Zambians flocked to vote for a president Thursday in tightly contested polls pitting incumbent Edgar Lungu and his long-time rival Hakainde Hichilema, as the internet saw partial restrictions.
After 12 hours of voting, polling stations started closing at 6 pm (1600 GMT) with several hundred still in queues waiting to cast ballots.
The closely fought presidential election is seen as a test of the country’s democratic credentials after a campaign dominated by economic woes and a debt crisis.
Sixteen candidates were vying for the top job, but the frontrunners are Lungu, 64, and business tycoon Hichilema, who are facing off at the polls for the third time.
It is Hichilema’a sixth attempt for the presidency.
“We are confident that we will carry the day,” he said after voting at a secondary school in a leafy suburb of Lusaka. “People want change — you can see it in their faces,” he told reporters as supporters crowding around him chanted “Bally! Bally!”
Addressing opposition fears of fraud, Hichilema said Zambia’s next leader “must be determined by the… voters, not the people who count the votes”.
But by afternoon the internet was partially shut down, with global observatory NetBlocks confirming that “social media and messaging platforms including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Messenger are now restricted.”
Student Edward Musayani, 26, who had been queueing for four hours to vote, said he checked his phone in the early afternoon and found that WhatsApp and Facebook had been switched off.
“That’s quite unfortunate in a democratic dispensation like ours… People should have access to information to make informed decisions,” he said while waiting to vote in the Chawama township.
“You are shutting down the voice of people and this will impact the election, how people view the election… People will be asking why,” he said.
The government had threatened to cut off internet access if people peddled “falsehoods that could destabilise” the election.
Lungu exuded confidence that he would retain the job he has held for the past six years in the copper-rich southern African country.
“We are winning, otherwise I wouldn’t have been in the race if we were not winning,” Lungu said earlier Thursday after he cast his ballot at a nursery school in Chawama.
The vote “is a test of democracy in Zambia, it is a test ultimately of how fair and freely” the electoral commission will run it, said political economist Trevor Simumba, adding that the “real test will be in the counting process.”
A flagging economy and rising living costs have eroded the incumbent’s support base in recent years, surveys suggest.
Lungu is accused of borrowing unsustainably, particularly from Chinese creditors, to finance a spree of infrastructure projects.
Under him, Zambia became the first African country to default on its sovereign debt since the coronavirus pandemic began, while inflation soared to 24.6 percent in June, the highest rate in more than a decade.
Winding queues of hundreds of people formed before dawn outside polling stations hours before voting was to open.
The atmosphere was generally relaxed during voting.
Copper miner Thomas Wandu, 41, had been queueing for seven hours to vote for Lungu.
“Underground, things are not how they are supposed to be,” he said, referring to what he described as low and delayed wages from his Chinese employers.
Zambia is the second biggest producer of copper in Africa after the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the world’s eighth producer.
Lungu’s critics point to poverty and joblessness in the midst of glittering infrastructure.
Lungu and Hichilema supporters clashed in the runup to voting, prompting Lungu to order an unprecedented deployment of the army.
Around seven million citizens were eligible to vote for a president, legislators and local government representatives.
The winning candidate must acquire more than 50 percent of votes to avoid a second-round runoff.
UN chief Antonio Guterres is “closely” following the vote and called for the creation of “an environment conducive to credible, inclusive and peaceful elections”, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
President Joe Biden said on Friday that social media misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccinations is “killing people” and the White House said Facebook needs to clean up its act.
“They’re killing people. The only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And they’re killing people,” Biden told reporters at the White House, as he left for a weekend at the presidential retreat in Camp David.
The White House is turning up the pressure on social media companies to weed out what officials say is widely spread misinformation on coronavirus vaccinations.
According to US health officials, a current spike in Covid-19 deaths and illnesses around the country is almost exclusively hitting people who remain unvaccinated.
“There is a clear message that is coming through: this is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Rochelle Walensky told reporters on Friday.
Many of those refusing vaccinations, despite the ease of availability throughout the United States, have said they do not trust the shots.
Skepticism is being fueled both by false posts spread by anti-vaccine activists online and by Republican politicians claiming the vaccinations are part of attempts at government control.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that Facebook and others are not doing enough to push back.
“Everybody has a role to play in making sure there’s accurate information,” she said.
Psaki said the White House was taking a more active approach in calling out what it sees as misinformation but insisted that Facebook in particular should react more quickly in taking down problematic posts.
– Prolific fake news posters –
“There’s about 12 people who are producing 65 percent of anti-vaccine misinformation on social media platforms. All of them remain active on Facebook, despite some even being banned on other platforms,” Psaki said, without identifying those dozen posters.
The White House has “proposed that they create a robust enforcement strategy that bridges their properties and provides transparency about the rules,” she said.
The turning up of the volume against fake news immediately drew accusations from right-wing media that Biden was installing a “Big Brother” type surveillance over citizens’ opinions.
Facebook, which has contracted an army of independent outside fact checkers, including from AFP, to try and clean up its content, pushed back at the White House claims.
“We will not be distracted by accusations which aren’t supported by the facts,” a Facebook spokesperson told AFP.
“The fact is that more than two billion people have viewed authoritative information about Covid-19 and vaccines on Facebook, which is more than any other place on the internet. More than 3.3 million Americans have also used our vaccine finder tool to find out where and how to get a vaccine. The facts show that Facebook is helping save lives. Period.”
Earlier, Facebook said it was taking “aggressive action against misinformation about Covid-19 and vaccines to protect public health,” and that it had removed “more than 18 million pieces of Covid misinformation,” and disabled accounts spreading false information.
The CDC reported more than 33,000 new cases in the United States on Thursday, bringing the seven-day average up to 26,306, a 70 percent rise on the week before.
The seven-day average of hospital admissions is about 2,790 per day, an increase of 36 percent. And after weeks of declines, the seven-day average of deaths was 211, an increase of 26 percent.
The spikes are focused in communities with low vaccination rates and “unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths,” said Jeff Zients, White House coronavirus response coordinator.
The new wave is driven by the Delta variant, which now accounts for more than 80 percent of new cases, according to the covSpectrum tracker.
The United Nations on Wednesday warned that public and private actors are intervening against online content in ways that curtail rights and muzzle criticism.
“You see a digital world that is unwelcoming and frequently unsafe for people trying to exercise their rights,” said Peggy Hicks of the UN Rights Office in Geneva.
“You also see a host of government and company responses that risk making the situation worse,” she told a press briefing.
According to a tally by the agency, 40 new laws regulating social media have been adopted around the world in the past two years, with 30 more under examination.
“Virtually every country that has adopted laws relating to online content has jeopardised human rights in doing so,” she said.
In responding to public pressure to regulate online content, “some governments see such legislation as a way to limit speech they dislike and even silence civil society and critics,” Hicks said.
“We can, and should, make the internet a safer place, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of fundamental rights,” she said.
She said the problem of “overbroad or ill-defined language” crossed ideological lines, from Vietnam to Australia, and Bangladesh to Singapore.
Hicks underscored the “critical importance of adopting human rights-based approaches to confronting these challenges,” adding: “We need to sound a loud and persistent alarm, given the tendency for flawed regulations to be cloned, and bad practices to flourish.”
Hicks pointed to calls in Britain for stringent regulations in response to online racist attacks against three black England players who missed penalties in Sunday’s Euro 2020 final.
Also at the briefing was UN human rights officer Marcelo Daher, who urged that “actual people — not algorithms — review complex decisions.”
WhatsApp has launched legal action to stop India enforcing new social media rules that would break its privacy guarantees, the messaging platform told AFP on Wednesday.
The regulations, which took effect the same day, come at a time of growing tensions between social media giants and the Indian government, which has demanded tech companies remove content critical of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
WhatsApp told AFP it had filed a case in the Delhi High Court.
The Facebook subsidiary did not give details of the legal action but made clear its opposition to the new guidelines that would also affect Twitter, Instagram and other platforms.
The new rules demand “traceability” of messages, which requires social media companies to give details of the “first originator” of posts deemed to undermine India’s sovereignty, state security or public order.
They also require platforms to take down posts depicting nudity or manipulated photos within 24 hours of receiving a complaint.
“Requiring messaging apps to ‘trace’ chats is the equivalent of asking us to keep a fingerprint of every single message sent on WhatsApp, which would break end-to-end encryption and fundamentally undermines people’s right to privacy,” WhatsApp said in a statement.
The Nigerian Army has condemned and threatened to sue those involved in sharing the graphic pictures of personnel who paid the supreme price in the cause of defending and protecting the country from its adversaries on social media.
In a statement by the Director of Army Public Relations, Brigadier General Mohammed Yerima, “This act is not only unpatriotic but very insensitive and utterly reprehensible”.
According to him, the Nigerian Army considers this despicable and unpatriotic act totally unacceptable and will henceforth take legal actions to protect troops who die in action from being ridiculed on social media or any platform.
“Officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army deployed to various theatres of internal security operations are on legitimate duties and are in the harm’s way to defend and protect the country from those who are intent on destroying it.
“In the course of carrying out this constitutional mandate, troops put their lives on the line to ensure that innocent citizens and institutions of the state are protected from violent criminals. In some cases, these gallant officers and soldiers are meted with the worst form of savagery by the heartless adversaries whose intent is to instill fear in the citizenry.
“While the Nigerian Army and its personnel understand the nature of the noble calling and are ever ready to confront any danger of adversity on the way, what is most unfathomable is the glee with which some people share the gory pictures of officers and soldiers who are either killed-in-action or Wounded-in-action in the media”, the statement added.
He noted that these unpatriotic acts are often done without any modicum of consideration for the memories of the departed personnel or their family members. “In some cases, their loved ones do find out about their unfortunate death in such callous manner before they are even contacted by the military authorities. One can only imagine the trauma and pain such families go through waking up to see the gory pictures of their loved ones splashed on social media”.
Read Full Statement Below:
PROTEST AGAINST INDISCRIMINATE AND INSENSITIVE SHARING OF GRAPHIC PICTURES OF KILL-IN-ACTION SOLDIERS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
The Nigerian Army condemns in the strongest term possible, the indiscriminate sharing on social media of graphic pictures of personnel who paid the supreme price in the cause of defending and protecting the country from its adversaries.
This act is not only unpatriotic but very insensitive and utterly reprehensible.
Officers and soldiers of the Nigerian Army deployed to various theatres of internal security operations are on legitimate duties and are in the harm’s way to defend and protect the country from those who are intent on destroying it.
In the course of carrying out this constitutional mandate, troops put their lives on the line to ensure that innocent citizens and institutions of the state are protected from violent criminals. In some cases, these gallant officers and soldiers are meted with the worst form of savagery by the heartless adversaries whose intent is to instill fear on of the citizenry.
While the Nigerian Army and its personnel understand the nature of the noble calling and are ever ready to confront any danger of adversity on the way, what is most unfathomable is the glee with which some people share the gory pictures of officers and soldiers who are either killed-in-action or Wounded-in-action in the media.
These unpatriotic acts are often done without any modicum of consideration for the memories of the departed personnel or their family members. In some cases, their loved ones do find out about their unfortunate death in such callous manner before they are even contacted by the military authorities. One can only imagine the trauma and pain such families go through waking up to see the gory pictures of their loved ones splashed on the social media.
The Nigerian Army consider this despicable and unpatriotic act totally unacceptable and will henceforth take legal actions to protect troops who die in action from being ridiculed on social media or any platform.
Mohammed Yerima Brigadier General Director Army Public Relations 27 April 2021
Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi, has called on the Department of State Services (DSS) and Nigeria Police to invite Nigerians who make ‘unsubstantiated statements’ on social media to explain reasons for their comments.
The governor who made this comment during an interview on Channels Television breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily said this is important to prevent an increase in crime.
“The level of crimes in the country is as a result of unpatriotic acts of a lot of us. We, leaders, we come out on television and then we speak, indict other regions, we speak against other regions, we pick on the leader of the country and then castigate the leader of the country. There is no patriotism at all.
“The way to prevent this thing is that if you are making unsubstantiated statements in the social media, the police, the SSS, you should be invited to explain and this is no politics because the country cannot fold our hands and allow people to plunge the country into another war. This is very important,” Umahi said.
The All Progressives Congress (APC) governor noted that these unpatriotic comments are capable of inciting division and might eventually plunge the country into a crisis or lead to war.
“I was told that one of the world wars started with a family quarrel and so if you are making a statement on social media calling it freedom of speech, you must come to the law to substantiate it.
“What I have in the (Ebonyi) State, the communal clash now should have stopped but for the politicians who are making unguarded accusations and statements in the social media and then people outside the state will just cash on that and emotions will arise and the problem will continue.”
Umahi’s reaction comes a week after the Minister of Information, Lai Mohammed said Twitter chose Ghana as the headquarters for its African operations, due to unpatriotic comments of Nigerians who demarket Nigeria.
Mr Mohammed said the tech giants chose Accra, Ghana over Nigeria because the nation’s West African neighbours are champions of democracy and abide by the rule of law.
“The reasons cited by Twitter for citing the headquarters in Accra, Ghana is that Accra is a champion of democracy and there is rule of law in the country, among other reasons. This is what you get when you de-market your country,” the Minister stated.
Facebook’s independent Oversight Board announced Tuesday it would start accepting requests to remove “harmful content” that users believe has been wrongly allowed to remain on the leading social network.
The move broadens the mandate of the so-called “supreme court” of Facebook, which up to now had been tasked with reviewing instances of whether content was improperly taken down from Facebook or Instagram.
The Oversight Board, set up by Facebook to deal with contentious questions of content moderation, began operating last year and issued its first rulings in January. The decisions, which can overrule Facebook management, are binding.
“Enabling users to appeal content they want to see removed from Facebook is a significant expansion of the Oversight Board’s capabilities,” said Thomas Hughes, director of the Oversight Board administration.
“The Board was created to ensure that fewer decisions about highly significant content issues be taken by Facebook alone, and that better decisions can be delivered through an independent and transparent process that works to safeguard human rights and freedom of expression. Today’s announcement is another step towards realizing this.”
Users who feel that harmful posts, photos, videos, comments, and shares remain online will be able to appeal to the panel to have it removed.
“We expect everyone on Facebook and Instagram to be able to appeal content left up over the coming weeks,” said Guy Rosen, head of integrity at Facebook.
“We’re glad the Oversight Board is expanding their scope and impact, and look forward to their future decisions and recommendations.”
The board will set up a process including privacy protections for users seeking takedown requests.
Members of the oversight board come from various countries and include jurists, human rights activists, journalists, a Nobel peace laureate, and a former Danish prime minister.
The board is reviewing tens of thousands of cases, including Facebook’s decision to ban former US President Donald Trump.
Former French national team striker Thierry Henry has said he is quitting all social media until platforms do more to tackle racism and harassment, becoming the latest celebrity to scale down their online presence over abuse.
In a statement shared with his combined 14.8 million followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the former Arsenal player said he would remove himself from all social media as of Saturday.
“The sheer volume of racism, bullying, and resulting mental torture is too toxic to ignore,” he wrote, calling for greater “accountability” online.
“It is far too easy to create an account, use it to bully and harass without consequence and still remain anonymous,” he added.
“Until this changes, I will be disabling my accounts across all social platforms. I’m hoping this happens soon.”
Like many tech giants, Twitter is under increasing scrutiny for facilitating torrents of invective against users, commonly from anonymous accounts, in posts that are often racist or misogynistic.
“Politicians and government officials are constantly evolving how they use our service, and we want our policies to remain relevant to the ever-changing nature of political discourse on Twitter and protect the health of the public conversation,” the Twitter safety team said in a blog post.
“That’s why we’re reviewing our approach to world leaders and seeking your input.”
Twitter will be asking users their views in a survey in 14 languages, from Friday until April 12.
“Generally, we want to hear from the public on whether or not they believe world leaders should be subject to the same rules as others on Twitter. And, should a world leader violate a rule, what type of enforcement action is appropriate,” the statement said.
“We’re also in the process of consulting with a range of human rights experts, civil society organizations, and academics worldwide whose feedback will be reflected in forthcoming revisions to the policy framework.”
Uganda’s communications regulator has ordered the shutdown of social media and messaging applications, ahead of a highly-charged election on Thursday.
The vote will come after one of the bloodiest campaigns in years, as veteran leader Yoweri Museveni seeks a sixth term against popstar-turned-MP Bobi Wine, who has managed to fire up a youthful population that has mostly known only one president.
Wine, who has spent most of the campaign in a bulletproof vest and combat helmet facing teargas, bullets and numerous arrests, on Tuesday urged his supporters to “protect” the election from rigging.
Despite the 38-year-old’s popularity, few observers believe he can pull off a victory against Museveni, a 76-year-old former rebel leader who has ruled since 1986 and effectively crushed any opposition.
Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter were down in the East African nation on Tuesday, after the communications regulator ordered a social media shutdown.
In a letter seen by AFP, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director Irene Sewankambo ordered telecommunications companies to “immediately suspend any access and use” of social media and online messaging platforms.
An industry insider who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity said that the order was first communicated in “nasty and aggressive” phone calls to the telecommunications companies on Tuesday morning.
The calls made it clear the order was retaliation for Facebook deleting pro-government accounts for seeking to manipulate public debate ahead of the election.
Facebook said Monday that the accounts were linked to the ministry of information and technology.
UCC spokesman Ibrahim Bbosa told AFP: “I am not aware of a directive to switch off internet or social media platforms.”
“There has been slow connectivity on the platforms which can be partly due to heavy traffic as a result of the forthcoming elections” he said.
– ‘Guard the vote’ –
Some 18 million voters are registered for the presidential and parliamentary ballot, which takes place after a chaotic campaign.
Journalists covering opposition rallies have been attacked, government critics locked up, and election monitors prosecuted, raising concerns over the transparency of the electoral process.
Two days of protests in November left 54 people dead.
European Union High Representative Josep Borrell said in a statement calling for a credible vote that “the excessive use of force by law enforcement and security agencies has seriously tarnished this electoral process.”
Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, told journalists his home had been raided and his staff beaten by security forces on Tuesday morning.
He said the ruling party was trying to scare voters away from the ballot box and urged them to record any abuses or irregularities on polling day.
“We are telling you, you will not be breaking the law when you stay and protect your vote. We encourage you to use your phones, use your cameras. Your phone is a very powerful weapon, that camera is very powerful, use it.”
– Young and free –
Wine’s rise has rattled Museveni, who has outlasted all but two of Africa’s long-serving rulers, and watched as ageing strongmen elsewhere on the continent have been ousted in popular, youth-led uprisings.
Mueveni presides over a population with a median age less than 16, that is increasingly urban and educated.
Though he has campaigned under the slogan “securing your future”, the economic boom enjoyed during his early years has faded.
Only 75,000 new jobs are created each year for the 700,000 youth reaching working age, trapping most in poorly-paid farm labour, the World Bank says.
“We want change. There are no jobs, no money, we can’t go to study and when we go to the hospital, there is no medicine,” said 23-year-old Dorah Wasswa, hawking cheap wares on a pot-holed Kampala street.
– ‘We are too many’ –
A wily strategist, Museveni has outfoxed challengers to remain firmly in control, though analysts say his position is largely assured through patronage and force, rather than popular appeal.
He confronts in this election a divided opposition, with 10 candidates tackling him individually rather than presenting a united front.
Uganda is experiencing a rise in coronavirus cases and the United Nations and rights watchdogs say special election measures to contain the pandemic have been weaponised to browbeat Museveni’s opponents while leaving the ruling party untouched.
Wine says his supporters are “peaceful but assertive” and vows nonviolent protest should the election appear rigged.
“We come with only words. He (Museveni) comes to us with bullets, bombs, grenades and teargas. We are non-violent. We are just too many for him,” Wine told AFP in a recent interview.
US federal and state anti-trust enforcers filed suit against Facebook on Wednesday claiming the social media giant abused its dominant position with its acquisitions of messaging services Instagram and WhatsApp.
Separate suits filed by the Federal Trade Commission and a coalition of state officials called for the divestment of Instagram and WhatsApp, services which have billions of users and are part of the Facebook “family” of applications.
“Facebook’s actions to entrench and maintain its monopoly deny consumers the benefits of competition,” said Ian Conner, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition.
“Our aim is to roll back Facebook’s anticompetitive conduct and restore competition so that innovation and free competition can thrive.”
A separate legal action was filed by state antitrust enforcers from 48 US states and territories.
“For nearly a decade, Facebook has used its dominance and monopoly power to crush smaller rivals and snuff out competition, all at the expense of everyday users,” said New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who leads the coalition.
“Facebook used its power to suppress competition so it could take advantage of users and make billions by converting personal data into a cash cow.”
The suits allege Facebook sought to squelch competition by acquiring the messaging applications — Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014.
The action presages a fierce court battle seeking to force Facebook to divest the apps which have become an increasingly important element of the business model of the California giant and integrated into its technology.
Facebook said it would offer a detailed response after reviewing the cases but added: “Years after the FTC cleared our acquisitions, the government now wants a do-over with no regard for the impact that precedent would have on the broader business community or the people who choose our products every day.”
The case is likely to hinge not only on Facebook’s share of social media users but the vast troves of data it collects from some three billion users worldwide.
“Facebook has been spending its time surveilling users’ personal information and profiting from it,” James said.
“No company should have this much unchecked power over our personal information, and our social interactions.”
Tiffany Li, a Boston University law professor who studies the sector, said that while Facebook has rivals bidding for internet users’ attention it has a big advantage because of its access to data.
“One company owning multiple platforms is not, in itself, necessarily a bar to competition,” Li said on Twitter.
“However, one company having exclusive ownership of vast amounts of user data, with no potential for interoperability or access to competitors, can be anti-competitive.”
Li added that new startups “have an uphill battle to reach users due to network effects, even if they have better products.”
The FTC announced earlier this year it would review acquisitions made by five Big Tech firms over the past decade, opening the door to a wave of potential antitrust investigations.
The consumer protection agency said it would review deals made by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Google parent Alphabet since 2010 amid growing complaints about tech platforms which have dominated key economic sectors.
The US Justice Department, which shares antitrust enforcement with the FTC, in October sued Google parent Alphabet, accusing the Silicon Valley giant of maintaining an “illegal monopoly” in online search and advertising and opening the door to a potential breakup. Eleven US states joined that case.
Scrutiny has been increasing for the large tech firms which have extended their dominance in recent years, including during the global pandemic as more people turn to internet platforms for goods and services.