Weeks after he was slapped with a Shs 800 million demand for compensation over their closed Facebook accounts and pages, President Yoweri Museveni on Sunday met a group of NRM social media activists to chat a way forward.
Knowledgeable sources have told The Witness that the majority of the Sunday meeting attendees are youths who were recruited to counter the National Unity Platform (NUP) social media team.
“The NUP team had defeated NRM on social media. So, they recruited some guys including journalists to beef up the team at the Government Citizens Interaction Centre [GCIC],” a source said.
The coordination office for this team was in Ntinda near the Uganda National Examination (UNEB) offices; the same place NRM used in 2014 as they planned to John Patrick Amama Mbabazi’s ouster as NRM secretary-general.
The group had about 40 members each earning a monthly stipend ranging between Shs 1 million to Shs 4 million which was determined based on one’s social standing and presence on social media.
“The likes of Duncan Abigaba [GCIC deputy head] and Matthew Bagonza are the ones who were getting Shs 4 million,” the source said.
This group operated separately from that of the Ashburg Katos which was reportedly working under businessman Balaam Barugahare. These were not invited for the Sunday meeting at Entebbe much they too had their platforms blocked by Facebook in January.
Abigaba did most of the talking for the group, telling Museveni that Facebook’s actions to delete accounts of government officials, individuals and companies that were deemed pro-Museveni and pro-NRM was without fairness from the tech giants.
“Many of us including myself are unable to access our Facebook accounts, not that I am devastated, in fact, I take it as a badge of honour for fighting negative propaganda against this government,” Abigaba said.
Abigaba also talked to Museveni about the possibility of appointing a digital diplomat.
“Some countries have already done this, we need someone who will handle digital diplomacy on our behalf,” he said.
Speaking to this writer, Bagonza disputed reports that they received any payment for promoting Museveni’s re-election bid claiming that the group members used their own phones, laptops and data for internet connectivity.
“These are young people who on their own came together to render support to the campaign. They were not sanctioned by anyone but it was out of their love and appreciation of the achievements Uganda has witnessed under President Museveni,” Bagonza said.
“Even going to State House, we went to meet him in his capacity as the NRM party chairman to pledge our continued loyalty just like you see people in different groups visiting Magere [Bobi Wine’s residence],” he added.
While Museveni told the group the limitation of access to Facebook “will not stop the most important things from happening in Uganda,” he said that the entire group should be maintained to promote government work on social media.
“Most of them are young people who are gainfully employed elsewhere but have been voluntarily supporting the government and NRM activities, I don’t see any problem with those who are qualified being supported to take up opportunities in government,” senior presidential press secretary, Don Innocent Wanyama told The Witness.
At the end of the meeting, Museveni saw off each of his guests with an envelope of Shs 500,000.