Gen. Tumwine ordered me to turn off internet – UCC boss

“In the interest of national security, it has been deemed necessary by the National Security Council, to have the following modes of communication suspended temporarily; internet services, bulk SMS messaging services and mobile money if necessary,” Tumwine wrote.

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Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) effected a total internet shutdown on the eve of the elections upon receipt of a letter from the Security minister, Gen. Elly Tumwine.

The executive director of the communications regulator body, Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo says in an affidavit to defend Yoweri Museveni’s 2021 re-election that UCC was ordered by National Security Council (NSC) to take the action in the interest of country’s security.

Sewamkambo, is among the 76 witnesses whose affidavits have been filed in the Supreme Court as evidence to backup the Attorney General’s defence of the January 14 elections.

The petitioner, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, wants the election nullified on grounds that the election was not conducted in accordance with provisions of the 1995 Constitution, the Electoral Commission Act, the East African Community Treaty, African Charter on Democracy and Governance and other relevant laws.

For instance, he argues that the Electoral Commission (EC) and Attorney General breached Sections 23 and 24 of the Presidential Elections Act that provide for  equal treatment, freedom of expression and access to information of candidates and rights of candidates to access state media.

Kyagulanyi says the EC and Attorney General failed to ensure freedom and fairness during the election when the UCC “switched off or caused the switching off of the internet and mobile money services thereby curtailing the free flow of information within the electorate and resource facilitation to agents of the petitioner.”

In her affidavit, Sewankambo says that the NSC directed UCC to suspend internet, bulk messaging and mobile money services temporarily.

Her affidavit is accompanied with Tumwime’s January 13 letter, communicating to her the decisions of the security council.

“In the interest of national security, it has been deemed necessary by the National Security Council, to have the following modes of communication suspended temporarily; internet services, bulk SMS messaging services and mobile money if necessary,” Tumwine wrote.

The NCS is comprised of relevant cabinet ministers and top security officials in the army and police with the President as its chair.

UCC subsequently directed all telecom companies to shutdown the internet by 7pm on January 13.

Sewankambo says that the action was necessary given reports of misuse of social media platforms and incidents of violations including publication and broadcasting of sectarian content and character assassination of political actors  particularly on Facebook, Youtube and Twitter.  

Also, she claims that there were “reports of planned cyber attacks on especially government networks and other systems in the country.”

She adds that UCC had on its own monitored the use of social media platforms and noted a lot of incidents of violation of Ugandan laws which prompted the regulator to engage telecommunication providers and social media companies to institute measures to avoid the misuse of their respective networks to compromise national security.

Since the tech giants did not show commitment and capacity to monitor their respective platform users, Sewankambo says, disconnection of the internet became necessary for purposes of facilitating a free and fair election.

Last December, UCC wrote to tech giants- Google, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube urging them to block about 14 online platforms with a leaning to Robert Kyagulanyi, accusing them of publishing content likely to mislead and incite violence against people based on their tribe and political affiliations.

Days later, Facebook instead  blocked hundreds of pro-government platforms.

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