Twitter revolt in Uganda?

Today we woke up to the words of the Uganda Security Minister Wilson Muruli Mukasa saying the opposition is using social media to pyschologically prepare youth for armed insurgency. It couldn’t have been better timing looking at what’s coming out of UK government after the riots. Such claims also came out as the opposition was launching new round of walk to work protests.

The first day on Wednesday August 10, the police disperse peaceful opposition supporters in Masaka led by the FDC leader Kizza Besigye. Mukasa’s allegations of a twitter revolt is based on these renewed efforts by opposition to stage protests despite government crackdown. This claim was discussed well among Ugandan tweeps who mostly wondered if the minister really knows how twitter works. Top tweets in Uganda are not even from politicians but rather individual youths looking for forum to discuss issues affecting their country and their lives.

No doubt the Uganda opposition uses social media much better than the government. We have seen top opposition leaders updating their facebook and twitter accounts as they are in running battles with the police. But government’s reaction to social media has been slow ad hence they see the opposition having some good advantage in the race to put out information. I remember in April when the protests were on high, the presidential press secretary told the Guardian that they were not bothered about the impact of social media because “farmers in Uganda don’t know what it is.” Today we see the government waking up to accept the power of social media-in a disguised way- on the youth in the country. Social media use in Uganda has been steadily increasing since end of last year.

In June I was part of an amazing program by the US Mission in Geneva – a Internet Freedom Fellowship. As part of the program I visited the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva. It’s great to see them follow some issues I highlighted last week. The story of Ester Abeja, a woman from Lira who experience wartime sexual violence and she is in need of a surgery to remove her uterus. The OHCHR highlighted her case here.  Social media is important in putting out stories like that of Abeja, from Lira to Geneva which would otherwise not have been captured by the traditional media.

It’s in the freedom to use the internet that we have seen a certain advance in human rights violations reporting. Therefore moves from people like Mukasa’s and efforts by Cameron in UK shdn’t be just brushed aside. Governments want to use situations like riots to muzzle internet freedom.

They want to attack the means of expression but not the root cause of these riots. We will have to watch in coming days what the government in Uganda will do. Today we see protesters being called terrorists and tomorrow we could see social media users being charged with terrorism for merely expressing themselves.