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Uganda Blocks Facebook Ahead of Contentious Election

  • January 13, 2021

Hours before Mr. Museveni’s speech, social media users across Uganda confirmed restrictions on their online communications, with the digital rights group NetBlocks reporting that platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter had been affected.

On Wednesday, MTN Uganda, the country’s largest telecommunication company, confirmed it had received a directive from the Uganda Communications Commission to “suspend access and use, direct or otherwise of all social media platforms and online messaging applications over the network until further notice.”

Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner with the digital rights nonprofit Access Now, said the authorities had blocked more than 100 virtual private networks, or VPNs, which could help users circumvent the censorship and safely browse the internet.

Uganda blocked the internet during the 2016 elections, and in 2018, it introduced a social media tax aimed at raising revenue and curbing what the government called online “gossip.” The move, which was criticized as a threat to freedom of expression, had a negative effect on internet use over all, with millions of Ugandans giving up internet services altogether.

In anticipation of another shutdown this week, a group of organizations that work to end internet cutoffs worldwide sent a letter to Mr. Museveni and the leaders of telecom companies in Uganda pleading with them to keep the internet and social media platforms accessible during the election.

Mr. Museveni did not heed their call. On Tuesday night, he said the decision to block Facebook was “unfortunate” but “unavoidable.”

“I am very sorry about the inconvenience,” he said, adding that he himself had been using the platform to interact with young voters. He has almost a million followers on Facebook and two million on Twitter.

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