Uganda’s Social Media Tax is Leaving People Disconnected — And Failing to Meet Revenue Targets


by James Propa, Activist Post:

The number of people using the Internet in Uganda has dropped by more than 12 percentage points since July 2018, when the country’s so-called “social media tax” was put into force.

Prior to the tax’s implementation, 47.4 percent of people in Uganda were using the Internet. Three months after the tax was put in place, that number had fallen to 35 percent.

The tax resulted from an Excise Duty Bill passed in parliament in May 2018, which allows Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) to tax users’ access to IP-based over-the-top (OTT) communication services, including all major social media services. In practice, the rule has forced people to pay 200UGX or roughly USD $0.054 per day for social media access.

President Yoweri Museveni and several government officials said this was an opportunity to curb online rumor-mongering and generate more revenue for the East African nation.

But for many, this is a violation of freedom of speech and a form of double taxation, as citizens already pay a tax on data bundles to access the Internet. Opposition members of parliament, journalists, activists and the general public argued that the tax would lock thousands of people outof online services — especially youth, who make up more than 70 percent of the population.

The tax was the subject of large-scale public protests in July and August 2018. During one protest against the tax, key opposition leader, activist and musician Bobi Wine said that the tax was enforced to oppress the young generation.

Global Voices also took part in advocating against the tax by holding a tweetathon for Ugandans and supporters across the region to speak out and raise awareness.

The government expected to collect about UGX 24 billion in revenue from the tax every quarter. But in the first quarter after the tax’s implementation, they collected UGX 20 billion. In the second quarter, ending December 2018, they had collected only UGX 16 billion.

A tweet from Uganda Communications Commission showed the trend of declining OTT tax revenues and Internet use between July and September 2018.

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