Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Uganda turns off Facebook, WhatsApp ahead of presidential election

The president's main rival is a pop star parliamentarian with a huge presence on social media.

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The Ugandan government is showing signs of preparing for protests and possible violence after Thursday’s national election results are announced.

The country’s telecommunications regulator has blocked all social media platforms and messaging apps, Sky News is reporting.

In a letter sent to internet providers, the Uganda Communications Commission said popular services like Facebook and WhatsApp must be suspended “until further notice”.

Social media has played a vital role in this election campaign, with presidential candidates and major parties posting videos, speeches and promises online as they try to win over Uganda’s youthful electorate.

President Yoweri Museveni, who is seeking his sixth presidential term, used his official Facebook page on Monday to tell supporters that they were just “48 hours away from victory”.

However, his main rival, the pop star and MP Bobi Wine, has a significantly bigger presence on social media and the shut-down by the communications regulator may be designed to hinder Wine and his tech-savvy supporters.

The 38-year parliamentarian has already cast doubts on the legality of the poll, telling Sky News: “The election is being stolen and rigged by the mere fact that I have been blocked from campaigning on the streets. I am not allowed to have posters or billboards, and I am banned from TV and radio.”

If Museveni does claim victory on Thursday, many expect supporters of Wine and his National Unity Platform party to voice their outrage in country-wide demonstrations.

His followers have already shown that they are willing to take to the streets.

When the musician was detained in November on the basis that he had breached Covid regulations, violent protests broke out across the nation in which police, soldiers and plainclothes gunmen killed at least 54 people and more than 1,000 protestors were arrested.

Wine wears a military-style helmet and bullet-proof vest during his public appearances. He says that every member of his campaign team has been arrested at least once.

On Tuesday, Wine said police raided his home in the capital Kampala, arresting his guards and shooting to death a member of his campaign team.

The allegation was denied by Kampala’s police spokesman Patrick Onyango, who said: “We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints.”

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