- Uganda President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since the 1986 coup, is doing his best to win the sixth term ahead of Thursday’s elections. Police used COVID protocols as an excuse to shut down the opposition incidents while arresting and harassing pop star and politician Bobi Wine. Then government agencies closed access to social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. Internet blocking puts a wall in front of cryptocurrency trading
Ugandans use VPN, government shut down radically the internet
However, as it turned out that Ugandans are circumventing social media restrictions through virtual private networks (VPNs), the Uganda Communications Commission has unplugged the entire internet indefinitely. Operation of international gateways of internet service providers has been suspended.
— Kyle Spencer (@kyleville) January 13, 2021
Expat Kyle Spencer, head of the nonprofit Uganda Internet Exchange Point, which aims to improve the country’s internet connectivity, wrote that Uganda is “out of the world.” Domestic internet traffic fell 95% in one day. The saying goes, “Only a few webs still have a pulse, but most of them have straight lines.”
Closure in Uganda is to prevent the flow of information from the public at a time when we need full transparency and open reporting.
Bitcoin and cryptocurrency trading stopped in the country
No Bitcoin trading activity on LocalBitcoins or Paxful has been reported on peer-to-peer exchanges in Uganda since January 14, according to analysis site UsefulTulips. Ghanaians, Nigerians, and Kenyans are trading, but Ugandans have completely stopped. UGX trades on LocalBitcoins were only possible in neighboring countries Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The market in Uganda is quite small. P2P markets are trading anywhere between $ 5,000 and $ 15,000 a day. “It’s actually so small that Binance even closed its local sites in November 2020 due to low trade volumes,” the anonymous source said.
Authoritarian governments can put a wall on cryptocurrency trading
But the lack of activity still seems alarming. Bitcoin has some soft spots in countries with authoritarian-leaning governments and monopolies.
The disrupted telecom company MTN Uganda controls 60% of the country’s mobile phone market, playing a key role in providing access to the internet via smartphones and USB devices. And it runs Mobile Money, a mobile-based payment system that many use to send money transfers, pay tuition fees, and buy “censorship-resistant” Bitcoin.
However, Ugandans are used to such cuts and are adept at creating workarounds. In 2018, the government started taxing visits to social media apps on mobile phones as a way to prevent “gossip.” It was no surprise that social media sites were blocked earlier this week.
This also means that opposition groups are ready for dirty tricks. Bobi Wine supporter Hilary Innocent Taylor Seguya, who sued for blocking President Museveni on Twitter, told Decrypt:
We encouraged many people to set up a VPN. Museveni doesn’t want Ugandans to communicate about election irregularities and illegalities this Thursday, but we’re fortunate to have a VPN alternative today.
However, blockchains can still work even if the internet is restricted (using everything from satellites to networks).