East Africa

Uganda regulator orders social media shutdown before tense polls

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Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Bobi Wine says soldiers raided his home two days before crucial vote.

Uganda’s communications regulator has ordered internet service providers to shut down social media and messaging services, just two days before a tense presidential election.

In a letter seen by news agencies on Tuesday, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) Executive Director Irene Sewankambo ordered telecommunications companies to “immediately suspend any access and use” of social media and online messaging platforms.


An industry insider who spoke to AFP news agency on condition of anonymity said the order was first communicated in “nasty and aggressive” phone calls to the telecommunications companies on Tuesday morning. The calls made it clear the order was retaliation for Facebook deleting pro-government accounts for seeking to manipulate public debate before Thursday’s key polls.

The list of banned social media sites include Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Signal and Viber. Some of these were already offline on Tuesday.

On Monday, a list of over 100 virtual private networks was distributed to internet service providers by the UCC with orders to block them, according to the insider.

UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa told AFP: “I am not aware of a directive to switch off internet or social media platforms.”

“There has been slow connectivity on the platforms which can be partly due to heavy traffic as a result of the forthcoming elections” he said.

Meanwhile, Bobi Wine, the main challenger of longtime President Yoweri Museveni, said on Tuesday raided his home and beat two security guards.

Bobi Wine, a popular singer and politician whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, said the raid on his compound in Kampala and the arrest of his guards happened while he was doing an interview with Kenya’s Hot 96 FM radio station.

“I have to end the interview because I can see soldiers beating my security guards,” he said.

Patrick Onyango, police spokesman for the capital Kampala, denied Bobi Wine’s home had been raided or that anyone was arrested, saying: “We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints.”

While security forces have cracked down on the opposition at previous polls, the run-up to this year’s vote has been especially violent. In November, 54 people were killed as soldiers and police quelled protests after Bobi Wine was imprisoned.

“The terror, frankly, is unprecedented,” said Kizza Besigye, a veteran opposition leader who challenged longtime President Yoweri Museveni in four elections. “Violence, terror seem to be scaled up with every coming election. This election has witnessed untold violence. It gets worse and worse by the day.”

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