The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sam Kutesa has revealed that despite requests and threats from Government, global social media giants Facebook has declined to reactivate accounts of NRM supporters who were accused of flouting the social media site’s terms and conditions against spreading fake news and misinformation.
Kutesa made the admission this afternoon while briefing Heads of Diplomatic Missions and International organisations on the recently concluded general elections at the Ministry Head Quarters in Kampala.
He said, “We asked Facebook and Twitter to restore the closed Government of Uganda and NRM accounts but they didn’t heed. In response we shut them down to ensure equity. Also some social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter shut down Government of Uganda & NRM accounts leaving accounts of other political actors active – an interference in our elections. We shut them down to ensure equity after not heeding to our call to restore closed accounts.”
However, Kutesa fell short of providing evidence of opposition Social media accounts that flouted the social media terms and conditions and are still active.
Instead, the relations between Silicon Valley – USA where both media giants are based, took a nastier turn when Facebook flagged down a post by President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, congratulating President Museveni on his win, labelling it as false information, prompting the Kenyan Government to delete the messages for fear of falling victim to Facebook and Twitter massacres.
The Minister also defended the continued internet shut down, with the full internet shutdown lasting five days, and later partially restored, although social media sites can only be accessed by users of Virtual Private Network (VPN), a development that’s likely to undermine Uganda Revenue Authority’s efforts to collect the Over The Top Tax (OTT) that was imposed on social media sites in 2018.
Kutesa said, “The temporary shutdown of the internet was a necessary step to stop the vitriolic language and incitement to violence. It is noteworthy that despite efforts by internal and external actors to promote violence, Government of Uganda has been able to preserve the peace.”
The bickering between Government and Technology giants kicked off in December 2020 when Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered Google to remove a number of Opposition backed accounts from You Tube, a request Google declined, asking UCC to drag the said accounts to court and furnish the Company with a court order before they would effect the ban.
Whereas in 2016 Government shut down Social media sites during elections, this time around, they took the fight a notch higher switching off internet for five days and have kept social media sites off and this hasn’t spared Google sites like; Google Drive, Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Backups, Google Calendar, Adsense, Adwords, Data Studio, Analytics with only Gmail left working, but others can’t be accessed without VPN.
Although Minister Kutesa didn’t discuss directly the hostage situation at Magere in Wakiso district where Presidential Candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi is being held hostage by security forces with his wife Barbra Itungo where they have been barred from leaving their residence, he claimed without evidence that some presidential candidates are making statement to incite violence within the population.
Kutesa said, “Unfortunately, some of the political leaders who lost in the election have continued to make inflammatory statements aimed at inciting people to violence. Other offenses included, inciting the public through negative propaganda, hate speech, incitement along sectarian lines, rejecting of both schedules and campaign venues earlier agreed on. These candidates talked about a “Plan B”.”
It is worth noting that the only person who has made public about Plan B was four time Presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye, although this time around, he didn’t feature in elections.
However, this didn’t deter Kutesa from accusing other Opposition candidates of fronting Plan B, with Kutesa claiming again without evidence that the plan involves committing violent acts.
“Against this background, Government deployed the army in Kampala & its surrounding areas because it was a threat to our democratic process. Plan B was a plan to commit violent acts & an insurgency, circumventing the democratic path. To this day they continue to stoke fear and incite violence, which is a clear and present danger to the stability of Uganda. Would any country that upholds democracy tolerate a Plan B?” Said Kutesa.
He added, “It’s against this background that Government deployed the Army in Kampala and it’s surroundings. This was done to reassure the public that there would be order during the elections and to those who wanted to disrupt peace, the message was that please don’t dare.”
Government called on donor Partners to understand the gravity and severity of the statements made by some of the political leaders adding that the election violence in November 2020 where 53 people were massacred by security forces was unprecedented but not spontaneous, claiming again, without any evidence that some leaders aided and abetted the rioters.
“Government is committed to ensuring domestic tranquility, the security and welfare of it’s citizens. Uganda has continued to enjoy peace without any major incidents of election violence, malpractice or common criminality. We reassure the International community that peace will prevail,” said Kutesa.
It is unknown if United States of America will understand Government, after the nation issued a statement calling for an audit into the general elections, days after its Mission in Uganda declined to observe the elections, accusing Electoral Commission of refusing to accredit 75% of its team.
The US statement read in part, “We are deeply troubled by the many credible reports of security force violence during the pre-election period and election irregularities during the polls. We strongly urge independent, credible, impartial, and thorough investigations into these reports and that those responsible be held accountable. We condemn the continuing attacks on political candidates and urge the government to respect their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of expression.”
Government responded to the US statement by blocking US Ambassador Natalie E Brown, from visiting Kyagulanyi who is being held hostage at his home in Magere- Wakiso district. In 2016, Government also held Besigye hostage for over three months and when the enjoys from European Union and US attempted to visit him, there ensued a stand off where the officials were asked to abandon their cars and move on foot to Besigye premises