NAIROBI, Kenya – Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni has blocked Facebook from operating in his country just days after the social media company removed fake accounts linked to his government ahead of a hotly contested general election taking place Thursday.
Late Tuesday night in a televised address, Mr. Museveni told Facebook of “arrogance,” and said he ordered his government to shut down the platform along with other social media outlets, although Facebook was the only one he mentioned.
"That social channel you're talking about, if it's going to be active in Uganda, it should be used equitably by everyone who needs to use it," said Museveni. “We cannot tolerate this arrogance of someone who comes before us to decide who is good and who is bad,” he added.
Facebook's ban comes at the end of an election period dogged by crackdowns on political opposition, intimidation of journalists and nationwide protests that have resulted in at least 54 deaths and hundreds of arrests, officials said.
Mr Museveni, 76, who is running for sixth term in office, is facing 10 rivals, including 38-year-old rapper turned lawmaker Bobi Wine. Mr. Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has been beaten tear gas and accused in court of allegedly ignoring the coronavirus rules during the campaign trail.
Last week, Mr. Wine filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Mr. Museveni and other current and former top security officials of sanctioning a wave of violence and human rights violations against civilians, political figures and human rights lawyers.
Facebook announced this week that it had removed a network of accounts and pages in the East African nation that engaged in what it termed "coordinated inauthentic behavior" aimed at manipulating the public debate surrounding the elections. The company said the network is linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center, an initiative that is part of the Ugandan Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance.
In a statement, a Facebook representative said the network "was using fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people's content, impersonate users, reshare posts into groups. to make them look more popular than they were. "
Facebook's investigation into the network then began Research from the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab showed a network of social media accounts that had campaigned to criticize the opposition and promote Mr Museveni and the ruling party, the National Resistance Movement. After the investigation was published, Twitter also said it shut down accounts linked to the election.
Hours before Mr Museveni's speech, social media users in Uganda confirmed restrictions on their online communications, with digital rights group NetBlocks report that platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and Twitter were affected.
On Wednesday, MTN Uganda, the country's largest telecommunications company, confirmed it receive a guideline of the Uganda Communications Commission to "suspend access to and use, directly or otherwise, of all social media platforms and online messaging applications through the network until further notice".
Felicia Anthonio, a campaigner for the nonprofit Access Now, said authorities had blocked more than 100 virtual private networks or VPNs, which could help users bypass censorship and surf the web safely.
Uganda blocked the internet in the 2016 elections and introduced a social media tax in 2018 to generate revenue and some government online 'gossip'. called curb. The move, which was criticized as a threat to freedom of speech, had an impact negative effect on internet use All in all, millions of Ugandans have completely given up their internet services.
Awaiting a new shutdown this week, a group of organizations working to end internet outages worldwide sent a letter to Mr Museveni and the leaders of telecom companies in Uganda, who beg them to keep the internet and social media platforms accessible during the elections.
Mr. Museveni did not listen to their call. On Tuesday evening, he said the decision to block Facebook was "unfortunate" but "inevitable."
"I am very sorry for the inconvenience," he said, adding that he himself had used the platform to communicate with young voters. He has nearly a million followers on Facebook and two million on Twitter.
With a defiant comment, Mr Museveni said that if Facebook were to "take sides" it would not be allowed to operate in the country.
& # 39; Uganda is ours, & # 39; he said.