Uganda’s social networks go dark ahead of tense election

Kampala, Jan 12 (efe-epa).- The Ugandan government has ordered all internet providers to block access to popular social networks and messaging applications, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, until further notice just 48 hours before voting begins in the general elections.

The Executive Director of the Uganda Communications Commission, Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo, made this request in a letter leaked to the media on Tuesday.

More than 17.6 million Ugandans will go to the polls on Thursday at the end of a presidential campaign marked by police violence, pitting incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, in power since 1986, against ten other candidates including popular musician Bobi Wine.

In a country where 80% of the population is under 30 years old and at least 40% of citizens — 17 million people — are now active internet users, social networks have played a part in growing the popularity of Wine.

Ugandan authorities have set up over 34,000 polling stations and promised to crack down on troublemakers — leaving many fearing these elections could be marred by outbreaks of violence.

The European Union’s foreign affairs chief, Josep Borrell, said on Tuesday that excessive force by the law and order authorities and security agencies in Uganda will tarnish Thursday’s elections.

EU observers, who were deployed throughout the country during the 2006, 2011 and 2016 elections, will not observe these elections as a recent offer by the bloc was rejected.

At 38 — half the age of the current president — and with catchy songs and transgressive speeches, popular candidate Bobi Wine has promised his millions of followers a new and free Uganda where anyone can disagree with those in power, although his speech lacks a clear ideological framework.

On 1 January, the president announced the deployment of the national army and other security agencies to the capital, Kampala.

At least 54 people were killed in mid-November in the capital and other Ugandan cities when the police dispersed mass protests with gunshots.

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