It seems too odd to be true, but Uganda President, Yoweri Museveni, has made good his earlier threats that Ugandans will have to pay 200 shillings levy daily to access social networking platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Viber.
Museveni personally pushed for the changes, arguing that social media was encouraging gossip around the country. He also argued the country was losing time and money when Ugandans spend their time on social media, and thus to deter them, the daily tax will see most of them seek more productive ways to use their time.
The parliament of Uganda has just passed the bill into law, making a very controversial tax plan for not just the country, but the continent of Africa and the world at large. The law takes full effect starting July 1.
However, there are doubts as to how the government will go on collecting those taxes. Given the fact the country is also struggling with ensuring all mobile phone SIM cars in the country are properly registered. Reports show that of the 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers, only 17 million have internet access.
It has not been made clear just how precisely the Ugandan tax authority will identify which Ugandan is accessing a social media site.
The social media taxes is part of the new Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill that also imposes a 1% levy on the total value of mobile money transaction. This move has been furiously opposed by civil society groups who argue it will only make things tougher for the poorest Ugandans who don’t typically use traditional banking services.
Back in March, Museveni wrote a letter to the Minister of Finance, Matia Kasaija, arguing that the revenue that will be collected from social media users will go a long way in helping the country “cope with consequences of olugambo [gossiping].”
However, he was very categorical that the taxation should not be imposed on internet data in general, as it will drive up the cost for users using the internet for educational, research, or references purposes.
Some critics say the imposition of tax on social media is tantamount to curtailing the people’s freedom of expression. The Minister Kasija dismissed these concerns arguing:
“We’re looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that people can enjoy more social media, more often, more frequently.”
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