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Uganda’s Presidential Debate owns the internet, trends worldwide

This morning I’m particularly proud to be Ugandan. If not because I witnessed history being written with the Presidential debate, it’s because Uganda owned the internet, if only for a moment, and for a right reason. Infact we broke Twitter! OK Twitter was unavailable shortly after the debate ended but we don’t know for sure what happened!

The first Presidential debate took place at Kampala Serena Hotel and for over 5 hours had us glued to our TVs, computers and smartphones as it was streamed live on NBS TV and NTV and online.
Recently there have been several “hashtagged” initiatives to publicize Uganda on social media, like #Ondaba, #KoiKoiUg but none has reached the scale that we had last night.

The incumbent President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni decided to skip the debate, preferring to speak to women leaders in Bushenyi where he had a campaign rally and later flew to another meeting in Rwakitura. The candidates who debated are Dr Kiiza Besigye (FDC), Abed Bwanika (People’s Development Party flag bearer), Maj. Gen. Benon Biraaro (Uganda Farmers Party flag bearer), Amama Mbabazi (Go Forward), Prof. Venansius Baryamureeba (Independent), Eng. Joseph Mabirizi (Independent) and Faith Maureen Kyalya Walube (Independent).

Celebrated journalists Allan Kasujja and Nancy Kacungira did an excellent job of moderating the historic debate. They were well prepared, hit hard, did not mince words and left no stone un turned. Or any skeleton in the closet. I don’t think the candidates saw this coming! But overall, it was a well coordinated debate.

The online streams and social media conversations gave the debate a global audience as Ugandans furiously typed away on Facebook and Twitter with over 20,000 tweets in an hour at some point, culminating in a worldwide trend with over 60,000 tweets. If memory serves me right, Uganda last hit Twitter’s home page with the #Kony2012 hashtag back in 2012.

Twitter has often played second fiddle to Facebook in Uganda, with several people dismissing Twitter and downplaying its role in the big picture.

Although we do not have specific figures  for Twitter, it is estimated that for each Ugandan Twitter user there’s two Facebook users. The low Twitter user count has in the past been apparent when there have been engagements with Kenyans on Twitter (#KOT). When the Pope visited Kenya and Uganda in November last year, the statistics of the Twitter activity of the hash tags #PopeInUganda and #PopeInKenya also tell a story along the same lines.

Whereas #PopeInUganda had 8,000 participants and reached 30 million users, #PopeInKenya had 28,000 users participating reaching another 133 million users.

However we’ve had moments when Ugandans on Twitter have proven that they aren’t just talking but can actually have effect in real life. For example when Daniel Turitwenka a.k.a Danny T and 6 other youth were detained in Nagalama, the tags #ImpunityUg & #FreeDanny caught the attention of people at high levels in the government. When they were finally taken to court after a weekend in the coolers, bail was set, NTV’s Raymond Qatahar who was leading the efforts to free them made an announcement on Twitter, and Tweeps raised the cash through Mobile Money in less than an hour.

Last night Uganda had the world’s attention on Twitter.

We peaked at over 23,000 tweets in one hour last night.

Joseph Owino the CEO of Kawowo Sports and Owino Solutions couldn’t hide his excitement as the night progressed.

“The fact that Uganda was trending globally is a testament to the power of Twitter to elevate Uganda as a brand. Social media has enabled Uganda, normally left unseen on the backbenches and considered irrelevant in international news, to come to the forefront all while shaping her own narrative,” Mr Owino said.

Whereas we tweeted the serious points as they were made, we didn’t take ourselves too seriously. In fact Mabirizi was clearly the online crowd favourite, they even made him a hashtag: #WhatWouldMabiriziSay

Here are some of the memes that came through, check out Twitter for the ones that you might have missed last night.

Fellow Ugandans, tukikole neera, let’s shine the light on the Pearl of Africa.


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