According to Wyn and other opposition members, the election was stolen.
During the last election, a key tactic of the opposition was to control Ugandans’ access to the internet, blocking social media and messaging software such as WhatsApp, and even imposing internet blackouts across the country to cut off the population from information at key moments.
This year was no different. As Ugandans prepared for last week’s elections, the internet gradually went out of control, starting with Facebook and other social media platforms, until the entire country was shut down.
The consequences of such a discontinuation go beyond online printing. According to Netblocks, the internet freedom watchdog, such a power outage would have already cost the Ugandan economy about $9 million, while Cipesa, an African non-governmental internet organization, reported that biometric voting systems and mobile money – on which many Ugandans depend for payments – were disrupted by the power outage.
Internet connection failed
In a speech last week, Museveni accused Facebook of arrogance after several accounts linked to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) were shut down for alleged attempts to rig the elections. He said the blocking of the platform, as well as several other sites, was regrettable but unavoidable.
This social channel you are talking about, if it is going to work in Uganda, it must be used in the same way by everyone who has to use it, he said. If you want to take sides against NRM, (you can’t) work in Uganda … We cannot tolerate this arrogance of someone coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad.
Because of Museveni’s control over traditional media in the country, Vino relied on online platforms to get his message out. As a result, the ban on Facebook and Twitter affected him far more than the president or NRM candidates.
In the past, Ugandans were able to circumvent the restrictions by using virtual private networks (VPNs) – software that encrypts internet use – and other tools to bypass censorship, which allowed them to bypass the restrictions by running their traffic through servers in another country. However, this year there were signs that the censors were catching up, many VPN servers were blocked, and eventually a full shutdown was ordered, shutting down all traffic.
After a months-long crackdown on the media, the weakening of the internet in Uganda is a latest attempt to keep the country’s citizens in the dark and prevent journalists from reporting on the vote, said Mutoki Mumo, regional representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. The Ugandan authorities must change course and take measures to ensure unhindered access to the Internet and adequate public information in the post-election period.
This seems unlikely. Uganda remains largely cut off from the global Internet on Monday, according to Netblocks monitoring, even as Wino and other opposition leaders try to challenge Museveni’s declaration of victory.
Vin himself has been under house arrest for the past few days. In a Facebook post – visible to the world but not to his fellow citizens – the former reggae star wrote that everyone, including the media and my party leaders, have limited access to me.
Museveni, 76, has surpassed many other African revolutionary leaders who were once heads of state and has shown an ability to stay in power that surpasses even former patriots like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
For decades, this was relatively easy, thanks to the well-funded Ugandan army and alliances with the United States and other major world powers. But as the country emerges as one of the strongest economies in sub-Saharan Africa, the government’s ability to meet the demands of a growing and increasingly educated and connected population is weakening.
According to the IMF, Uganda’s population is one of the fastest growing in Africa and more than 600,000 jobs must be created each year to meet the needs of a growing workforce – a task made even more difficult by the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic downturn.
Museveni sometimes showed less sympathy for his citizens. He said this in 2017 – after another hotly contested election in which internet restrictions were the order of the day – I’ve heard some people say I’m their servant, that I serve no one.
His speeches often recall his revolutionary history, but Museveni’s real talent lies in his adaptation to modern methods of control, including online censorship and surveillance.
In recent years, such tactics have spread across the continent and have been used in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe, as well as Kashmir, Bangladesh, Belarus and Myanmar. According to the Keep It On coalition, 2019. The internet was shut down for more than 200 units, a trend that continued until 2020, with some governments using the pandemic as an excuse to introduce new online controls.
Uganda is taking the lead in this regard, in part with the help of China, which has invested heavily in the country, increasing its influence over a former staunch ally of the United States. Chinese companies, whether state-backed or nominally private, have also established a significant presence in Uganda, reportedly providing basic internet technologies and network surveillance equipment.
During a visit to Beijing in 2017, government minister Evelyn Anite spoke with admiration of China’s model of internet control, saying she had asked for help in combating those in Uganda who use social media such as WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter to commit crimes with impunity.
Museveni’s growing control over the internet, both technologically and through new laws against cyberbullying or abusive communication, has allowed his government to limit the influence of the internet as a platform against which to organize.
As the former revolutionary enters his sixth term in office, other purported authors facing their own online discourse will take note.