Facebook shutdown is killing digital markets 

By Emmanuel Wabwire

Out of Uganda’s 18 million internet users, 3,328,000 of those are Facebook subscribers. And there is no denying that Facebook has continued to be a powerhouse and, in some instances, a driving force in social, political and economic aspects in the lives of this country. Industries such as entertainment and SMEs, largely depend on social media in the form of e-commerce trade and advertise on Facebook, making the platform a virtual marketplace.

At the height of the 2021 general elections, several individuals who were allegedly violating the platform’s rules and regulations had their accounts suspended. The affected accounts were linked to the “Government Citizens Interaction Centre” as the account holders were said to be using fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on other people’s content, impersonate users, and re-share posts in groups to make them appear more popular than they were.

Unfortunately, among those affected were the Facebook pages of President Museveni and the National Resistance Movement (NRM).. The operational module of Facebook is that while accounts can manage a page, the account and the page managed are independent of each other. This has largely not been communicated and the transgressions of those managing the accounts have been miscommunicated as though Facebook was blocking off President Museveni and the NRM party in support of the Opposition.

In the swearing-in ceremony message, President Museveni pointed out that politics was over and it was time for us as a nation to move forward and progress to the future. This then meant that restoring the use of Facebook in Uganda wasn’t a priority of the government.
However, for many Facebook users, this battle is far from over. The incurring costs of using VPN (it is currently the only way to access Facebook in Uganda) made operating digital business on the platform close to impossible. And the government has also ended up being a victim of this as dissemination of information from government institutions has ended up crippled.

This misinformation and continued ban have deprived more than three million Uganda Facebook users of the benefits they have been enjoying, through conducting business on the platform’s business tools. And let’s not forget the fast information relaying on the platform has offered both business owners and everyday individuals.  

With the aid of the government and numerous stakeholders who are spearheading the campaign to have this decision reversed, we can work on a mechanism of transfer of administrative rights of the Facebook pages of NRM and President Museveni to official accounts that respect the platform’s rules.
We can also undertake to have a well-developed social media management policy to ethically manage institutional accounts and avoid blackmail that comes with individuals holding government institutions at ransom. 
                          Emmanuel Wabwire,                Executive Director,  Faraja Africa Foundation