Social media blocked as Ugandans vote
By Omondi Julius Odera, Kampala, Uganda
As Ugandans head to the polls, for the first time, the tech savvy echelon of the country will have no access to social media platforms after the state temporarily blocked access to them citing national security concerns.
Social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter have been of recent times a powerful weapon for campaigns with the leading Presidential candidates maximizing returns from these platforms. For instance the incumbent President Yoweri Museveni had an entire department tasked with Social media headed by Sarah Kagingo. The team kept both the presidents’ Twitter and Face book accounts updated with the day’s campaign details. Kizza besigye of Forum for Democratic Change on the hand alleged that he only had social media volunteers who also kept his supporters on social media updated.
The importance of social media in these campaigns manifested itself when one of the Presidential candidates former Prime Minister Amama Mbambazi launched his bid for the top seat through social media (Youtube). In addition the ruling party on the other side procured top tech gadgets like drones which aided in taking the best pictures and video footages for use on their social media platforms. The social media platforms have been vital in helping the candidates lure the youth and the middle class who seldom attend the ‘physical political rallies’
Despite being a good tool for campaign, social media can also be a tool for destruction according to the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC). UCC has said that access to social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook via mobile phones and the popular mobile money network has been temporarily blocked over “national security” concerns during the election period.
According to UCC’s director of corporate affairs Fred Otunnu, the country is in a very sensitive period and therefore they were compelled to temporarily switch off these social media platforms. WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging service owned by Facebook, was shut down as early as 9am and was closely followed by Facebook.
However many observers noted that the state’s directive is bent towards curbing the spread of malicious messages that may raise tension in the country and ultimately throw the country into chaos. Social can be a tool for campaign for any cause and many regimes control its usage putting in mind that it was responsible for the Arab spring that toppled many North African governments..
WhatsApp, is a popular cross message platform that can be accessed by everyone using a Smartphone. It allows internet enabled users to send text messages, images, video, user location and audio media messages to other users. All the telecommunication firms have obliged Mobile phone users subscribing to the MTN and Airtel networks that command a large following, are the most affected.