditional challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, who at one time was his personal doctor, has not shown interest in this year’s race. However, the veteran politician is backing Bobi Wine, in a race that has kept the opposition team from campaigning in the country.
In a televised speech Tuesday night, the 76-year-old leader who took power in 1986 said he had met with security forces and they were ready to stand up for any Ugandans worried about coming to vote due to the intimidation of the opposition.
“There is no threat that we cannot defeat,” said Museveni, wearing a military camouflage jacket. “We have all kinds of means, simple and complex.”
Additionally, the European Union said on Tuesday that it expects Uganda to provide a level playing field for all voters to exercise their democratic rights without fear of intimidation or violence.
“The excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies has seriously tarnished this electoral process,” said Josep Borrell, the EU’s top diplomat. He said the bloc’s offer to deploy a small team of electoral experts had not been accepted.
In a letter seen by Reuters to internet service providers dated Jan. 12, the Ugandan communications regulator ordered them to block all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.
NetBlocks, which is an internet monitor, said its data showed that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Viber and Google Play Store were among a long list of sites unavailable through major Ugandan cellular network operators.
On Monday, Facebook said it removed a network linked to the Ugandan information ministry for using fake and duplicate accounts to post ahead of this week’s elections.
The International Press Institute, a global media watchdog, has called on Uganda to restore social media.
“Any effort to block online access to journalists or members of the public is an unacceptable violation of the right to information,” he said in a statement.
South African telecommunications company MTN Group, Uganda’s largest mobile operator with 60% of the market, said it had complied with the blocking order and was working with authorities to limit the scope and duration of the perturbation.
Wine used Facebook to relay live coverage of its campaigns and press conferences after saying multiple media outlets refused to host it. Most radio and television stations are owned by government allies, and Uganda’s main daily newspaper is state-run.
Museveni has won every election since the first under his presidency in 1996, though they have been tarnished by opposition intimidation and accusations of vote rigging.
Uganda is a Western ally, a potential oil producer, and is seen as a stabilizing force in a region where war has struck some neighbors. It is also contributing to the largest contingent of an African Union force fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.
When he came to power in 1986, Museveni reportedly said: “The problem of Africa in general and Uganda in particular, is not the people but the leaders who want to stay in power.” Now, 35 years later, the president’s words come back to haunt him, running for a sixth term.