The Government of Uganda through the Communications Commission has directed all mobile operators to immediately block all access to Facebook, WhatsApp, other social media platforms and online messaging applications, until further notice.
The East African nation go to the polls on Thursday, January 14 in an election pitting incumbent Yoweri Museveni against 10 candidates including opposition front-runner Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (popularly known as Bobi Wine), a singer-turned-lawmaker whose star power has rattled the ruling party, in a way like never before.
The 38-year-old Bobi Wine and his National Unity Platform have rallied the youths in a bid to challenge the 75-year-old Museveni who has been in office since 1986; using the power of the social media in huge campaigns that have left several of his aides, bodyguards and members of his entourage been arrested, jailed and killed.
Big tech giants, Facebook had on Monday, taken down a network in Uganda linked to the country’s Ministry of Information for using fake and duplicate accounts to post ahead of this week’s presidential election., a move that was roundly criticised by the Government.
Uganda ordered internet service providers to block all social media platforms and messaging apps on Tuesday until further notice, a letter from the country’s communications regulator seen by Reuters said.
Users had complained earlier on Tuesday that they were unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp, social media platforms being widely used for campaigning ahead of Thursday’s presidential election in the East African country.
“Uganda Communications Commission hereby directs you to immediately suspend any access and use, direct or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over your network until further notice,” said the letter from the commission’s executive director to internet providers.
The commission’s spokesman Ibrahim Bbossa and government spokesman Ofwono Opondo did not answer calls requesting comment. An aide to Minister of Information Judith Nabakooba said she was unable to comment at the moment.
A source in Uganda’s telecom sector said the government had made clear to executives at telecoms companies that the social media ban was in retaliation for Facebook blocking some pro-government accounts.