While presenting the Budget Framework Paper for the next financial year and Uganda’s digitization plan before the Parliamentary Committee on ICT, the State Minister of ICT and National Guidance to Uganda, Hon. Peter Ogwang said all Ugandans illegally accessing social media using virtual private networks (VPNs) are warned. Adding that all are supposed to be currently off social media until they fully restored.
Ogwang said that blocking social media was in the interest of national security.
He disclosed that government has directed the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to start tracking all users who have resorted to using VPNs to access social media platforms.
Meanwhile Ogwang, used VPN to send out a tweet about the meeting, defending his decision claiming “he was on survey to know who the illegal users are.”
One Twitter user, questioned him why he’s using the platform [Twitter] if all Ugandans are meant to be offline. He’s response, “How then will I know those who are illegally using social media if I am not using it too?”
The State Minister in his other tweet said, he wasn’t using VPN. “For the record, I am not using VPN.”
Many Ugandans online are questioning him how he is able to use Twitter if it’s without VPNs, if all social media platforms have been shut down.
The platforms we completely shut down on January 13th, 2021 a day to the Presidential and Parliamentarians polls. With the use of VPNs to access social media platforms, forced the government to fully shut down the internet for four days.
For Facebook and Twitter, the government said the platforms were shut down for not complying with them [Ugandan government] to restore Government of Uganda and NRM Online accounts which were accused of Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour (CIB). CIB is the creation of multiple accounts pretending to be someone you are not and saying things on behalf of people you aren’t.
The Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs Sam Kutesa said the shut down of the two social networks, Facebook and Twitter was to ensure equity.
“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.
Ogwang says Ugandans post-election behaviour will determine when social media will be fully restored. He also justified the internet shut down, saying the opposition had created parallel tally centers which they wanted to use to broadcast fake results.
The shut down of internet saw the government lose over UGX32.9 billion (USD$8.9 million), according to NetBlocks Cost of Shutdown Tool; an internet tool that estimates the economic impact of a single hypothetical internet disruption of the specified type, location and duration.
It is not the first time the government is blocking social media platforms ahead of elections and some other instance. During the 2016 elections, the government blocked social media on polling day and for several after, which led to the proliferation of VPNs use in the country. By the end of day two of the elections, VPN software related downloads had soared to over 1.4 million.