A group of traders under the Urban Smart Traders Business Association Limited has issued a threat of legal action against the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) if the government fails to reopen Facebook within two weeks.
Represented by Nalukoola Advocates & Solicitors, Urban Smart Traders Business Association Limited has sent a notice of intent to sue the UCC regarding the closure of Facebook.
The association comprises 550 registered members who are online traders using various digital platforms such as Instagram, WhatsApp, Twitter, TikTok, e-commerce customized sites, and other consumer-to-buyer marketplace websites.
These traders heavily rely on Facebook as a primary source of e-marketing and trade.
“Prior to the unfortunate closure of Facebook on January 12, 2021, our client’s members were actively operating 100 Facebook groups, 500 online websites, and 280 mini-websites, with the sole aim of increasing online connectivity and visibility to enhance their business income,” stated the notice.
The company claims to have lost approximately 3,874,000 clients who were active Facebook subscribers in Uganda at the time of the closure, along with 2,989,000,000 (two point nine billion) potential clients in the global market.
Lawyer Luyimbazi Nalukoola, representing the traders, highlighted that the continued closure of Facebook has resulted in significant financial losses for its members, estimated at around 66 billion Ugandan Shillings.
This loss extends to the supply chain, affecting 650 boda bodas, 88 lorries and pickups, and 180 taxis.
“In response, some of our client’s members resorted to opening accounts on local online marketplace websites, incurring exorbitant fees of 138.8% higher than Facebook, resulting in a loss of approximately 18 million Shillings in subscription fees alone,” he added.
The traders are seeking legal recourse to address the impact of Facebook’s closure and the subsequent financial losses suffered by its members.
Since the run-up to the 2021 general election, the government shut down Facebook due to abuse by users, but the platform has remained closed since then.
Currently, Ugandans access Facebook using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which can be expensive for them, while many others have completely quit the social media platform.
In 2022, President Museveni remarked that Uganda is progressing well without Facebook, stating, “The other day I checked to see whether bananas are still being produced. I thought bananas would stop if Facebook closed. I checked and found cows are still milking, and fish is still in the lake. We can exist without Facebook. Those biased people should not bother us.”
The traders expressed concern that the continued shutdown of Facebook in Uganda is taking a toll on the country’s digital markets.