Uganda has become the 15th country in Africa to restrict social media access due to elections since 2015, a new report has shown.
The researchers at privacy protection company Surfshark says their study revealed that at least 27 countries in Africa blocked or heavily restricted social media access over five years.
Over five years, Burundi, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Togo, Tanzania, Benin, DRC, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania and Sierra Leone restricted access to social media due to elections.
“Social media has established itself as a key political player of its own. However, as its influence grows, so does the governments’ desire to censor it by introducing new laws, restricting access, or blocking social media altogether,” says Gabrielle Racai, Communications manager at Surfshark.
“What is especially concerning is the increasing number of countries worldwide that block or censor the internet amid the elections. Governments in Belarus, Burundi, and Tanzania have already shut down social media during elections in 2020, whereas Uganda becomes the first country to do so in 2021”. Racai explained.
The company says it analyzed 185 countries and their social media blocking practices from 2015 to the present day, seeking to evaluate the extent of social media censorship.
The research shows that 62 out of the 185 analyzed countries blocked or heavily restricted social media access in the past five years.
The data it says was collected through open-source information from Freedom House, Netblocks, and reputable news reports from 2015 till date.
Social media was conceptualized as social networking sites (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, etc.) and communication apps, including VoIP apps (i.e., Skype, WhatsApp, Telegram, Viber).
On Thursday, Ugandans lined up to vote in a tense election under heavy security and an internet blackout as veteran dictator Yoweri Museveni sought a sixth term against a former pop star half his age.
The internet went down on the eve of the vote, with some parts of the country reporting complete disruptions or significant slowdowns, after one of the most violent campaigns in years.
Museveni is seeking a sixth term in office, having ruled for almost four decades, against singer-turned-MP Bobi Wine, 38, whose popularity among a youthful population has rattled the former rebel leader.
Wine said several of his party’s polling agents had been arrested during the morning, as he cast his vote on the outskirts of Kampala alongside his wife to a crowd of dancing and singing supporters.
The opposition frontrunner has vowed non-violent street protests should Ugandans feel the election was stolen.
Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary vote, and results are expected by Saturday.