Foul play suspected by founder of closed Ugandan activists Facebook group

Mid last week, Ugandans at Heart, a popular Facebook page where Ugandans from different walks of life across the world have been conducting discussions on a wide range of issues, was deactivated by Facebook.
And now, the group founder says that himself and the group’s administration team are beginning to increasingly suspect foul play, as despite several queries Facebook is to this day yet to reactivate the group or even to reply to their queries about its closure.

Abbey Ssemuwemba, the UK-based writer and political commentator who founded the group seven years ago (in 2007), insists there must be some foul play from people who don’t want to see Ugandans freely exercising their freedom of speech. He adds that the timing of the group’s closure only raises his suspicions further, saying the closure comes in the wake of a general expression of discomfort by politicians to activists’ media sites such as Ugandans At Heart.

“One time, Hon. Frank Tumwebaze attacked the forum in the Daily Monitor calling it all sorts of names,” Ssemuwemba says. “Another policeman jotted down an article in the media some time back, also unfairly attacking the forum. He called it a security threat! All that shows the authorities in Uganda were not pleased with the group and their involvement in its closure can’t be just ruled out yet.”

However, in response the Minister for the Presidency, Frank Tumwebaze, says that in fact he had never heard about ‘Ugandans At Heart,’ until the news of its closure last week when he was contacted by people to clarify allegations that he has ever criticized the group in the media.

“I really don’t know who those Ugandans at Heart people are, what they do, or even where they are based,” Tumwebaze says. “Those people are simply misled. I have no control over Facebook, I don’t even know where Facebook is located or how it is really run.Actually I’m so poor at social media as a whole, that even my Facebook account was opened for me by someone who knows how to use it properly.”

Still, Ssemuwemba questions Facebook’s failure to respond to the queries about the group’s closure, and reckons it looks like Facebook is being driven by some sinister intentions.

“The only response we’ve received from Facebook was a brief writing in some language I couldn’t understand, which I used the internet to translate and found it was a standardized message in Italian saying the group had broken the Facebook Terms of Use. But in reality, we were not breaching any Facebook code of conduct. We had moderators who did everything possible to keep the group with in Facebook’s terms of use, and we regularly disabled people who tried to make the group breach the Facebook Terms of Use. Our discussions were always controlled, even as they sometimes discussed critical issues.”

It is indubitable that Ugandans At Heart had grown to become a leading online platform for Ugandans who wanted to discuss with fellow Ugandans the issues affecting their country. The page members, who according to Ssemuwemba had hit the 67,000 mark last week, mostly discussed politics and governance issues, but there were also often discussions on history, cultural issues, health, among other disciplines.

However, it is also worth noting that many people had been increasingly expressing discontent with the way different issues were being debated in the forum, many citing tribalism, hate campaigns against the NRM government and President Museveni, attacks on cultural leaders, among others.

In the wake of the continued closure and non-response by Facebook, Ssemuwemba and colleagues have opened another group called Ugandans At Heart Stereo. The new group already had 17,000 members yesterday. But while Ssemuwemba says it is quickly growing to replace the old one, it is still painful that the old group was lost with 67,000 members whom they aimed to have multiplied to 150,000 by the time of the 2016 elections.

Ssemuwemba adds: “At the same time, we must recognize that Facebook has been closing down activists groups in different countries without any specific reason. For instance, in 2011, they closed down all pages belonging to Chesterfield Stop the Cuts, Tower Hamlet Greens, London Student Assembly, Southwark SoS and Bristol Uncut site. Just like in our case, Facebook didn’t give any specific reason apart from citing that the groups contravened the company’s “statement of rights and responsibilities.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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