internet shutdown

Internet shutdowns threaten elections in Uganda

UPDATE: January 14 Yesterday evening, the Ugandan Communication Commission (UCC) ordered internet service providers to suspend the operation of internet Gateways, ultimately shutting down the internet across the entire nation.

Access Now calls on internet service providers in Uganda to push back against shutdown orders, and help ensure open and secure freedom of expression and access to information online.

UPDATE: January 13 Yesterday, the Ugandan Communication Commission (UCC) ordered internet service providers to block social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, and Playstore Apps, cutting millions of people off from each other, and the world. Furthermore, the government also blocked more than 100 virtual private networks (VPNs) — circumvention tools — making it impossible to avoid the censorship, to access information, or to freely exercise the rights to freedom of expression and association online. 

“Blocking access to social media in Uganda is disproportionate, illegal, and will have far-reaching consequences beyond the election period,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now.

Amidst a growing crackdown on media, human rights defenders, and opposition politicians, the Republic of Uganda will hold general elections on Thursday, January 14. With a dark history of internet and social media blocking during national events, and alarming reports of disruptions already emerging, Ugandan voters’ rights to access information and express opinion are under threat. The #KeepItOn coalition, via an open letter, is calling on the government to ensure open, accessible, and secure internet access for all throughout the election period and beyond.

“Shutting down or blocking the internet while reports of state violence and oppression are emerging is incredibly worrisome,” said Felicia Anthonio, Campaigner and #KeepItOn Lead at Access Now. “Uganda disconnected voters during the 2016 elections, and the #KeepItOn coalition is imploring authorities to set a new standard in 2021 by ensuring reliable, accessible internet to all — during this critical time, and hereafter.”

Access to the internet and social media platforms during the elections in Uganda will help foster transparency around the democratic process and promote active citizen participation. Access Now and 55 other organizations are urging the government of Uganda to:

  • Ensure that the internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, remains open, accessible, and secure across Uganda throughout the election; 
  • Ensure that mobile money, banking, and other financial avenues for transactions remain accessible and secure;
  • Order internet service providers to provide everyone with high-quality, secure, and unrestricted internet access; and
  • Order internet service providers to inform internet users of any potential disruptions and to take all reasonable steps to fix any identified disruptions likely to impact the quality of service they receive.

Internet shutdowns and blockings were a go-to tool for authorities during national events and protests in 2020, including in Myanmar, Burundi, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Belarus, and many other countries. The Ugandan general election will be the African continent’s first in the new decade, and has the potential to set the stage for all other national events that follow.