Ugandans unable to access Facebook as country braces for tense election

Tuesday January 12 2021

Several social media users in Uganda have reported inability to access Facebook. PHOTO | AFP


Several social media users in Uganda have reported inability to access Facebook, even as there was talk that it had been deliberately restricted.

However, the communications agency denies it has been switched off.

By Tuesday morning, several users said they could only access the social media site through a virtual private network (VPN).

Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) spokesperson, Mr Ibrahim Bbosa, said the slow internet could be a result of a lot of traffic online.

“So far, there is no directive to switch off the internet. If there are instances of misuse, the means of communication may be restricted. The slow internet could be a result of too much traffic online because many people around the world are interested in the elections," Mr Bbosa said.

The Minister of Defense and Veteran affairs Adolf Mwesigye and his Internal Affairs Counterpart Gen Jeje Odongo last week told journalists in Kampala that government was working on how best they can manage social media which they claimed has been misused in this election.


“We are now having a challenge of citizen journalism. Social media propaganda is certainly not in the best interest of this country’s security. We are looking for a way of dealing with it,” Mr Mwesigye said on January 8.

In 2016, government blocked access to Facebook and Twitter before former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who was running against Mr Museveni then, popularised VPN.

Uganda is bracing for a tense election on Thursday that has been marred with violence since campaigns began last November.

The inability to access Facebook comes a day after the internet giant on Monday confirmed that it had shut some accounts belonging to Ugandan government officials accused of seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of elections Thursday.

Uganda is holding presidential and parliamentary elections after a tense and bloody campaign, with President Museveni, 76, facing a stiff challenge from the popstar-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38.

"This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election," Facebook's head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, said.

"They used fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people's content, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular that they were."

Anim-Addo said the network was linked to the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.

"Given the impending election in Uganda, we moved quickly to investigate and take down this network."

Social media giants have come under increasing scrutiny over the content they allow to spread on their networks.