In Uganda, East Africa, President Museveni (76 years old!) is running for his sixth term of presidency. Museveni is facing about a dozen opponents, but his main rival would be Bobi Wine (38). Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, is a rapper-turned lawmaker who is contesting for presidency for a couple of years now. However, Museveni is not planning on easily giving away his power. Elections in Uganda are never calm, but this time the country is more roaring than ever. Museveni is getting older age and Bobi Wine wants to be ‘the voice of the common people.’ Many young voters will probably vote for him and he stands a real chance of winning the election. As said, Museveni is definitely not planning on letting this election slip away. The reigning president has been very busy with making it as hard as possible for his antagonists. In his 35-year rule over the country he has never been unseated by one of his rivals. When Museveni first came to power, he tackled other competing parties and only in 2005 democracy was fully restored.
This year’s election will be very interesting. The competition is very high and the chances of Museveni being unseated are realistic. Contesting for presidency in Uganda is not an easy job. Bobi Wine has been beaten, arrested, sprayed with tear gas and charged in court with allegedly flouting coronavirus rules while on the campaign trail. Museveni did not only stand in the way of opponents, he also tried to affect the election on the internet and social media platforms. Facebook announced this week that it had taken down a network of accounts and pages in the East African nation that engaged in what they called “coordinated inauthentic behavior” aimed at manipulating public debate around the election. The company said the network was linked to the Government Citizens Interaction Center, an initiative that is part of Uganda’s Ministry of Information and Communications Technology and National Guidance. This is not the first time this year Facebook would meddle in an election procedure. During the presidential elections between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in the US, Facebook and subsidiary Twitter took down Trumps account multiple times and also added a label to Trumps posts which indicated on misinformation.
As a reaction on Facebooks announcement, President Museveni ordered major telephone providers in Uganda to block all access to Facebook and other social platforms. In a statement he said: “That social channel you are talking about, if it is going to operate in Uganda, it should be used equitably by everybody who has to use it,” Mr. Museveni said. “We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad,” he added. This is not the first time Ugandans were shut off from access to the internet during an election. It also happened in 2016, when the government blocked the entire internet during the elections. In 2018, Museveni raised a tax on the use of all social media platforms, which is still active.
This all is an infringement of human rights. People should have access to the open internet and all social platforms, especially during an election. Bobi does most likely agree with this statement, because last week, Mr. Wine filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court accusing Mr. Museveni and other top current and former security officials of sanctioning a wave of violence and human rights violations against citizens, political figures and human rights lawyers.
In this age, social media has an immense influence on governmental procedures like elections. For presidential candidates these platforms are also very important, because it’s an effective way to reach possible voters. On one hand, it’s not a good thing that Facebook meddles in governmental affairs but, on the other hand it is a good thing that fake news and misinformation is being handled by someone. In an ideal situation the government would handle such things, but in the case of Uganda this is no option.
The elections in Uganda are now over. As you may have expected, Museveni won the elections with 58 percent of the votes. However, Wine accused him of fraud. It is not sure what will happen now, but the harassment of Bobi Wine continues. The army has been posted near his house and he is not allowed to leave the house. Wine claimed he was out of food and the army would have been involved in breaking in and searching his office.
Written by: Janco van Kooij