Uganda is set to introduce a tax on people’s use of social media in July.
Finance Minister Matia Kasaija has told Reuters that the tax will charge 200 Ugandan shillings (equivalent to £0.04, based on current exchange rates) per day for each mobile phone subscriber using social media channels such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
Mr Kasaija further claimed that the tax is designed to raise money for the security of the country and to extend electricity, ‘so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently’.
Over 40% of Uganda’s population use the internet, while an estimated 23.6 million people are mobile phone subscribers.
Uganda’s GDP per capita, the gross domestic product of a country divided by its population, was just over US$660 in 2016, while data costs in Africa are said to be some of the highest in the world.
Human rights activists are concerned the move more represents an attempt to clamp down on freedom of expression and social media use, than is aimed at raising revenue for ‘the security of the country’, as Mr Kasaija termed it. During the 2016 Presidential election, for example, social media platforms Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were blocked for four days in the country.
Nicholas Opiyo, human rights lawyer and founder of civil liberties organisation, Chapter Four Uganda, has warned that the tax will ‘limit access to information, to services [and]will impact on businesses that are being run by young entrepreneurs‘.
The planned tax follows last December’s Ugandan parliamentary vote by 315 votes to 62 to remove age limits on the office of President. President Yoweri Museveni (pictured above, with Theresa May) has been in power since 1986 and would have previously been ineligible for re-election when his fifth term as President expires in 2021 as he will be 77 years old by then, and the age limit would have barred from presidential office anybody aged 75 or over.
Uganda has slipped in the last two years from 102nd in Reporters Without Borders’ ‘World Press Freedom’ rankings to 117th this year, with the organisation stating: ‘Acts of intimidation and violence against reporters are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda.’
Meanwhile, Freedom House’s annual ‘Freedom on the Net’ report judged Uganda’s internet freedom status as ‘Partly Free’. Actions taken by the Ugandan government cited as justification by Freedom House for their awarding the country only a ‘Partly Free’ status, were amendments in April 2017 to Uganda’s Communications Bill removing parliamentary oversight over Uganda’s ICT Minister’s supervision of the communications sector and two separate incidents of individuals being arrested for ‘offensive communications’ for criticising President Museveni.
President Museveni has most recently been in the news for his comments which appeared to suggest the banning of oral sex in Uganda, while Freedom House has also described the credibility of Uganda’s regular elections as deteriorating over time.
According to Mr Kasaija, the proposal to tax people for social media use has already been approved by Uganda’s cabinet and is now to be reviewed by Parliament.
The plans thus may yet not happen, as is currently the case with the pronouncement at the end of 2017 by Godfrey Mutavazi, Executive Director of Uganda Communication Commission, that Uganda’s government was developing its own social media platforms for citizens. Neither these platforms, nor the government’s claimed purchase of a ‘pornography-detecting machine’ have materialised so far.