Ugandans are set to go to the polls on 14 January to elect the country’s next president, as well as parliament and local government representatives.
Facebook said on Monday that it had shut down accounts belonging to Ugandan government officials accused of seeking to manipulate the public debate ahead of the Thursday elections.
“This month, we removed a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that engaged in CIB (Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour) to target public debate ahead of the election,” Facebook’s head of communication for sub-Saharan Africa, Kezia Anim-Addo, said in an email.
Kampala | Facebook has in recent days closed the accounts of several Ugandan government officials accused of interfering in public debate ahead of Thursday’s presidential election, the US giant said in an email to AFP on Monday.
Uganda is organizing a presidential election on Thursday in a tense climate, notably pitting outgoing President Yoweri Museveni, 76, including 35 at the head of the country, to a song star turned MP, Bobi Wine, 38.
“This month (January), we shut down a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that were involved in ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ aimed at influencing public debate ahead of the election,” he told ‘AFP Facebook’s communications manager for sub-Saharan Africa Kezzia Anim-Addo.
“They used fake or duplicate accounts to manage pages, commented on other people’s content, pretended to be users, shared content in groups to make it appear more popular than it was,” said the manager.
“With the upcoming election in Uganda, we have moved quickly to investigate and bring down this network. We discovered that this network was linked to the Citizens Interaction Group with the Government of the Ministry of Information (…) in Uganda, ”Facebook said.
President Yoweri Museveni’s communications advisor, Don Wanyama, who is one of the personalities whose Facebook and Instagram accounts have been closed, in turn accused the American giant of wanting to influence the course of the presidential election.
“Shame on foreign forces who think they can install a puppet regime in Uganda by disabling the online accounts of supporters of the NRM,” the ruling party, he responded. “You will not get rid of President Museveni.”
According to the National Resistance Movement (NRM), several dozen accounts have suffered the same fate, belonging to various personalities such as a senior official of the Ministry of Information and Communications, a prominent Internet user close to the NRM or a known doctor.
The president’s accounts were not affected by Facebook’s intervention.
President Museveni and his campaign team have regularly accused “foreign forces” – without specifying which ones – of supporting Bobi Wine’s campaign to achieve regime change in this landlocked East African country.
According to Facebook’s communications manager for Africa, the American giant has “brought down more than 100 of these networks around the world” since 2017.
During December, the American giant announced that it had removed three networks managed from Russia and France, including one linked to the French army, and accused of carrying out interference operations in Africa. The network installed in France mainly targeted the Central African Republic and Mali.
In October, Facebook closed the page of a conspiratorial party in New Zealand, accused of spreading disinformation about the novel coronavirus pandemic, two days before the elections in that country.
Pro-govt Facebook accounts in Uganda claim blocking
Owners of over 50 Facebook accounts, aligned with the ruling National Resistance Movement [NRM] January 09, claimed blocking with some pages permanently unpublished or deleted on Facebook, a social networking application.
Ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) supporters and officials said blocking of their Facebook accounts was orchestrated by foreigners. PHOTO/NET.
“Shame on the foreign forces that think they can aid and plant a puppet leadership on Uganda by disabling online accounts of NRM supporters. You won’t take away President Kaguta Museveni,” senior Presidential press secretary Don Wanyama remarked.
Wanyama’s statement cements an NRM electoral campaign period tainted by accusations that opposition activities in the country have overtime been propagated with backing from foreigners who according to President Museveni, “stand no chance.”
Well known blogger Ashburg Kato, quickly alleged that the California based tech giants had deleted their accounts pursuant to a request by opposition National Unity Platform (NUP) party presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine and his ‘aides’.
“Facebook itself deleted our accounts on the request of Bobi Wine’s handlers,” Kato tweeted.
His rant further contends a call to action against Facebook from the president.
“We request President Kaguta Museveni to shut down the entire Facebook in Uganda,” Kato said.
However, NUP Secretary General, Lewis Rubongoya, in response told Daily Monitor, “We are too busy concluding our election campaigns. We don’t have time for doing that.”
Kato’s posts generated uproar with several Ugandans already speculating about a looming internet shutdown that could deny over 2.5 million Ugandans social media or even internet access during the electoral period that gets underway next week.
Social media user Hammis Ssenkungu voiced outrage referring to the 2016 social media shut down during elections: “After reading Kato’s tweet, it looks like a deliberate plan seeking to justify a repeat of what happened in 2016- social media censorship.”
Notable deleted pages among others are those of NRM members, presidential adviser Jennifer Nakangubi aka Full Figure, socialite Ismah Olaxess and events promoter Bajjo.
Although they claim their accounts were taken down for touting anti-Bobi Wine sentiments, a section of the public writes it off as a last minute stunt ahead of the January 14 presidential election.
Some apolitical Ugandans also said they had no access to their Facebook accounts after they had been ‘anonymously’ pulled down overnight.
“I woke up and used my Facebook account at around 3am. The next attempt I made after 7am was futile,” Vuga told Daily Monitor adding on that, “I have not been using my account for political activities or motives.”
This photo handout from Facebook user Innocent Vuga is of a screenshot taken after he failed to access his account all through January 09.
Vuga’s remarks make it unclear whether it’s only NRM loyalists that have allegedly faced the wrath of the global tech giants.
Until today, NUP has been a prime target for cyber-attacks, more than thrice reporting incidents of party members’ accounts being hacked or even deleted eternally or likened with phishing.
However, some in NRM including Kato, who formally was an ardent supporter of presidential candidate Bobi Wine, also argue that their accounts remain a top cyber-crime target.
Uganda decides who their president will be for the next five year term on January 14, 2021 with incumbent President Museveni in the race against nine other males and one female.
By press time, Facebook had not yet issued a statement regarding the matter.