Ugandans exit social media en masse as new tax kicks in
Millions of people in Uganda have abandoned social media after a new social media tax was imposed on the use of networking sites and on money transactions using mobile phones.
Critics claim that new tax is designed to restrict free speech and muzzle government critics. Social media has become a major source of news and political information in Uganda.
The punitive tax was introduced in July last year to curb ‘gossip’ on websites which President Yoweri Museveni labelled ‘over the top’.
President Museveni also said the tax would generate revenue to turn the country into a middle-income one by 2020.
The tax affects 60 websites including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter and has already seen at least 2.5 million people shun internet subscriptions.
The number of people paying the levy has also dropped by 1.2 million.
In the three months following the introduction of the levy, the number of internet subscriptions to such services fell by more than 2.5 million, according to the Uganda Communications Commission.
Fears have also been raised over the impact on the economy.
A lack of formal banking services in Uganda means many people rely on mobile phone companies to send money by text message.
The number of people paying the tax for sites listed as “Over the Top” (OTT) – chosen by the government because they offer voice and messaging services – fell by 1.2 million.
The value of mobile money transactions also fell by almost a quarter, to 14.8tn Ugandan shillings (£3.4bn) between June and September.
When the tax was first introduced, protesters took to the streets to demonstrate and some activists even sued the government for restricting their rights to free speech and access to information.