The Ugandan government suspends the use of Facebook just a day before a highly contested presidential election involving President Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, against his strongest opposition challenger Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine, a pop star turned musician.
In a television address on Tuesday evening, the 76-year-old leader who took power in 1986, said he had met with the security forces and they were ready to defend any Ugandan worried about coming out to vote because of alleged intimidation by the opposition.
“There is no threat we cannot defeat”, said Museveni, while wearing a camouflage jacket, “We have got all sorts of means, simple and complex.” This also followed a series of military vehicles with very heavy gunships that spent the all day passing around the big towns in Uganda. This left many people wondering if Uganda was going to war!
The largest telecom companies in Uganda, MTN and Airtel, notified its subscribers that the National Telecommunication Operators in the country, had received a directive from Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to immediately suspend access and use, direct or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over the network until further notice.
“MTN Uganda has, in compliance with its National Telecommunications Operator License and in accordance with MTN’s group-wide Digital Human Rights due diligence framework implemented the directive,” part of the statement read.
It added that they will continue engaging with the relevant stakeholders to limit the scope and duration of the service disruption. Internet monitor NetBlocks said its data showed that Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, Skype, Snapchat, Viber and Google Play Store were among a lengthy list of sites unavailable via Uganda’s main cell network operators.
Facebook announced on Monday that it had taken down a network linked to Uganda’s ministry of information for using fake and duplicate accounts to post ahead of this week’s election. This also came Days after Facebook deleted almost all accounts that were pro- Museveni. In his address, Museveni defended the social media shutdown as a response to Facebook’s closure of accounts of the ruling NRM “message senders”.
“Facebook decided to block NRM message centres. Why would anyone do that? I told my people to close it. If it is to operate in Uganda, it should be used equitably,” Museveni said in his speech. He has apologised for “inconvenience” to users insisting that he cannot tolerate the “arrogance” of anybody coming to decide for Uganda “who is good and who is bad”. The campaign period saw Ugandan security forces launch a ruthless crackdown on the opposition supporters.
Ahead of the election on Thursday, Wine said all his campaign team had been detained and in several accounts been arrested. He also accused the police and the military of raiding his home and arresting his security personnel. Police denies the allegations. He also said another of his drivers had been killed.