Uganda to initiate social media tax

President Yoweri Museveni. (Reuters)

President Yoweri Museveni. (Reuters)

Uganda’s Parliament voted to implement a new social media tax last Wednesday, limiting access to apps such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.

The new social media tax will take effect from July 1 at the start of the fiscal year. According to BBC, the taxes are an attempt by the government to help alleviate the country’s debt. Additionally, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in office since 1986, advocated for the tax saying that social media “encouraged gossip.”

The new tax will charge social media users 200 shillings (R0.66) a day, according to Reuters. If a citizen uses social media on a day to day basis, he or she will spend about R240 per year, which is about 3% of an average Ugandan’s income. According to Reuters, the average income of an individual in Uganda is about R7 735.

The new bill has gained a negative response because it limits freedom of expression. In an interview with The Daily Monitor, the executive director for Human Rights Initiative Livingstone Sewanyana said that the new tax, “will not only hurt those who criticise government, but even innocent people. That tax aims to exploit local people. It’s diversionary, deceptive and burdensome to the people.”

Members of Uganda’s Parliament are defending the new tax, stating that it will not be burdensome to social media users. In an interview with CNN, Parliamentary spokesperson Chris Obore said, “ It is just a redistributive tax as the government is out to look for money from those who have to finance projects. The tax is very small. 200 shillings (50 cents) in Uganda to a dollar is very negligible. People in Uganda will not find it too expensive.”

The chairperson of the Budget Committee of Parliament Amos Lugolobi believes that the new tax will help bolster the economy. “The proposal to tax social media is a wise move if government is to sustain its revenue collection,” he said

According to Reuters, 40% of the country’s population — 16-million people — use the internet. Uganda is not the only country that is curbing access to content. Kenya recently signed a bill criminalising fake news, creating wariness over posting on social media and other online platforms. 

Arielle Schwartz

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