The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa while briefing Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International organizations on the recently concluded general elections at the Ministry HQ on Tuesday afternoon, said Facebook and Twitter were closed because of refusal to restore Government of Uganda and NRM Online accounts.
“We asked Facebook and Twitter to restore the closed Government of Uganda and NRM Online accounts but they didn’t heed. In response we shut them down to ensure equity,” said Hon. Kutesa. He added that the social networks unfairly shut down the two accounts leaving accounts of the other political actors active.
The accounts shutdown came amid heightened tensions between President Yoweri Museveni and Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu.
Facebook said the government’s actions – linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center (GCIC) were equivalent to Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour; the creation of multiple accounts pretending to be someone you are not and saying things on behalf of people you aren’t.
However, shutting down the accounts wasn’t about ensuring equity. Ugandans have learned every time elections social media has to be shut down. With a twist this time around, the government fully shut down the internet for four days. Prior to fully shutting down the internet, they shut down social media platforms and over 100 virtual private networks (VPNs).
Ugandans online were happy when the accounts linked to President Museveni were shut down, stating that they are getting a “taste of what it feels like to be censured”.
Don Wanyama; President Museveni’s Press Secretary and other close aides to Museveni accused Facebook of being opponents of the ruling party; the National Resistance Movement (NRM). However, Mr. Mucunguzi, the Chairman of the ICT Association of Uganda (ICTAU) said this wasn’t a technical argument as Facebook has rules they follow.
Meanwhile, according to NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool, the government is estimated to have lost UGX32.9 billion (USD$8.9 million) because of the internet shutdown.
NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool is an internet tool that estimates the economic impact of a single hypothetical internet disruption of the specified type, location, and duration. Internet shutdowns and blackouts that impact entire populations are rare and typically last on the order of a few hours.
Online businesses such as eCommerce platforms and SMEs that use social media for business were affected a lot during this crisis.
With the internet restored just two backs, social media platforms still remain blocked as Ugandans online stick to using VPNs. The government hasn’t issued a statement on when the platforms and VPNs will be fully restored. This might probably be after the President is sworn in.
Even though the government set a ban on the usage of social media platforms and fast payout casinos, there are of course ways to go around that and do this completely legally. There are various kinds of VPN services for instance, that the Ugandans can use and get access to the sites and online casinos they wish to. On the other hand, not all services are functioning properly, so it might be a good thing to compare them before starting to use them. In general, all consumers should avoid using free VPN services, was there a ban or not.