By Tracy Kababiito
A new tax on social media and mobile money transactions in Uganda has spurred scores of young Ugandans into the streets and online to protest what they see as an unfair economic burden and a governmental attack on free expression.
On May 30, 2018, the government of Uganda passed into law the Excise Duty Bill 2018, which sought to tax social media and Mobile Money usage in Uganda. Led by the ruling President of Uganda for 32 years, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the law was officially effected on July 1, 2018. The law requires users of over-the-top (OTT) platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Instagram and many other platforms to pay a fee of 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.005).
The tax may seem minimal to some Ugandans depending on their financial status but it has affected very many Ugandans, especially the youth. In a country of over 41 million Ugandans as estimated by the United Nations, 80% of whom are youth between the ages of ??? and ???, over 400,000 youth graduate every year but only a mere 13% find employment. This begs the question, “How are the 87% funding for themselves?”
The ghetto President Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu, known commonly as Bobi Wine, has been a vocal instrument on
Twitter ever since the bill was passed, contributing to the trending hashtag #ThisTaxMustGo.
“…[T]here’s no amount of bullets, teargas or arrests that will stop us. Some of our colleagues have been beaten and others arrested. They must be freed for they have nothing against the police but rather the terrible tax,” Bobi Wine tweeted three days ago.
This tweet came after a national peaceful demonstration on July 11 against the Mobile Money and social media tax. Bobi Wine added that the youth were demanding to be at the table while issues that affect them were being legislated. Youth represent the majority of this country and their voices matter, he wrote.
The Finance Minister of Uganda, David Bahati, said the legislation had been implemented to raise funds for public services.
President Museveni wrote that the tax had been intended to curb so-called “olugambo” (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) on social media.
“I am not going to propose a tax on Internet use for educational, research or reference purposes…these must remain free. However, olugambo on social media…we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo,” President Museveni wrote.
But many have cried that the effects of the tax far outweigh the benefits, cutting across to all Ugandans and especially affecting youth and other vulnerable groups. The marginalized groups such as women who run the majority of the mobile money stations around the country are now in a state of misery as they said they hardly earn any money ever since the tax was imposed.
“The government’s decision to pass this bill is unjust and not well calculated,” said Nyangoma Evelyn, a mobile money agent in Namasuba. She continued to lament that lately, two days will pass by without the sight of a customer at her post. Many women in this area have cried out to the government to remove the tax altogether because it had left them jobless and in a financial fix.
Some Ugandans have argued that the tax discourages Internet usage by undermining people’s freedom of expression, suppressing online businesses in a country where employment is already an issue and creativity often blossoms from knowledge that Ugandans acquire on the Internet.
“…[H]elp sign this petition to bring awareness about these unfair taxes to the masses,” Bobi Wine tweeted on Saturday.
The Kyandondo East MP is leading a petition that is expected to carry at least 150,000 signatures alongside the views of the youth on the social media Tax.
Raymond Mujuni, an investigative journalist with NBS Television, also tweeted, “#ThisTaxMustGo filled a high court petition yesterday requesting an immediate injunction on the collection of the tax.”
Many more Ugandans have joined the race to scrap off the tax.
“…I salute all you comrades who donned red and marched in the streets against taxes on social media and mobile money,” Dr. Stella Nyanzi tweeted on Thursday.
But amidst this opposition, some Ugandans do support the new social media tax because they believe that it will help to spur the transformation that the country needs.
Popular singer BebeCool said that social media tax was a necessity.
“The tax is going to help us curb the use of social media. People have been using it for the wrong reasons, tarnishing people’s names, to publish nude pictures among others,” he said.
Citizens of Uganda who oppose the tax, however, are still hopeful that government will scrap it, as the Prime Minister of Uganda Ruhakana Rugunda has put into consideration the amendment of the law.