Uganda lifts internet restrictions after election but continues to block social media

Ugandan citizens are currently unable to access messenger and social media sites.

Uganda’s internet shutdown - initially implemented on January 13 - has been lifted, but social media sites are still inaccessible. As per an order from Uganda’s communications regulator, the country’s ISPs have blocked access to social platforms and messengers until further notice, a move that has drawn notable criticism from human rights organisations.

Some of the sites affected by the block include:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • WhatsApp
  • Signal
  • Telegram
  • Skype
  • Zoom

Furthermore, the ban extends to the App Store and Play Store, preventing Ugandan citizens from accessing their social media accounts unless they use a VPN (or virtual private network).

Naturally, the country’s social media shutdown has drawn international attention and prompted new discussions about online censorship, with former US-president, Donald Trump, having been removed from Twitter earlier this month.

Uganda’s internet and social media ban came about as a result of the recent election, where Mr. Museveni swept to a victory of 59% over Mr. Bobi Wine, who polled 34%.

The social media ban persists as a means of "retaliation”, according to the Ugandan government, and Facebook has previously removed a number of accounts linked to Mr. Museveni’s party - some for targeting members of the opposition, and others for creating a malicious network of duplicate accounts being used to quash political debate.

Mr. Museveni first rose to power in Uganda in 1986, and now, in his sixth term, has accused Facebook of a bias towards his opposition. A similar claim, made by Mr. Museveni, paints Mr. Wine as the culprit behind the blocked accounts, but this claim has since been ousted by the Digital Forensic Research Lab. Speaking on the recent election, Mr. Museveni has said that it might be the "most cheating-free” poll in the country’s history.

But the Africa Elections Watch coalition disagrees. Its 2,000 observers have reported irregularities, and Mr. Wine has stated that Mr Museveni won on account of fraud, disingenuous polling and ballot box stuffing. A spokesperson for the National Unity Platform, Joel Ssenyonyi, claims that Mr. Museveni’s decision to restrict internet access was motivated by a desire to prevent evidence of fraud from spreading, and that his party’s offices had recently been raided.

Whilst the National Unity Platform are in the process of rounding up these alleged polling irregularities, time is running short. Ugandan law gives petitioners 15 days to dispute the results of an election, through court, and four days have already passed. Furthermore, Mr. Wine is currently sequestered at home under a military blockade - a measure that prevents him from attending court, and has supposedly been implemented to quell stirrings of violence.

So, what now for Uganda?

Ugandan citizens have no recourse now but to wait - both to see if Mr. Wine can plead his party’s case, and if normal access to social media sites is restored. In the meantime, however, it is possible to access Twitter, Facebook, Signal and more with the use of a VPN.

If you live in Uganda, then head over to our free VPN page for a list of services that will allow you to bypass social media blocks for free.

We’ve got dozens of other guides too - to help you reconnect with loved ones and stay up to date with all the latest developments - so be sure to check them out!

 

Written by: Hannah Hart

Originally hailing from Wales, Hannah Hart graduated from Manchester Metropolitan University with a 1:1 in Creative Writing, going on to work as an Editor across a number of trade magazines. As a professional writer, Hannah has worked across both digital and print media, and is familiar with collating news pieces, in depth reports and producing by lines for international publications. Otherwise, she can be found pouring over a tarot deck or spending more hours than she'll ever admit playing Final Fantasy 14.

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