Uganda has finally done it. Two months ago, we reported that Uganda was pondering on whether to introduce a social media tax for its citizens.
Well now, the East African country has imposed a 200 shilling ($0.0531) per day levy on people using social media platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber, and Twitter. The new law will come into force from July 1, 2018. Uganda’s President, Yoweri Museveni has been wary of people’s habit of using these platforms saying that social media promotes gossip. Put differently, Museveni wants to tax opinions, insults, prejudices and those unnecessary friendly chats.
Opponents of the law say it aims to stifle criticism of President Yoweri Museveni, who has been in power since 1986. However, Uganda’s Finance Minister has tried to justify the levy by bringing an economic argument saying that revenue collected from the levy will help the country to pay off the country’s growing national debt. The levy will rack up around $19 per year per individual in a country where Gross Domestic Product per capita was around $615 in 2016, according to the World Bank. So Uganda is poor compared to Zimbabwe hence the levy will pile more financial burden on poor Ugandan’s.
Despite the Finance Minister’s justification, I think the legislation is for limiting freedom of expression and consolidating Yoweri Museveni’s power.
At the same time, Uganda is struggling to ensure all mobile phone SIM cards are properly registered. Therefore, I wonder how authorities will be able to identify Ugandans accessing social media sites.
East Africans countries are hating the internet
Uganda is not alone in the repression of the internet (social media, blogging etc.), other East African countries like Tanzania and Kenya are also passing laws. Tanzania introduced hefty fees for bloggers (although it was later retracted) and Kenya is now demanding people to have licenses to post videos online. Both laws were (are) attempting to stifle freedom of expression.
Zimbabwe enters the fray
With Tanzania and Kenya flirting with these kinds of laws, it seems like a trend that Zimbabwe will join. Last month, President’s Adviser, Chris Mutsvangwa made a chilling comment during World Press Freedom Day Zimbabwe saying that government has to take measures to regulate social media. And before that, Zimbabwe Defence Forces issued a statement warning people not to abuse social media. Since Zimbabwe’s government has an affinity to join trends (banning crypto’s), I wouldn’t be surprised if I hear that such a law is introduced.