KAMPALA- The nearly 24-hour shutdown of social media as Mr Museveni was sworn in for a fifth elective term was nothing out of the ordinary. It happened before, the day he was reelected two months ago.
From about 5pm on Wednesday internet service providers, MTN, Airtel and others, blocked access to Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter via handled devices which the industry regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), said was ordered by “security organs.” The blackout went on throughout Thursday.
UCC’s executive director Godfrey Mutabazi was non-committal on stating which security organ particularly ordered for the shutdown but said “they cited security reasons” as the country hosted dozens of dignitaries who attended the swearing in ceremony at Kololo in Kampala.
The temporary shutdown of Facebook and other sites was reminiscent of the February 18 blockade which lasted about 48 hours.
Mr Mutabazi, in an affidavit on March 17 during the Supreme Court deliberations in which President Museveni’s victory was challenged, said he received instructions from the Inspector General of Police Kale Kayihura to shut down social media and mobile money facilities owing to security concerns.
Telecom companies, MTN, with the largest subscriber base in a statement said: “In line with the requirement of its license specifically Article 7.4 that requires [MTN] to provide assistance to government in the event of an emergency or crisis related to national Security, UCC has issued a directive to shut down all social media platforms immediately until otherwise advised by government.” Airtel, in messages sent out to its customers said, “as per UCC directive social media has been temporarily blocked.”
The US Embassy in Kampala condemned the act saying: “As we said before, such acts send a wrong message to Ugandans and are violations of their rights, as guaranteed in the country’s laws & Constitution.” “A society that is free, vibrant & successful depends on free flow of info & ideas, including access to info online & through free, independent press.”
The shutdown of social media came on the heels of another government directive warning against and banning media houses from covering live proceedings of the opposition party, FDC.