Since 13 January 2021, the eve of presidential elections, Ugandans have been without internet access as a result of the country's authorities ordering ISPs (Internet Service Providers) and telecommunication companies to block internet access. Five days later, Uganda's government has switched the internet back on.
Although the government spokesperson announced that the internet is back on, social media access remains a challenge in Uganda.
“Internet was switched off because people wanted to spread messages of hate and violence, as well as discredit the integrity of our elections. We think now people have come to terms with the results. However, we remain on alert. Whatever was done was done for the good of the country. The opposition was affected and the ruling party was also affected. Even the general public was affected,” said Ofwono Opondo, Spokesperson for the government of Uganda.
Yoweri Museveni becomes Uganda's president, again
The announcement by Pondo follows Uganda's official elections body announcing that Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent President who has been in the position for 35 years, had been elected and declared the winner of the elections.
According to the announced official election results, Museveni won the elections with 58,64% of the counted votes while his closest rival, Robert "Bobi Wine" Kyagulanyi got 34,83%. Since this announcement, Bobi Wine has been very vocal criticizing the election process and saying that he won the elections and that Uganda's elections were fraudulent.
Added to that, Kyagulanyi has also complained that his movement and that of people close to him have been restricted by Uganda's security forces and in some cases they have been assaulted.
Preventing misinformation and incitement of violence
Initially on 11 January 2021, President Museveni had announced that social media is being blocked because Facebook was taking sides in Uganda's elections. This is after the social media company had said that it removed several accounts linked to Uganda's government for using fake identities and trying to influence elections using fake and duplicate accounts.
Following that social media block, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued a letter to all telecommunications companies and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in the country on the night before the elections ordering them to "implement a temporary suspension" of all their Internet Gateways and associated access points. No reasons were given in the letters but it has now emerged that, according to Opondo, the internet was blocked because Uganda's government claimed to have data indicating that there were people intending to use it to spread messages of that and incite violence.
On 18 January 2021, apparently government data confirmed that there would be no violence.
It is worth noting that authorities in Uganda have always stating one reason or another as to why they switch off the internet during elections over the years.
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