Mounting Public Pressure Forces Review Of Uganda’s New Social Media Tax

Written by Peter Pedroncelli

Lawmakers in Uganda have reacted to heavy pressure from protesters in the country by agreeing to review the controversial mobile money and social media tax imposed on citizens who make use of those digital services.

The controversial social media tax was met with protests in the country’s capital, Kampala, with citizens marching to parliament before clashing with police, leading to pressure on government and an impending review of the law in question, according to ITWebAfrica.

Prime Minister Ruhakana Ruganda confirmed during proceedings in parliament that President Yoweri Museveni has agreed to review the law, saying, “We are amending the bill after taking into consideration public concerns. The new bill will be presented to parliament on Jul. 19.”

The Ugandan parliament passed the Excise Duty Amendment Bill in June, and the laws within the bill came into effect on Jul. 1, 2018, according to ITNewsAfrica.

Ugandans have had to pay $0.05 per day to use social media, while a one percent tax is being imposed on all mobile money transactions. This is forcing all SIM cards to be registered for mobile money services in order to pay the necessary taxes.

When introducing the concept to Ugandans in the past months, president Museveni explained that government would introduce taxes to discourage the use of social media, as he said that people used such platforms for lugambo, which is a Gwere word meaning gossip or the spreading of rumours, DailyNations reported.

In addition to sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, messaging apps such as WhatsApp and Skype are considered social media platforms in this regard, and use of those applications would therefore also result in the tax needing to be paid.

social media tax
This is not the first time Ugandans have protested against the government when their rights have been infringed. Photo – Flickr

Social media tax under fire

Protesters have called the social media tax an attack on free speech, and a way for the president to silence his increasing critics, many of whom are young.

In addition to the protests from the citizenry of Uganda, the law is being challenged in the constitutional court by tech firm Cyber Law Initiative, according to PCTechmag.

The petition to the court argues that the tax is an infringement of free speech and will also have a negative effect on internet-based or enabled startups, entrepreneurship and creativity in the country.

They want the constitutional court to issue an order that stops government from imposing any tax on internet or social media usage.

Uganda has a total population of 41 million people, with 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers and 17 million using mobile devices to connect to the internet, according to Reuters. Facebook users alone in the country amount to around 2.2 million, reports Internetworldstats.

Considering these 2.2 million Facebook users alone, and with the social media tax in its current form, that would translate to around $110,000 daily for the domestic financing budget, not to mention the collections from other social media users and the one percent mobile money tax.