Uganda election: Facebook closes government officials’ accounts

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Kampala | Facebook has in recent days closed the accounts of several Ugandan government officials accused of interfering in public debate ahead of Thursday’s presidential election, the US giant said in an email to AFP on Monday.

Uganda is organizing a presidential election on Thursday in a tense climate, notably pitting outgoing President Yoweri Museveni, 76, including 35 at the head of the country, to a song star turned MP, Bobi Wine, 38.

“This month (January), we shut down a network of accounts and pages in Uganda that were involved in ‘coordinated inauthentic behavior’ aimed at influencing public debate ahead of the election,” he told ‘AFP Facebook’s communications manager for sub-Saharan Africa Kezzia Anim-Addo.

“They used fake or duplicate accounts to manage pages, commented on other people’s content, pretended to be users, shared content in groups to make it appear more popular than it was,” said the manager.

“With the upcoming election in Uganda, we have acted quickly to investigate and bring down this network. We discovered that this network was linked to the Citizens Interaction with Government Group of the Ministry of Information (…) in Uganda, ”Facebook said.

President Yoweri Museveni’s communications advisor, Don Wanyama, who is one of the personalities whose Facebook and Instagram accounts have been closed, in turn accused the American giant of wanting to influence the course of the presidential election.

“Shame on foreign forces who think they can install a puppet regime in Uganda by disabling the online accounts of supporters of the NRM,” the ruling party, he responded. “You will not get rid of President Museveni.”

According to the National Resistance Movement (NRM), several dozen accounts have suffered the same fate, belonging to various personalities such as a senior official of the Ministry of Information and Communications, a prominent Internet user close to the NRM or a known doctor.

The president’s accounts were not affected by Facebook’s intervention.

President Museveni and his campaign team have regularly accused “foreign forces” – without specifying which ones – of supporting Bobi Wine’s campaign to achieve regime change in this landlocked East African country.

According to Facebook’s communications manager for Africa, the American giant has “brought down more than 100 of these networks around the world” since 2017.

In December, the American giant announced that it had removed three networks managed from Russia and France, including one linked to the French army, and accused of carrying out interference operations in Africa. The network installed in France mainly targeted the Central African Republic and Mali.

In October, Facebook closed the page of a conspiratorial party in New Zealand, accused of spreading disinformation about the novel coronavirus pandemic, two days before the elections in that country.

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