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Tech Giants' Dreams of Free Internet Wither in African Backlash

Authorities are curbing the use of social media to stifle opposition.

People browse the internet on phones after it was reconnected following a government-mandated blackout in Kampala on Jan. 18.

People browse the internet on phones after it was reconnected following a government-mandated blackout in Kampala on Jan. 18.

Photographer: Badru Katumba/AFP

Uganda’s shutdown of social-media sites in January, right before a disputed election handed President Yoweri Museveni a sixth term, dealt a devastating blow to rice trader Elizabeth Nagunda: Her sales slowed to a near-halt.

“Before I would advertise, market my products on Facebook, WhatsApp, and even get customer orders” via those platforms, she said in an interview in Kampala, the capital. “I can’t run any more adverts online. Even if I do, there are no people to view them.”