The Ugandan government, through its communications regulator, has ordered service providers to cut internet access just hours before voting starts.
In a letter to telecoms, the head of Uganda Communications Commission Irene Ssewankambo ordered service providers to ‘implement a temporary suspension of the operation of all your internet gateways and associated access points’.
She said the shutdown was to take effect at 7pm local time (16:00 GMT) Wednesday ‘and continue until otherwise directed’.
The development effectively means that Ugandans will cast their ballots on Thursday amidst an internet blackout.
On Tuesday, the communications regulator directed telecoms to cut access to social media sites and online messaging apps.
The disruption was confirmed by NetBlocks, an organization that monitors cybersecurity and the governance of the Internet.
Polls in the east African country open on Thursday. President Yoweri Museveni, 76, is up against 10 contenders including popstar cum politician Bobi Wine, 38.
The Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the main opposition party in Uganda slammed the internet shutdown as an attempt to rig the elections.
Not the first shutdown
On election day in 2016, Uganda cut access to social media citing national security. Then, Museveni was facing a tough challenge from veteran activist Kizza Besigye.
Authorities also suspended mobile transfers of money. In 2019, the government introduced a tax on the use of the internet which activists have called an attempt at controlling free speech.
The president has repeatedly criticized ‘young people for using the internet to spread rumors’.
According to figures from the communications regulator, Uganda has 20 million internet subscriptions.