𝐵𝑦 𝑃𝑎𝑡𝑟𝑖𝑐𝑘 𝑂𝑑𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑜 𝐿𝑎𝑛𝑔𝑜
On a February 12, 2002 news briefing, former US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld explained the limitations of intelligence reports: “There are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”
Rumsfeld’s logic may be a little difficult to understand, but his wisdom can be a useful guide when consuming information from social media and the internet in general. I read somewhere that consuming information flow from the internet is like trying to drink water shooting at high-speed from a 12-inch hose pipe. You will either get knocked over, choke or drown.
As it has become increasingly clear, during the 2016 US Presidential Election, it was alleged, but generally confirmed that trolls and bots operating out of Russia mounted a massive, sustained, and targeted misinformation warfare that tilted the scales of the US elections in favor of Russian preferred candidate.
Uganda might be in the throes of such disinformation warfare right now.
There are thousands of online “newspapers” churning out scary and appalling headlines by the hour daily. Their names are too colorful for this article to reprint. For example, a small insignificant story, for instance, about the unproved interrogation of ex-NUP Party Leader by the UPDF Chief of Defense Forces (CDF), is picked up, embellished, and accelerated 1000 times. Simply by saturating the social media space by this narrative, millions of gullible Ugandans are led to believe that the State has some sinister plot against this minor, insignificant, political party whose only importance is their nuisance value. They’re like a small creak in a car. The creak can’t stop the car from moving, but the noise it makes irritates the passengers.
I assess that Uganda might be facing a true unknown unknown being formatted from the cyberspace.
A faceless entity, operating from outside Uganda and motivated by pure unfiltered hate is mounting a sustained misinformation war against the State of Uganda. We know that the Arab Spring was largely sustained and guided by western intelligence agencies who bred the monsters and when it became dangerous, simply cut loose and left them to their devices. The Libyans and the Syrians can give a testimony to that.
The Chinese Government has only been able to survive Western misinformation attacks through its fabled Great Firewall of China. Russia is also largely cut off from the world wide web. It’s a great risk for a country to store sensitive information on servers under foreign jurisdictions. The next big war is about who controls the bytes and the megabytes, but not who controls the nuclear launch codes.
The internet is like fire. It’s a useful tool in a controlled environment. But once left to run amok, it becomes destructive. In the 2021 elections, Uganda might be facing serious asymmetrical warfare that will not be fought with batons, teargas, and bullets by LDUs, but rather by digital tools that you can’t see and touch. This threat is the true unknown unknown, we face.
Our intelligence agencies need to rise to the job before it’s too late. The majority of our young people, who constitute 80% of the population, consume their news via digital channels. Newspaper sales are dropping dramatically. FM Radio listenership is plateauing in urban areas in favor of online radios. For example, James Onen aka Fat Boy, the former face of Sanyu FM Radio broke off from the station and founded his online radio station called Reckless Radio. Judging from the enthusiastic reception he got, he has carved off a sizable chunk of loyal listenership from Sanyu FM and other urban stations in Kampala and around the country. And this is the trend as internet costs lower further.
In brief, the danger might not come from a wild-eyed gun-toting Joseph Kony, but from an obese 150kg man living in the garage of his mom armed with a computer and an internet connection.
The writer is NRM Mobilizer from Minakulu, Oyam district.