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Uganda‌ ‌bans‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌ahead‌ ‌of‌ ‌presidential‌ election‌ ‌

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Uganda‌ ‌banned‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌on‌ ‌Tuesday,‌ ‌two‌ ‌days‌ ‌ahead‌ ‌of‌ ‌a‌ ‌presidential‌ ‌election‌ ‌

pitting‌ ‌Yoweri‌ ‌Museveni,‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌Africa’s‌ ‌longest-serving‌ ‌leaders,‌ ‌against‌ ‌opposition‌ ‌

frontrunner‌ ‌Bobi‌ ‌Wine,‌ ‌a‌ ‌popular‌ ‌singer.‌ ‌ ‌

In‌ ‌a‌ ‌letter‌ ‌seen‌ ‌by‌ ‌Reuters‌ ‌to‌ ‌internet‌ ‌service‌ ‌providers‌ ‌dated‌ ‌Jan.‌ ‌12,‌ ‌Uganda’s‌ ‌

communications‌ ‌regulator‌ ‌ordered‌ ‌them‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌all‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌platforms‌ ‌and‌ ‌

messaging‌ ‌apps‌ ‌until‌ ‌further‌ ‌notice.‌ ‌

Internet‌ ‌monitor‌ ‌NetBlocks‌ ‌said‌ ‌its‌ ‌data‌ ‌showed‌ ‌that‌ ‌Facebook,‌ ‌Twitter,‌ ‌WhatsApp,‌ ‌

Instagram,‌ ‌Skype,‌ ‌Snapchat,‌ ‌Viber‌ ‌and‌ ‌Google‌ ‌Play‌ ‌Store‌ ‌were‌ ‌among‌ ‌a‌ ‌lengthy‌ ‌list‌ ‌

of‌ ‌sites‌ ‌unavailable‌ ‌via‌ ‌Uganda’s‌ ‌main‌ ‌cell‌ ‌network‌ ‌operators.‌ ‌

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,‌ ‌Wine‌ ‌is‌ ‌half‌ ‌the‌ ‌age‌ ‌of‌ ‌President‌ ‌Yoweri‌ ‌Museveni‌ ‌and‌ ‌has‌ ‌attracted‌ ‌a‌ ‌large‌ ‌

following‌ ‌among‌ ‌young‌ ‌people‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌nation‌ ‌where‌ ‌80%‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌population‌ ‌are‌ ‌under‌ ‌30,‌ ‌

rattling‌ ‌the‌ ‌ruling‌ ‌National‌ ‌Resistance‌ ‌Movement‌ ‌party.‌ ‌

Wine‌ ‌is‌ ‌considered‌ ‌the‌ ‌frontrunner‌ ‌among‌ ‌10‌ ‌candidates‌ ‌challenging‌ ‌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.‌ ‌

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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 ‌Wine‌ ‌was‌ ‌detained.‌ ‌

On‌ ‌Tuesday,‌ ‌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 ‌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.”‌ ‌

‘UNACCEPTABLE‌ ‌BREACHES’‌ ‌

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.‌ ‌

Neither‌ ‌Ibrahim‌ ‌Bbossa,‌ ‌Uganda‌ ‌Communications‌ ‌Commission‌ ‌spokesman‌ ‌nor‌ ‌

government‌ ‌spokesman‌ ‌Ofwono‌ ‌Opondo‌ ‌answered‌ ‌calls‌ ‌requesting‌ ‌comment.‌ ‌An‌ ‌aide‌ ‌

to‌ ‌Minister‌ ‌of‌ ‌Information‌ ‌Judith‌ ‌Nabakooba‌ ‌said‌ ‌she‌ ‌was‌ ‌unable‌ ‌to‌ ‌comment‌ ‌at‌ ‌the‌ ‌

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moment.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌U.S.‌ ‌social‌ ‌media‌ ‌giant‌ ‌said‌ ‌on‌ ‌Monday‌ ‌it‌ ‌had‌ ‌taken‌ ‌down‌ ‌a‌ ‌network‌ ‌in‌ ‌Uganda‌ ‌

linked‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌country’s‌ ‌ministry‌ ‌of‌ ‌information‌ ‌for‌ ‌using‌ ‌fake‌ ‌and‌ ‌duplicate‌ ‌accounts‌ ‌

to‌ ‌post‌ ‌ahead‌ ‌of‌ ‌this‌ ‌week’s‌ ‌election.‌ ‌

A‌ ‌Facebook‌ ‌spokeswoman‌ ‌said‌ ‌the‌ ‌company‌ ‌had‌ ‌no‌ ‌comment‌ ‌on‌ ‌reports‌ ‌users‌ ‌were‌ ‌

facing‌ ‌difficulties‌ ‌accessing‌ ‌the‌ ‌platform.‌ ‌

“Any‌ ‌efforts‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌online‌ ‌access‌ ‌to‌ ‌journalists‌ ‌or‌ ‌members‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌public‌ ‌are‌ ‌

unacceptable‌ ‌breaches‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌right‌ ‌to‌ ‌information,”‌ ‌the‌ ‌International‌ ‌Press‌ ‌Institute,‌ ‌a‌ ‌

global‌ ‌media‌ ‌watchdog,‌ ‌said‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌statement.‌ ‌

Wine‌ ‌has‌ ‌been‌ ‌using‌ ‌Facebook‌ ‌to‌ ‌relay‌ ‌live‌ ‌coverage‌ ‌of‌ ‌his‌ ‌campaigns‌ ‌and‌ ‌news‌ ‌

conferences‌ ‌after‌ ‌he‌ ‌said‌ ‌many‌ ‌media‌ ‌outlets‌ ‌had‌ ‌declined‌ ‌to‌ ‌host‌ ‌him.‌ ‌Most‌ ‌radio‌ ‌and‌ ‌

TV‌ ‌stations‌ ‌are‌ ‌owned‌ ‌by‌ ‌government‌ ‌allies‌ ‌and‌ ‌Uganda’s‌ ‌leading‌ ‌daily‌ ‌is‌ ‌state-run.‌ ‌

Museveni,‌ ‌76,‌ ‌has‌ ‌won‌ ‌every‌ ‌election‌ ‌since‌ ‌the‌ ‌first‌ ‌under‌ ‌his‌ ‌presidency‌ ‌in‌ ‌1996,‌ ‌

though‌ ‌they‌ ‌have‌ ‌been‌ ‌tarnished‌ ‌by‌ ‌intimidation‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌opposition‌ ‌and‌ ‌accusations‌ ‌of‌ ‌

vote‌ ‌rigging.‌ ‌

Uganda‌ ‌is‌ ‌a‌ ‌Western‌ ‌ally,‌ ‌a‌ ‌prospective‌ ‌oil‌ ‌producer‌ ‌and‌ ‌is‌ ‌considered‌ ‌a‌ ‌stabilising‌ ‌

force‌ ‌in‌ ‌a‌ ‌region‌ ‌where‌ ‌war‌ ‌has‌ ‌plagued‌ ‌some‌ ‌neighbours.‌ ‌It‌ ‌also‌ ‌contributes‌ ‌the‌ ‌

biggest‌ ‌contingent‌ ‌of‌ ‌an‌ ‌African‌ ‌Union‌ ‌force‌ ‌fighting‌ ‌Islamist‌ ‌insurgents‌ ‌in‌ ‌Somalia.‌ ‌

Museveni‌ ‌said‌ ‌on‌ ‌Twitter‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ ‌would‌ ‌address‌ ‌the‌ ‌nation‌ ‌at‌ ‌7‌ ‌p.m.‌ ‌(1600‌ ‌GMT)‌ ‌on‌ ‌

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Tuesday.‌ ‌

The‌ ‌European‌ ‌Union‌ ‌is‌ ‌not‌ ‌deploying‌ ‌election‌ ‌observers‌ ‌as‌ ‌advice‌ ‌from‌ ‌previous‌ ‌

observers‌ ‌about‌ ‌how‌ ‌to‌ ‌make‌ ‌the‌ ‌polls‌ ‌fair‌ ‌went‌ ‌unheeded,‌ ‌the‌ ‌bloc’s‌ ‌ambassador‌ ‌to‌ ‌

Uganda‌ ‌has‌ ‌said.‌ ‌The‌ ‌African‌ ‌Union‌ ‌will‌ ‌deploy‌ ‌observers.‌ ‌

At‌ ‌a‌ ‌news‌ ‌conference‌ ‌on‌ ‌Tuesday,‌ ‌Wine‌ ‌and‌ ‌two‌ ‌other‌ ‌opposition‌ ‌candidates‌ ‌-‌ ‌Patrick‌ ‌

Amuriat‌ ‌and‌ ‌Mugisha‌ ‌Muntu‌ ‌-‌ ‌urged‌ ‌Ugandans‌ ‌to‌ ‌turn‌ ‌out‌ ‌and‌ ‌“protect‌ ‌their‌ ‌vote”‌ ‌by‌ ‌

staying‌ ‌at‌ ‌polling‌ ‌stations‌ ‌to‌ ‌observe‌ ‌counting.‌ ‌

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