Ugandan porn ban and internet shutdown threat pushing more people onto VPNs

The battle for internet freedom in Uganda appears to be heading towards a potentially bloody climax.

The country’s Communications Commission has threatened to cut off the internet altogether as the political fallout from their controversial social media tax and a recent ban on internet porn come into effect.

Uganda’s Internet crisis

Uganda is controlled by President Yoweri Museveni. He has been President since 1986 and, despite the façade of democratic elections, essentially runs the country as an autocratic leader.

As with all autocrats, the Museveni regime is intent on controlling the flow of information. There have been various cases of online censorship and information suppression in the past. But it was the announcement earlier this year of a social media tax which has really angered the people.

This tax of 5 US cents or 3 UK pence a day is hugely prohibitive in a country where most people earn less than a dollar a day. The backlash has been significant with many Uganda’s turning to VPNs to avoid the tax.

After violent protests in the capital, Kampala, the Government reluctantly agreed to review the tax, but unsurprisingly swiftly decided to double-down on it. This has led to further protests, again violent, which have also seen the arrest of popular musician and opposition politician Bobi Wine.

Since his arrest, Bobi Wine appears to have been subjected to significant torture and physical abuse while in Government detention. He appeared in court with significant bruising and facial injuries, while more recent reports suggest he has severe internal injuries, possibly including a damaged kidney.

These claims have been dismissed by the Museveni regime as ‘fake news’, a common term used of late to reject accurate yet inconvenient media reports.

But as public anger spirals and Ugandan’s once again take to the streets, the response of Museveni is to threaten to switch off the internet altogether to stop such ‘fake news’ from disseminating.

Uganda’s online porn ban

At the same time, earlier this month, the Museveni regime also instructed all ISPs in Uganda to block access to all pornographic websites across the country.

There have been multiple reports that the Uganda Communications Commission has instructed all ISPs to block 10 international and 17 local porn websites, all of which are amongst the most popular in the country.

After only a handful of ISPs initially complied with the demand, a deadline of the beginning of September was set, after which the Museveni regime has threatened ISPs with serious repercussions if they do not comply.

The move has its origins in the country’s amusingly named Pornography Control Committee, which was created as a result of the 2014 Anti-Pornography Act, and which is supposed to collect and destroy pornographic material across the country.

This appears to be its first major foray into online pornography and needless to say many Ugandans are far from happy.

So, with no online porn, and potentially no internet access at all, what can Ugandan’s do to ensure the continued flow of information and explicit content despite their Government’s efforts to stop it?

Using a VPN to access porn and information in Uganda

As with evading the social media tax, the answer is to use a VPN. Many have already gone down this route, but most have opted to use free VPNs. This, however, is a false economy as almost all free VPNs make user data easily available and the possible repercussions if caught using one in Uganda could be severe.

Ugandan’s are therefore much better to opt for a real VPN. These can appear to be too expensive for Ugandan users, but with a bit of creative thinking, it is possible to sign up for an affordable price and enjoy unrestricted internet access.

For example, IPVanish has recently upped the number of simultaneous connections allowed with each account to ten. This means that if ten Ugandan’s club together they can bring down the price of a subscription to IPVanish to as little as 84 shillings per day each, and all enjoy the benefits of a reputable VPN provider.

It is to be hoped that a combination of popular pressure and protests on the streets of Kenya, combined with the inevitable international condemnation that such actions will generate, will eventually persuade the Museveni to see sense and back down on their recent flawed internet policies.

But this is by no means certain. And as long as Museveni remains in control in Uganda, the people there who want to enjoy free access to the internet have no choice but to opt for a VPN to do so.

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