On 14th January 2021, a few hours before we went to the polls to vote for our next/current/forever president, the internet in Uganda went dark.

It really felt like someone flipped a switch.

One minute, we were all happy, online, and posting our usual nonsense.

The next we had to actually talk to each other IRL. Like cavemen! It was all kinds of odd. Except it also wasn’t.

After we all collectively blinked and stopped checking our phones every few seconds to see if internet had come back, life continued. We all kind of just kept on moving. We have a saying in Uganda: “Regardless, we move” – meaning that no matter what comes your way, no matter what shit life throws at you, you just have to keep on moving, and that’s exactly what we did.

We had elections. People voted. Someone won. No one was surprised.

Here are some random observations from Our Days of Darkness 2021:


  1. Government is learning (and they know about VPNs)
  2. The Internet is a fragmented place
  3. Information wants to flow
  4. Tools that rely on an always-on internet should be avoided
  5. The jury is out: social media is not always good
  6. The Internet is life
  7. The internet is not life
  8. Streaming is a bitch!
  9. Conclusion


It has taken a while, but government has learnt how to control this mode of communication, and it seems the answer is: use a Big Off Switch.
The last two elections had partial internet shutdowns. The government tried to restrict access to certain (ahem) problematic sites (basically Facebook and Twitter), but because information will always flow, most people found a way past it. We were introduced to the wonderful, murky world of free VPNs and we all jumped aboard.
This time round, we naively thought it would be as easy. No such luck.
First, access to certain VPN apps in the Play Store was restricted in Uganda (thanks, Google). Although it wouldn’t have mattered if we had them anyway. Because it turns out that VPNs don’t work very well when there’s no internet to connect to.


The internet was once thought of as the ultimate border-breaker, a place where information could not be contained. However, it increasingly looks like the future internet will be a fragmented place. Each of us will have the internet that our governments allow, and for us here in Uganda, we have the Big Off Switch kind.


Despite the internet going dark, we were still informed on what was going on in the country.
Traditional media is still strong in Uganda and most of us still listen to radio and watch television. We did it more when internet went dark. There was a highly sanitised version of events on television and radio. (Our Communications Commission doesn’t tolerate “non-official” versions of events by its broadcast licensees.)
But there was also good old word of mouth, aka Social Media before Social Media.
Although information did not spread as fast, it still spread. The heavy-handedness of security forces was common knowledge. The pro-government vs anti-goverment debates did not disappear, they just moved into the bars and into homes and onto conversations with boda riders.


This might get harder and harder to do, since most apps are moving to cloud-based model driven by subscriptions. But if you are in the business of creativity, especially in Uganda or Kenya or other African countries, and if your money relies on your tools being alway available, you cannot rely on purely digital tools to produce work.
Digital is not yet the answer.


The power of Social media is well understood by the government and its absence was particularly felt when the internet went dark.
But… I do not think that a social media shutdown during highly volatile times is such a bad idea.
Social media (Facebook especially) is designed to spread inflammatory information fast, whether or not it is true. And during (what would have been) a tight election, that can create a volatile situation.
Internet die-hards may disagree, but I do think that the internet shutdown lowered the temperature a bit. The government was aided by a Facebooks closure of some of their pages a few days before the election, which allowed them to cry interference, but this shutdown was always planned.
Although our internet connection levels are very low, social media is still a powerful signal booster. There is a trickle-down effect with social that happens when someone reads a story and they tell it to someone else who tells it to someone else and so on.
In other words, the whole village doesn’t need to be online to get news. If the the village gossip is connected, that’s usually more than enough, and gossips aren’t known for double-checking their facts before they spread them.


The Internet is how we experience the world nowadays, especially us in the creative businesses. Seemingly unimportant things like instagramming your food, are actually quite important. The Internet is how we socialise, how we find out the news, how we follow sports, and how we communicate with our loved ones.


However… the internet is isn’t everything. If the shutdown taught us anything, it taught us that we CAN (and should be able to) survive without it.
For at least 3 days. Maybe 5.
It was nice do things without first asking Google. We couldn’t order online, but we could still walk to the market. We couldn’t tweet, but talking one-on-one actually works better. Who knew?


I’ve always collected and owned music. Until I started streaming.
When the internet went down, I realised the HUGE problem with streaming. First of all, your subscription doesn’t mean you’re renting the music. Your subscription means you’re renting right to listen to the music, which is just stupid when you think about it. Second, even downloaded files were oddly inaccessible without a connection. And we saw this across both Android and IOS apps. It seems that sometimes your downloaded files aren’t really downloaded. Streaming is now and it is probably the future. But the fact that it is a paid service that sits on top of a paid service
Until the internet is a utility, it will always be too expensive for most of us in Kenya, Uganda and other parts of Africa.


We Ugandans have dryly began referring to the internet shutdown as “being in the bush”, a common euphemism in these parts for going to war. (Our former/current/future leaders refer to their bush days a lot.)
Truth is, it wasn’t that bad. The internet has changed. And the business needs of companies like Facebook and Google will not always mesh with the political needs of governments such as ours.
I have a lot more to say about this, but the internet is back and there are many Reddit subs I need to catch up on.

SGN is H.N.I.C at Red Clay Sawasawa.

We believe that African Stories should dominate African screens.

He writes about business and the business of creativity; music; behavioural psychology; economics and finance; and general internet BS.

Email: sgn[at]

Twitter: @misterdeejayug