Uganda government shuts down social media ahead of Thursday election


Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Tuesday that his government has shut down social media ahead of a tense election on Thursday, accusing Facebook and unnamed outside groups of “arrogance” after the social network this week removed Ugandan accounts linked to his reelection campaign.

In a letter seen by Reuters to internet service providers dated Jan. 12, Uganda’s communications regulator ordered them to block all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.

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.

Museveni apologized for the inconvenience caused by the ban on social media and messaging apps but he said Uganda had no choice after Facebook took down some accounts which backed his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party.

“If you want to take sides against the NRM, then that group should not operate in Uganda,” he said. “We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad.”

Shortly after Museveni’s decision to ban social media, the United States ambassador to Uganda said Wednesday the embassy canceled plans to observe the election, citing a decision by electoral authorities to deny accreditation to most members of the observation team.

Ambassador Natalie E. Brown said more than 75% of the accreditations requested had been denied.

“With only 15 accreditations approved, it is not possible for the United States to meaningfully observe the conduct of Uganda’s elections at polling sites across the country,” the statement said. “As we have stated previously, the United States takes no side in Uganda’s upcoming elections. We support a free, fair, peaceful, and inclusive electoral process.”

Without “the robust participation of observers,” the statement added, “Uganda’s elections will lack the accountability, transparency and confidence that observer missions provide.”

Museveni repeatedly claims foreign groups are trying to meddle in Uganda’s election, but has failed to provide evidence. He has accused his main challenger, the popular singer and opposition lawmaker known as Bobi Wine, of being “an agent of foreign interests.” Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, denies this.

In addition to banning social media Museveni also tightened security in and around the capital, Kampala.

Videos posted on social media on Tuesday showed a convoy of armoured military vehicles heading towards Kampala and then moving slowly through various streets in the heart of the capital, which typically votes against Museveni.

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 Ugandans worried about coming out to vote because of intimidation by the opposition.

Ssentamu, insisted Tuesday that his campaign is nonviolent and urged his supporters not to be intimidated by the security forces.


Story compiled with assistance from wire reports

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