Uganda: Blogs, Twitter Keep World Informed as Kampala Riots Continue

As riots shook Kampala, the capital of Uganda, for the second day, bloggers and other netizens rallied to keep the world informed.

Within 24 hours of the first riots, concerned Kampalans launched Uganda Witness, a crisis reporting site where Ugandans can share news of deaths, looting, presence of government forces and other related information. As of Friday afternoon (9pm GMT) the site had received multiple reports of rioting in downtown Kampala and several of the city's suburbs.

Screenshot from showing where riots have been reported.

Screenshot from showing where riots have been reported.

Ugandan blogger The 27th Comrade has spent the past few months developing a system for sending Twitter messages and posting Facebook status updates via Uganda Telecom cell phones. On Friday, in response to the riots, he rolled out the service early, posting directions on the Kampala-based communal blog The Kampalan, ensuring the privacy of users:

Now, the situation in Kampala has caused a premature announcement (of sorts) for this service. What to do, though? The men make plans, the gods decide.

In short, there is no censorship, no fear, and no favour. Post away. :o) The exchanges are not cached in the system in a way that would injure privacy at all, and indeed many things are made complex (signing up, messaging) precisely because your privacy is being respected.

A tweet from Kampala resident and brand new Twitter user dgel urging others to use Twitter to spread news of the riots has been making its rounds through the Ugandan Twitter community. He writes:

@dgel: “Anyone in Kampala, please teach at least one other person how to use twitter, and encourage them to keep us all updated. #kampala

News from Kampala's mainstream has been increasingly hard to come by as the government has detained reporters and closed radio stations throughout the city. Joe at Uganda Talks explains:

Readers last night will have been aware that popular Luganda station CBS was taken off the air last night for allegedly inciting violence and mobilising the rioters. Today the Government also suspended the licenses of Suubi FM, Radio Sapientia and Radio Two Akaboozi Kubiri on the same grounds.

Fresh Apples, who has been posting updates since the riots began, reports that the government posted guards at the CBS radio masts on Buziga Hill in Kampala:

CBS Radio station is now off air -reportedly cut of by the Government

CBS off air- Millitary police now guarding Masts at Buziga

Multiple Twitter reports coming in from Ugandans in Kampala indicate that the government is targeting individual journalists as well:

@mugamuya: “VoA (local FM) reporter detained in Kayunga after kampala riots. maybe in npolice cell somewhere. NTV reporter arrested briefly”

@uginsomniac: Moses Kibuuka (NTV) & Yahaya Iga Muyingo (Voice of Africa) arrested in Kayunga today are out on bond. Their equip still in custody. #Kampala

According to residents of Kampala, the television and radio stations that are still on air are broadcasting little or no information about the riots. Tumwijuke at Ugandan Insomniac writes:

What is radio for if not for immediate news immediately? Where was the citizen talk-back? Why no discussion of the hooliganism of many of the protesters? Where are the rolling interviews with the Buganda Kingdom, the police and government? Where were the call-ins from Masaka town, Nyendo, Kayunga and Mukono where the rioting was taking place? Why no debate on media freedom? Why no discussion on why the Broadcasting Council exists?

Any news I am receiving on the situation in Kampala I am getting from Twitter, Facebook and blogs.

Sarah of The Malan Family writes:

TV Uganda is playing music videos and NTV Uganda is showing “Thats so Raven” *rolls eyes*. BBC has a man on the ground reporting on it (….from freaking Nairobi) so I'm sure he has “up to the minute updates” for us!!!!!

Twitter users in Uganda were also noting the lack of news coverage on the riots:

@CamaraAfrica: “Wow…everyone hurry and turn to NBS for a riveting report on…wait for it…how to play golf. #kampala

@solomonking: Come on!! UBC has shown an annoying NLP short programme by Ethan Mussolini like 5 times in two hours and nothing on the riots!! #kampala

Jon Gos, founder of Uganda-based software company Appfrica and 2009 TED Fellow, was surprised by how quickly Ugandans turned to Twitter to spread news:

One of the things that surprised me was how a handful of Twitter users drove the coverage for a lot of people. As I and others like @camaraafrica, @mugumya, @solomonking heard the latest here in Uganda, we feverishly updated Twitter and Facebook, our only means of reaching the outside world.

In another post on the Appfrica blog, Jon writes:

The mainstream news has picked up on what’s going on but local press has been shut down. Either due to too much traffic (web) or otherwise. So many of us, expats or not are relying on Twitter for information.

Photo courtesy

Photo courtesy of Sarah of The Malan Family. She writes: “We came to the conclusion that this was either tear gas or a smoke bomb because we saw people running in all different directions immediately after it went off.”


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