WAIHIGA: No emails or zoom calls, Uganda is voting

WAIHIGA: No emails or zoom calls, Uganda is voting

What does it mean to be unable to access online banking for at least four days?

What if the only way you could pay for your electricity was online and the internet was blocked indefinitely?

What if the sole method of topping-up your airtime on the phone was electronically via the World Wide Web which was unavailable at that time.

I am talking about no emails, no zoom calls, no skype meetings, complete radio silence.

Some of you might say, thank God, finally some peace and quiet after the Covid-19 prompted digital revolution globally.

But that is the situation that up to 45 million Ugandans found themselves in when the Uganda Communications Authority wrote to various internet service providers directing them to block internet gateways indefinitely in early January.

Now I have heard of several African countries shutting down the internet on or after a contested election.

In fact Uganda is in good company with Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, Burundi, Togo, Chad and Mali when it came to internet restrictions at some point in 2020.

But what you imagine about operating in a country with an internet shutdown is very different from the experience once you are in it.

When we landed in Uganda on Tuesday morning, we were immediately informed that the internet speeds had been dramatically throttled down over the last 24 hours in the country.

This led to the inconvenience of having to wait at least double or triple the usual times for a web-page to load.

The situation got worse on the 13th of January 2021 when a full internet lockdown went into effect and that remains the situation 24 hours later.

And even though two days of public holiday have been gazetted meaning many people can stay at home or at least work from home nevertheless one wonders how crucial institutions like hospitals, banks etc. are operating at a time like this.

Recently on a TV show on NBS, one of the leading media houses in Uganda, one of the commentators recapped a phone call with a CEO of an international company who was trying to find out why they could not reach their local employees on various platforms and whether everyone was safe.

What this internet shutdown has shown is how reliant the world has become on the internet not just for work but also for socialization and leisure.

In fact internet addicts who silently walk amongst us, are struggling as WhatsApp chat groups fell silent, Facebook pages witnessed no activity and twitter Uganda is unable to change the trending topics over the past few days.

With the internet now seen as a basic right, what does it mean for a Government to deny its people this service and what circumstances would justify this?

That is a big talking point in Ugandan media at this time.

It is obvious that the internet has the made the world a truly global village.

But when the internet is shut down in a country, then that nation becomes an island in the middle of nowhere with a raging sea of data all around it.

The last time an internet shutdown happened in Uganda was in 2016 during the previous election and it appears to be a tactic the Ugandan Government favors every 5 years during the high-octane electoral season.

Waihiga Mwaura is a News Anchor and Special Projects Editor for Citizen TV Kenya

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