Ugandans raise volume on social media tax protests

Campaigners against Uganda’s tax on social media have been broadcasting calls on loudspeakers urging users not to pay the levy, playing a game of cat-and-mouse with police, witnesses said on Tuesday.

Since the start of July, access to social media networks, as well as dating sites Tinder and Grindr, has been blocked unless users pay a 200-shilling (R0.72) daily tax.

In an unusual protest, a recorded message was broadcast from loudspeakers on Monday at strategic points across the capital Kampala, according to witnesses.

“Don’t pay tax on social media and mobile money transactions,” it said. “It hurts your pocket and is driving us into poverty.”

Mobile internet users are required to input a code on their phones to prove payment of the charge before they are able to access the sites.

The scheme has met angry opposition from users, some of whom have turned to virtual private networks (VPNs) to evade the fee while others have joined sporadic street protests.

But open demonstration in the Ugandan capital Kampala is uncommon as police and security forces quickly put down dissenting voices with teargas, batons and in the case of a recent march against the social media tax, live fire.

Police intervened to seize the loudspeakers on Monday — but witnesses said the protest continued on Tuesday.

‘Rise up against the taxes’ 

“On Monday, police impounded the loudspeakers in Kampala,” police spokesman Emilian Kayima told AFP. “We shall get to know who is behind it.”

Kayima claimed the unusual protest action was the brainchild of criminals who wanted crowds to form that would be vulnerable to terrorist attack but offered no evidence for his claim.

Donati Kusemererwa, 53, owns a shop in Kampala’s Kikuubo commercial district and told AFP that protesters had stationed a public address system outside his business.

“We arrived at work (Tuesday), we found the loudspeakers on the main gate saying ‘we don’t pay the social media tax’,” he said.

“The voice on the recording says people should rise up against the taxes imposed on us by government.”

Mechanic Nelson Wabwire, 31, said similar setups been found elsewhere in the city and confiscated by police.

“People now fear to be identified because police are brutal. They resort to working quietly,” Wabwire said.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda said that the government would review the tax after angry opposition but ministers have since vowed to continue with the levy.

President Yoweri Museveni previously justified the charge saying many Ugandans did not pay enough tax and should not “donate money to foreign companies through chatting or even lying” on social media.

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