Uganda’s controversial tax on over the top (OTT) applications like Facebook, Skype, Whatsapp, Telegram, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat and Instagram among others took effect July 1st and mobile subscribers are expected to pay the tax via various Mobile money platforms in the country.
This move by Uganda’s government has plunged many users in the country into a social media darkness even as millions think its a move to keep away the populace from following up news and discussions with friends and family especially those below the poverty lineas mobile money is being taxed too according to the country’s new budget. The laws were passed in June of this year by Uganda’s parliament and users of a number of popular platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts, Yahoo Messenger, Instagram, YouTube and Skype have been affected.
Social media users in Uganda will now and henceforth be required to pay a daily fee of KES5.20 (UGS200) to unlock access to their favorite social media platforms.
President Yoweri Museveni famously pushed for the imposition of the levy, arguing that social media encourages gossip.
Young lawmakers put up a strong opposition to this new law but did little to deter its passing. Led by vocal Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyaggulanyi aka Bobi Wine, they argued the taxes amounted to double taxation.
Ugandan government countered saying the needs of poor citizens had been put into consideration and that the revenue collected from the taxes would be used to provide more pressing services such as free education, healthcare and improvements on roads that the citizens demand.
The new Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill will also impose various other taxes, including a 1 percent levy on the total value of all mobile money transactions.
Uganda’s State Minister for Finance David Bahati told parliament that the tax increases were needed to help Uganda pay off its growing national debt.
In a joint statement on June 29th, Uganda’s major telecom operators, including the local division of South Africa’s MTN Group, said they will ask customers to pay a new government tax on social media accounts before they can access them. The tax will be implemented through them on individual SIM cards used to access social media.
More than two million Ugandans are active on Facebook, according to official figures, many of whom see the tax as a government crackdown on free speech. This new tax comes as neighbor Tanzania introduced a controversial fee of $930 on bloggers and online publishers, a decision that is being challenged by local activists in court.
|OTT services covered by Uganda’s new social media tax
|Voxer Walkie Talkie