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Uganda moves to block social networks

o Michael Malakata
28.04.2011 kl 13:35 | Computerworld Zambia

In the face of uprisings meant to force regime change in various African countries, the Ugandan government is moving to shut down social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

 

In the face of uprisings meant to force regime change in various African countries, the Ugandan government is moving to shut down social media networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

The closure of social media networks in Uganda comes only a month after the Cameroonian government banned social media. In Swaziland, social media networks were also banned early this month in a bid by the government to quell demonstrations over political reforms and the rising cost of living.

Social media is believed to have played a major role in uprisings in North Africa, including the popular movements that forced out Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali of Tunisia.

The Ugandan government has come under increasing pressure over its economic policies. Through the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC), the country's telecom sector regulator, the Ugandan government has directed all ISPs to shut down social network platforms. While the use of social networks in neighboring countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania is growing, Uganda has become the first country in the East African region to ban the use of social media.

It's not clear whether the ISPs will implement the UCC directive, however. Efforts to block social networks in Egypt and Tunisia failed as protesters continued to share information by blogging and using Twitter.

"We are still able to access Facebook and Twitter," said Fredrick Mugira, a Ugandan blogger via e-mail Wednesday.

Last year, the UCC was merged with the Broadcasting Council into one body that regulates both telecommunications and broadcasting in the country. It falls under the aegis of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology, with no power to make independent decisions.

As in many African countries, the Ugandan government is facing unrest over the high cost of living due to increases in fuel and food prices. The Ugandan government said the directive to block social networks is aimed at stopping the sharing of information that could incite the public against the government.

The country's president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power for over 25 years and is threatening to crush demonstrations. Proests have been led by opposition leader Kizza Besagye, who lost the presidential election two months ago.

But politicians and activists have intensified the "Walk to Work" campaign involving actions protesting the high cost of fuel and other commodities. The protesters, who are refusing to drive or use public transport to go to work, are pressing the government to implement economic reforms that will bring down food and fuel prices. Museveni, however, insists that drought and foreign factors are to blame for rising food and fuel prices.

A letter from the UCC this month to ISPs including the BroadBand Co., Foris Telecom and Infocom, said the organization has been asked by security agencies to minimize the use of social media platforms to stop information sharing that can incite violence.

"The use of illegal means to gag the telecommunication and internet sector must be challenged in the courts of law," said the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda programs coordinator Geoffrey Wakulira Ssebaggara.

Social networks have significantly grown in Uganda over the past few years. Facebook, Twitter and blogs have been used as avenues to discuss economic and political issues. A recent survey by Google Zeitgeist, a tool designed to provide insight into Internet trends, places Facebook as the second most popular website in Uganda after Google, with more than a million Ugandans already subscribed to the network.

During the Ugandan presidential and general elections in February this year, Facebook and Twitter were widely used by media outlets as well as private journalists to circulate information on election results and violence. After the election, the trend has continued, with Twitter and Facebook users sharing views on the current walk to work protests.

Keywords: Internet  Government  
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