Uganda partially restores internet 5 days after poll

Shutdown choked citizen journalism, slowed down flow of information; social media still off

Hamza Kyeyune, Ekip  | 19.01.2021 - Update : 19.01.2021
Uganda partially restores internet 5 days after poll

KAMPALA, Uganda 

A nationwide internet blackout imposed in Uganda a day before the Jan. 14 presidential election has been partially lifted. 

However, social media continues to be banned, and how long the restrictions will exist is not clear.

Uganda authorities used the Internet shutdown as a weapon during the elections to choke citizen journalism and slow down the flow of information. Newsrooms that usually depend on receiving stories from correspondents via the Internet had resort to analogue communication across the country.

Civil society organizations and human rights groups joined Ugandans in castigating authorities for restraining communication at a crucial point.

Uganda's Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said that the Internet was a threat and it could have ignited violence.

The incumbent President Yoweri Museveni was declared winner with 58.6% of votes, while Bobi Wine, his main challenger, got 34.8%.

Sirens and boosted armed forces’ presence remained visible in the nearly deserted streets while national army choppers hovered above and made low altitude maneuvers in some parts of a fortressed and muted country as Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama declared President Museveni the winner. 

Bobi Wine confined to home

Protests broke out in some parts around Kampala after the results were declared. Security forces confirmed two people were killed and 23 arrested.

Bobi Wine, who came second, has not left his home since he went out to vote on Thursday. His home is surrounded by hundreds of police and soldiers.

“My life is in danger, having survived several assassination attempts and being attacked by soldiers at my home. Several of my supporters have been killed and thousands arbitrarily arrested,” Bobi Wine said Friday.

The security operatives arrested people who attempted to access him, on allegations that they would incite people to protest the presidential results. Prominent opposition Member of Parliament Hon Francis Zaake, who was arrested as he tried to visit Bobi Wine on Friday, is admitted to hospital after being badly beaten up and brutalized by security forces.

The Electoral Commission excluded results from over 1,200 polling stations, the most affected being Uganda's capital city Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono -- all opposition strongholds.

Bobi Wine won in Kampala, Wakiso and Mukono districts by bagging about 73%, 75% and 72% votes respectively, while Museveni polled 24%, 24% and 26% votes respectively.

At a news conference shortly after proclaiming Museveni President-elect, the Electoral Commission Chairman said in relation to the excluded results that “even when you factor in those remaining polling stations whose results were not counted, they don’t affect the outcome of the results. As a Commission, we think we have achieved the constitutional requirement to declare the results within 48 hours.”

Bobi Wine alleged the election was rigged, adding that he has video footage of ballot-box stuffing, soldiers forcing people to vote in a certain way or pre-ticking ballots.

"We are putting all non-violent, all legal and all constitutional options on the table," he said. 

Credibility of election

In his victory speech, President Museveni claimed it was the “most cheating-free” election in Uganda’s history.

Museveni said one of Uganda’s chronic problems had been cheating in elections, which he said had been done through ballot-box stuffing, multiple voting, and other methods. He said this had been significantly eliminated by the biometric machines that were used in the recent election.

All these accusations have been levelled against Museveni and his regime over the years, and many of them have been proved in court when his re-election was challenged in 2001, 2006, and 2016.

More than half of cabinet ministers in the current regime lost their races to Bobi Wine’s party.

Museveni’s sixth elective term victory, barring any eventualities, places him on course to rule Uganda for 40 years.

The build-up to this year’s election claimed lives of more than 50 Ugandans in the face of police and army brutality.

The US, EU and other international agencies had earlier raised alarm over failed transparency in Uganda’s election.

The US Sunday called for an audit of last Thursday’s presidential and parliamentary elections, citing “credible reports” of pre-election violence and election irregularities.

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