When the directive for the closure of the internet for 5 days was implemented, effects of the internet shutdown on government at the time were unprecedented. Now, more than a week ago since the internet was partially restored the government of Uganda is still counting its losses as compared to the private sector.
On the basis that national security was being threatened during the election period, government carried out the order that left many Ugandans without access to the internet for almost a week. Several businesses that rely on the internet for their operations were cut off with no ways to receive orders or even access their customers through social media platforms.
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However, after a deep analysis, it seems that the losses the government of Uganda made because of its own command are incomparable to what the private sector lost. Different government agencies, ministries and departments were all affected.
The actual effects of the internet shutdown on government
An estimated UGX 6.5 billion was lost everyday due to the effects of the internet shutdown on government and the private sector inclusive. Citing the devastating effects of the shutdown of the internet, a letter on behalf of Keith Muhakanizi, permanent secretary to the treasury was written by Mr. Patrick Ocailap to the Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. It explained in detail the catastrophic impact the internet blackout has had and would continue to have if it continued to happen.
In the letter titled, Effects of internet lockdown on treasury operation, financial sector and economy, Patrick Ocailap said, “All government payments including statutory obligations e.g debt and interest payments for both domestic and external borrowing, processing of pensions, salaries and wages etc. cannot be paid, according to the Observer.”
All government transactions like pensions, salaries and wages could not be effected as a result of the internet closure. The banking sector was one of the most hit during this crisis since it relies heavily on the internet as most transactions are carried out online because of the privacy and safety of user data that comes with using the internet.
Ocailap continued to explain, “And I can confirm that; the banks cannot carry out normal banking transactions e.g international settlements, forex transactions etc. there’Uby impairing their normal banking and payment activities.” According to the letter, the Bank of Uganda could not carry out any payment settlements and statutory obligations because most of the bank’s systems were equally shutdown.
“Uganda Revenue Authority cannot collect and transmit revenue to the Consolidated Fund through the normal commercial banks operations,” Ocailap said. Business owners and institutions were also unable to file their tax returns on the proposed deadline which was on the day internet access was cut off. URA later announced a new deadline on 20th January for filing these tax returns though some tax payers requested for at least a week to get their things in order.
The letter continues, “The above, among others, will definitely lead to substantial revenue and business losses in the economy; besides government defaulting on its statutory obligations.”
More effects of the internet shutdown on government were felt in the aviation sector since customers relied on the power of the internet to book flights. The second Uganda Airbus that was supposed to arrive on 25th January was also delayed due to communication difficulties caused by the closure of the internet.
A growing number of African countries have joined the global trend by governments to cut off access to the internet and social media platforms as a measure to restrict the flow of information among citizens. This is especially common in times of political tension like elections and nation wide protests.
Uganda and Tanzania are the East African countries that have ordered internet service providers to shutdown the internet during elections. Tanzania did this in its 2020 October elections. Ethiopia implemented a shutdown that lasted for almost a month during protests that ended up in the death of a prominent singer and activist, Hachalu Hundessa.