Africa & World

Uganda bans all social media and messaging apps

UGANDA banned social media and messaging apps yesterday, two days ahead of a presidential election pitting 76-year-old President Yoweri Museveni (pictured), one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, against opposition front-runner Bobi Wine, a popular singer aged 38.

Users complained that they were unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp, social media platforms being widely used for campaigning by all sides ahead of tomorrow’s election in the East African country. Uganda’s communications regulator ordered the block on all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.

Campaigning ahead of the vote has been marred by brutal crackdowns on opposition rallies, which the authorities say break Covid-19 curbs on large gatherings. Rights groups say the restrictions are a pretext for muzzling the opposition.

At 38, Mr Wine is half the age of Mr Museveni and has attracted a large following among young people in a nation where 80pc of the population are under 30, rattling the ruling National Resistance Movement party.

Mr Wine is considered the front-runner among 10 candidates challenging Mr Museveni, the former guerrilla leader who seized power in 1986 and brought stability to a country after the murderous reigns of dictators Milton Obote and Idi Amin.

While security forces have intimidated the opposition at previous elections, the run up to this year’s vote has been especially violent. In November, 54 people were killed as soldiers and police quelled protests after Mr Wine was detained.

Yesterday, Mr Wine said soldiers raided his home in Kampala and arrested his guards while he was giving an interview to a Kenyan radio station. He also said a team member who works mainly as a mechanic was shot dead by the military overnight. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the claims and a military spokesmen did not respond to a call seeking comment.

Patrick Onyango, police spokesman for the capital Kampala, denied Mr Wine’s home had been raided or that anyone was arrested, saying: “We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints.”

A source in Uganda’s telecom sector said the government had made clear to executives at telecoms companies that the social media ban was in retaliation for Facebook blocking some pro-government accounts.

A Facebook spokeswoman said the company had no comment on reports users were facing difficulties accessing the platform. 🔺

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