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Ugandan government blocks WhatsApp and Facebook for ‘security reasons’

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has said that access of 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.

UCC’s director of corporate affairs Fred Otunnu said “we have switched off but only temporarily because as you know this is a very sensitive period.”

WhatsApp, a popular instant messaging service owned by Facebook, was shut down as early as 9:00am on Thursday and was closely followed by mobile Facebook.

Sources, however, indicated the shutdown was ordered by top officials in the ruling party NRM and the military over what they said was to control the avalanche of  negative messages — word, audio and video — circulating on the platforms decampaigning of President Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent seeking a fifth elective term in office after 30 years in power.

Sources also intimated that President Museveni himself has also raised an alarm.

WhatsApp is a popular cross message platform 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.

VOTING EXERCISE

Mobile phone users subscribing to the MTN and Airtel, networks that command a large following, are the most affected. MTN, indicated in advance that its Mobile Money network will be off for some time. Access to the social media platforms via Africell also remain intermittent. It is only accessible via the Vodafone network which remained active.

Being internet enabled, social media platforms can be tampered with or blocked by governments. Last year for example, a judge in Brazil ordered the switch off of Whatsapp for 48 hours after the company (Facebook) turned down the government’s request of eavesdropping on messages of users.

The Ugandan government has also on several occasions lodged requests to Facebook for some user information which have been turned down.

There are also concerns over the extremely poor internet bandwidth by nearly all the service providers, which however UCC, said was not in any way related to the elections.

Voting across the country started as early 7:00am and will close at 6:00pm on Thursday. Other top candidates in the race include FDC’s Dr Kizza Besigye, a four times presidential aspirant and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi.