Uganda shuts down Social Media ahead of Presidential Election

Uganda shuts down Social Media ahead of Presidential Election

13 January 2021 09:34 am

In a sign that Uganda's government is preparing for protests and possible violence in the aftermath of Thursday's national election, the country's telecommunications regulator has blocked all social media platforms and messaging apps.

In a letter sent to internet providers, the Uganda Communications Commission said popular services like Facebook and WhatsApp must be suspended "until further notice."

Social media has played an important role in the general election campaign, with presidential candidates and major parties publishing a plethora of videos, speeches and promises online as they try to win over Uganda's youthful and increasingly tech-savvy population.

President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking his sixth presidential term, has posted slick videos and snaps of his campaign stops on Facebook - and used his official page on Monday to tell supporters that they were just "48-hours away from victory".

However, his main rival - the pop star turned politician Bobi Wine - has a significantly bigger presence on social media platforms and the move by the communications regulator may be designed to suppress and hinder Mr Wine and his hopeful supporters.

The 38-year parliamentarian has cast doubts on the poll, telling Sky News: "The election is being stolen and rigged. By the mere fact that I have been blocked from campaigning [on the streets], I am not allowed to have posters or billboards, and I am blocked from TV and radio."

If Mr Museveni does claim victory on Thursday, many expect supporters of Mr Wine and his National Unity Platform party to voice their outrage in country-wide demonstrations.

His followers have already shown that they are willing to take to the streets.

When the former musician was detained in November on the basis that he had breached COVID regulations, unruly protests broke out in several towns.

Police, soldiers and plainclothes gunmen killed at least 54 people and more than 1,000 were arrested.

State-authored harassment and violence has been a prominent feature of this electoral contest.

Mr Wine wears a military-style helmet and bullet-proof vest during his public appearances and says that every member of his campaign team has been arrested at least once.

On Tuesday, Mr Wine said soldiers raided his home in the capital Kampala, arresting his guards and fatally shooting a member of his campaign team.

The allegation was denied by Kampala's police spokesman Patrick Onyango, who said: "We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints."

Sky News