With the increasingly popularity of the internet for political communication and mobilisation, PfAL 4 alumnus Donnas Ojok examines the factors behind the social media lockdown during the 2016 general elections in Uganda.
“Your inability to use social media for political mobilisation in Uganda today is at your own peril” a senior Uganda government communications advisor warned politicians and civil society activists during a recent launch of a flagship publication on social media and political communication in Uganda.
But what if this online political mobilisation tool is suddenly censored at the height of a political process like elections day? This is exactly what happened in the recentelections in Uganda. Twelve hours before 18 Feb, all social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, LinkedIn and even more interestingly, mobile money was completely locked down. Many Ugandans thought this would last just for one day – the day of the general elections – but to their dismay,it would continue for the next 72 hours. Thanks to the VPN applications whose downloads in Uganda clocked one million in just 12 hours – a small segment of the technologically savvy population bypassed this digital blockade. Generally, it can be argued that to a very large extent, the government digital blockade was significantly effective in demobilising political participation which is a significant blow to democratic consolidation processes.