In the latest episode of “African Leaders Shooting Their Nations In The Foot”, millions of Ugandans have stopped using the internet as a result of the social media tax introduced by the Ugandan government last year.
Is this really about the economy
The social media tax was introduced back in June last year has chased away subscribers by the numbers and one could say the tax has achieved one of its goals whilst failing on the other. The tax was meant to cut down on “idle talk” online whilst also raising revenue for the government. It’s pretty obvious to see what goal has proven attainable but unfortunately, the latter of the goals is simply not being met. Internet subscriptions have subsequently fallen by 2.5 million subscribers since introduction of the tax and both telcos and the governments are losing sizeable amounts with economic fears being raised.
A Ugandan based lawyer who spoke to The Guardian has said the tax has failed to raise the revenue government expected and unfortunately mobile money transactions have also taken a significant hit (falling by close to 25%), to 14.8tn Ugandan shillings (US$4.5bn) between June and September.
“Normalcy will be restored”
Uganda Communications Commission spokesperson Ibrahim Bbosa’s words seem to indicate that the government is ready to remain steadfast and stay the course of their decision at all costs:
If I can access internet at work, I would rather access it at work and probably not access it when I am off work premises. Probably, sooner or later, people will realise this is something [they] can live with. The pattern will return to normal.
This is a weird statement because for the pattern to “return to normal” usage would have to increase but one of the initial goals of the tax was to reduce the time people spend on social media. As long as the tax is there it’s unlikely that there will be any normalcy restored to the existing usage patterns and it will be interesting to see if the government is willing to continue losing the absurds of money they are losing in a bid to stifle free speech.
It is also clear that if this was about revenue collection the government would have ended their 8-month experiment once usage started to plummet affecting other areas of the economy.
Social media sites have become a huge part of modern day communication and it seems Uganda is hellbent on making sure that information access continues to remain elusive within their borders all because of the political unrest that may result from people using the internet.