By Our Foreign Desk
Uganda banned social media and messaging apps on Tuesday, two days ahead of a presidential election pitting Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’slongest-serving leaders, against opposition frontrunner Bobi Wine, a popular singer.
Users complained on Tuesday that they were unable to access Facebook and WhatsApp, social media platforms being widely used for campaigning by all sides ahead of Thursday’s election in the East African country.
In a letter seen by Reuters to internet service providers dated Jan. 12, Uganda‘s communications regulator ordered them to block all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.
Campaigning ahead of the vote has been marred by brutal crackdowns on opposition rallies, which the authorities say break COVID-19 curbs on large gatherings. Rights groups say the restrictions are a pretext for muzzling the opposition.
At 38, Wine is half the age of President Yoweri Museveni and has attracted a large following among young people in a nation where 80% of the population are under 30, rattling the ruling National Resistance Movement party.
Wine is considered the frontrunner among 10 candidates challenging Museveni, the former guerrilla leader who seized power in 1986 and brought stability to a country after the murderous reigns of dictators Milton Obote and Idi Amin.
While security forces have intimidated the opposition at previous elections, the run up to this year’s vote has been especially violent. In November, 54 people were killed as soldiers and police quelled protests after Wine was detained.
On Tuesday, Wine said soldiers raided his home in Kampala and arrested his guards while he was giving an interview to a Kenyan radio station. He also said a team member who works mainly as a mechanic was shot dead by the military overnight.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the claims and a military spokesmen did not respond to a call seeking comment.
Patrick Onyango, police spokesman for the capital Kampala, denied Wine’s home had been raided or that anyone was arrested, saying: “We were just rearranging our security posture in the area near his home, specifically removing some checkpoints.”