Uganda Restricted Access To Social Media, VPN Saved Situation

Yesterday Ugandans went through the procedure of the elections in order to choose the country’s next president. Since the introduction of multiparty democracy ten years ago, this presidential run is believed to be the most competitive one.

Elections: a milestone in Uganda’s history?

The incumbent president Yoweri Museveni has already been holding the position for thirty years. He is known to be the most exacting governor in the history of the state and now he is willing to prolong his rule for another term. This time the elections were not smooth as at least at two voting stations in Kampala (the capital city) the polling was canceled. Because of the delays which lasted up to five hours at some places, people were not able to vote properly.

According to the message from the electoral commission, such delays were brought on by some problems with delivering electoral materials to the corresponding polling stations. Uganda Electoral Commission Chairman Badru Kiggundu said that the problem was present not only in the capital, but all over the country. As a result, it was decided to lengthen the procedure in such problematic ballot stations for several hours more.

‘National security’ as a reason to block social media

However, the problem with the transporting ballots was not the only one topic of the day. As soon as people started getting at polling stations actively, the Government of Uganda has restricted the access to some social media networks, including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. The first messages about social media issue appeared nearly eight in the morning.

'National security' as a reason to block social media

Even though none of the mobile operators gave any kind of official explanation of the situation, some of them had warned their customers about temporary problems with the services. For instance, MTN, which is the country’s leading mobile operator, had sent out their users messages on Wednesday with the warning that their Mobile Money network would be temporary unavailable. The only active network was Vodafone.Such an issue was an unwanted restriction for media houses as well as for ordinary citizens as most of them wanted to share some details about the election process with the world. Even some political parties had been going to use social networks as a medium for getting updates on the topic from their agents.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) reported that restrictions of the access to such popular social media as Facebook and Twitter as well as the widespread mobile money network had been shut just for the period of the elections due to the ‘national security’ issues. NBS Television confirmed in a series of tweets that the UCC had blocked the social media according to the directions from the country’s electoral Commission.

Fred Otunnu, the UCC’s director of corporate affairs, told in the interview that they had switched off only temporarily because of the ‘potential of disturbing peace and stability’ in such a sensitive period for the country.

The president Yoweri Museveni commented the situation telling that some people misused the social media by telling lies, and that was the main reason of blocking them.

Kizza Besigye, Museveni’s main opponent, had said earlier he was not sure that the polling would be fair and transparent.

VPN service, the lifesaver of the day

Nevertheless, even with the insufficient access to social networks most journalists and voters in the country found the way out of the situation in order to log in and trace the progress of the elections. One of them was former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi who is also a pretender for the post of the president. In his Twitter he wrote: “Good morning. I hope voting is going well at your polling station? To access Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook use Tunnelbear VPN.” Mbabazy also posted the same note on his Facebook page.

Virtual Private Network (VPN) is a service which helps to bypass the government censorship. It is done by means of diverting one’s activity in the Internet to a server in some other country. So it looked as if those who had been using Facebook or Twitter had not been in Uganda at that very moment.

On the whole, the results of the elections are to be announced in 48 hours after closing the polling stations. The only hope for the voters is that such restrictions will not influence the results greatly and that the outcome of the presidential poll will satisfy everyone.

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