Uganda Eases Internet Shutdown Five Days After Election

On Monday, almost five days after a near-total blackout was imposed across the country before elections, the Internet was partially restored in Uganda, which the opposition claims was rigged.

As police reported scores of arrests for suspected election-related violence and surrounded the headquarters of the main opposition group, whose leader is under effective house arrest, the gradual easing of internet curbs came.

Long-time leader Yoweri Musveni was proclaimed the winner of the presidential election on January 14, winning 58.6% of the vote and a sixth term after 35 years in power.

With 34.8 percent, his key opponent, musician-turned-lawmaker Bobi Wine, was a distant second. He dismissed the results and condemned the election as a hoax.

An unprecedented internet closure levied on January 13 for suspected national security purposes has been lifted, a government spokesman said.

According to AFP, Ofwono Opondo, the spokesman said, “The internet has been restored. Other platforms are still under review,”.

“We shall go full throttle depending on what happens in the initial phase of opening connectivity… We advise internet users, especially those from the opposition, not to use it to promote hate messages, threats” and intimidation.

Social media access remained patchy in the capital Kampala, where millions of internet users have been unable to send emails, search the web, or use Facebook, WhatsApp and other communication platforms for the better part of a week.

NetBlocks, a non-government organisation that tracks internet shutdowns, said network data showed a rise in connectivity in Uganda to 37 percent after all but core infrastructure, regulatory and government networks were switched off.
Access to social media remained patchy in the capital Kampala, where, for the better part of a week, millions of internet users were unable to send emails, search the web or use Facebook, WhatsApp and other networking channels.

NetBlocks, a non-governmental organization that monitors internet shutdowns, said network data showed a 37 percent improvement in connectivity in Uganda after all but the shutdown of core infrastructure, regulatory and government networks.

“This suggests that Uganda’s election shutdown, or at least the procedure under which it was implemented, was planned some time in advance. This has been one of the more orderly nation-scale network blackouts we’ve tracked,” NetBlocks said.

In what the opposition leader called a “raid” by security forces, Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) headquarters in Kampala was under police guard on Monday.

“Museveni after committing the most vile election fraud in history, has resorted to the most despicable forms of intimidation,” Wine tweeted.

Uganda police spokesman Fred Enanga said 55 people were arrested for “violent acts” including blocking highways and destroying property, over the election period.

“Though the polls were peaceful and a success, there were criminal elements that wanted to cause violence,” he said, adding the accused will be brought before the court.

Bloodshed and a sustained crackdown on government opponents and Museveni’s rivals marred the runup to polling day.

During two days of street demonstrations over Wine’s detention in November, at least 54 people were shot dead, and the opposition leader was regularly detained and his rallies broken up by tear gas and live rounds.

In Thursday’s election, the United States said it was “deeply troubled” by allegations of violence and irregularities, while Museveni declared it the cleanest in the post-independence history of Uganda.

Wine was the front runner of 10 opposition candidates running against the veteran leader who, after taking power as a rebel leader in 1986, has governed uninterrupted.

The former rebel leader, once praised for his devotion to good governance, has crushed every resistance and tweaked the constitution to allow himself to run again and again.

Educator, writer and legal researcher at Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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