A number of Ugandan government officials and members of the ruling party have shut down their Facebook accounts on charges that they are attempting to influence public discourse before elections.
In the midst of a tense and violent electoral campaign, the East African nation will cast its votes on Thursday, January 14, to elect a new president and parliament, with incumbent President Yoweri Museveni, 76, facing a stern challenge from singer-turned-politician Bobi Wine, 38.
“We moved quickly to investigate and take down this network, given the upcoming elections in Uganda,” Facebook said in a report on Monday, adding that the decision was linked to the government ministry of information technology.
“In order to make them appear more popular than they were, they used fake and duplicate accounts to manage pages, comment on the content of others, impersonate users, re-share posts in groups,” it added.
Judith Nabakooba, Uganda’s information minister, told Reuters news agency that before speaking, she needed more time to research the situation.
Senior Press Secretary Don Wanyama, who saw the shutdown of both his Facebook and Instagram accounts, accused Museveni of attempting to manipulate the election.
He said on Twitter, “Shame on foreign forces who believe they can help and establish a puppet leadership in Uganda by disabling the online accounts of [ruling party] NRM supporters.”
“You’re not going to take President Kaguta Museveni away,” he said, using the second name of the president.
Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Gender, Labor and Social Development, also accused the social media site of abusing Ugandan accounts and urged that they be unblocked by Facebook.
The Facebook account of President Museveni is still involved, but several government officials and ruling party members have seen their pages taken down.
The shutdown of the account comes amid heightened tensions between Museveni and Bobi, the key candidates.
In an attempt to oust his government, the president, who has been in power since 1986, has long accused international organizations of backing Wine.