Uganda's lesson to other authoritarians: controlling the internet works

Security forces are seen blocking the entrance to Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine's property on January 16, 2021 in Kampala, Uganda.

James Griffiths is a Senior Producer for CNN International and author of "The Great Firewall of China: How to Build and Control an Alternative Version of the Internet."

Hong Kong (CNN)Speaking to reporters after casting her ballot in the Ugandan capital Kampala last week, one local resident was overjoyed to have voted for opposition leader Bobi Wine.

"The only sad thing ... is that we are missing the communication because some lines have been cut off. We don't have internet so we are lacking communication," she said. "Outside Kampala, we don't know what is going on."
What was going on, according to Wine and other opposition figures, was the election being stolen.
    Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni claimed Saturday that he had been re-elected for a sixth term, despite widespread allegations of fraud and intimidation. In power since 1986, Museveni has defied repeated attempts to remove him over the years, cracking down on protests and jailing potential rivals.
      In recent elections, a key tactic in curtailing opposition has been to control Ugandans' access to the internet, blocking social media and messaging software like WhatsApp, and even instituting countrywide internet blackouts, cutting the population off from information at the most vital time.
      This year was no different. As Ugandans prepared to go to the polls last week, more and more of the internet gradually slipped out of reach, starting with Facebook and other social platforms, before finally the entire country was disconnected.
      The effects of such a shutdown go beyond online expression. According to Netblocks, an internet freedom monitor, such a blackout could have already cost the Ugandan economy around $9 million, while Cipesa, an African internet NGO, reported that both biometric voting systems and mobile money -- which many Ugandans rely on for payments -- were both disrupted by the shutdown.

        Internet shutdown

        In a speech last week, Museveni accused Facebook of "arrogance" after it closed several accounts linked to the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) for alleged efforts to manipulate the election, saying a subsequent block of the platform, along with several other websites, was "unfortunate but unavoidable."
        "That social channel you are talking about, if it is going to operate in Uganda, it should be used equitably by everybody who has to use it," he said. "If you want to take sides against the NRM, then (you) cannot operate in Uganda ... We cannot tolerate this arrogance of anybody coming to decide for us who is good and who is bad."
        Thanks to Museveni's control over traditional media in the country, Wine has relied on online platforms to get his message out, so the ban on Fa