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Uganda elections 2021: social networks blocked before the poll

Bobi Wine (left) fights longtime leader Yoweri Museveni

Uganda blocked access to social media and messaging apps ahead of Thursday’s hotly contested elections.

A letter, seen by AFP and Reuters, was sent to all telecommunications companies by the communications regulator ordering the immediate shutdown.

It comes a day after Facebook closed “fake” accounts it said were linked to the government, claiming they were being used to increase the popularity of the posts.

The preparations for the elections were marred by tension and violence.

President Yoweri Museveni is seeking his sixth term elected after 35 years in power.

The 76-year-old faces 10 challengers, including 38-year-old pop star turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi, known by his stage name Bobi Wine.

The BBC’s Patience Atuhaire in Uganda’s capital Kampala says the campaign period was dominated by social media, as political parties tried to reach out to the young and politically aware population.

‘Retaliation on Facebook shutdowns’

Uganda’s Communications Commission (UCC) has not responded to media requests to confirm the shutdown order, but internet watch group NetBlocks said it has noted restrictions on all major internet providers in that country. from East Africa.

Our correspondent confirms numerous reports of disruptions on platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, when using the country’s data servers.

AFP and Reuters news agencies cite industry sources that telecoms executives have been told the ban was in retaliation for Facebook being blocked by pro-government accounts.

Monday, the government described Facebook’s action as authoritarian and declared Thursday’s elections to be free and fair.

General elections in Uganda.  January 14, 2021 [ 18.1m people have registered to vote ] [ 11 candidates are running for president ],[ 1 of the candidates is a woman, Nancy Kalembe ],[ 5 elected terms so far for Yoweri Museveni ],[ 50% plus 1 votes needed for a candidate to avoid a run-off election ],[ 529 MPs will also be elected ], Source: Source: Ugandan Election Commission, Image: A masked woman in front of a mural
General elections in Uganda. January 14, 2021 [ 18.1m people have registered to vote ] [ 11 candidates are running for president ],[ 1 of the candidates is a woman, Nancy Kalembe ],[ 5 elected terms so far for Yoweri Museveni ],[ 50% plus 1 votes needed for a candidate to avoid a run-off election ],[ 529 MPs will also be elected ], Source: Source: Ugandan Election Commission, Image: A masked woman in front of a mural

An insider told AFP that ISPs also received a list of 100 virtual private networks (VPNs) from UCC to block.

In the 2016 election, the government blocked social media on election day and for several days afterward, which led to the proliferation of VPN use in the country, according to our reporter.

Meanwhile, Bobi Wine called on voters to stay at polling stations on Thursday and use their cellphone cameras to record the tally process, amid concerns over election rigging.

The candidate pleaded after saying his home was searched and security guards were arrested earlier Tuesday, the last day of the campaign. A police spokesperson denied that there had been any arrests.

Mr Museveni’s rival has been detained periodically and dozens of opposition protesters have been killed in the run-up to the vote.

Bobi Wine (L) hopes to take over the presidency from Yoweri Museveni
The campaign has been affected by the coronavirus

Kizza Besigye, an opposition veteran who challenged President Museveni in four previous elections but is no longer running, said the violence in this campaign was “unprecedented”.

“The violence and terror seem to escalate with each upcoming election. This election has witnessed untold violence. It is getting worse by the day,” he said.

The campaign was banned in Kampala and several other districts. The opposition says it’s because he’s popular in those areas, but the government says the measure was due to Covid-19 restrictions.


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