By Spy Uganda
Kampala: In an unprecedented move, the Uganda Communication Commission, the regulator of the telecommunication sector, ordered a countrywide shutdown of the Internet on the eve of the January 14 general election.
The order left companies that rely on Internet connectivity to do business counting losses.
The government although has not yet announced officially the end of the shutdown, TheSpy Uganda has learnt that some social media platforms have been bailed out, however, online business operators say that even if the shutdown is partially lifted, they may still not be possible to move their business forward due to heavy losses they are immersed in.
“This puts our businesses in bad shape, and if the internet isn’t turned on soon, some businesses will be in a really bad situation,” says Rapa Thomson Ricky, the co-founder and director of taxi-hailing company Safe Boda.
According to Mr Ricky, Safe Boda grosses over a million mobile transactions with its network of 22,000 drivers in the Kampala Metropolitan Area, through which it earns a small fee.
“We are small companies making Ush50 off each transaction, the cumulative effect of this shutdown gets big over the number of days we are not running and our riders are not able to earn,” he said
Online store best known as Kikuubo Online is also counting losses after hundreds of orders were either left in transit and not sent to the arbitrary internet shutdown, says one of the staff.
Owners of other companies in the transport industry, hotels and restaurants, import and export, and telecoms also said they are yet to quantify the impact of UCC’s order on the Internet shutdown, but warned that such actions have far-reaching economic and investment consequences as they make Uganda unattractive to investors.
Mr Ricky blames telecom operators for not sending out prior communication to their customers, a fault Sumin Namaganda, the spokesperson of Airtel Uganda admits, saying the order came too sudden and the company had no time to send out alerts of the impending shutdown.
In 2016 election, UCC ordered the shutdown of popular social media channels and mobile money based transfers and transactions for four days, citing national security concerns, a directive that cost the economy $2 million, studies by internet rights scholars have indicated.
The government shutdown the internet on January 13, on the eve of election day, in an effort to stop the public from using social media and other cyber communication channels to transmit results from polling stations.
The crackdown means 17.5 million Internet users in Uganda cannot use their gadgets to access services, while several e-commerce businesses such as Jumia and internet-based payment systems are also disabled.