On July 1, the Ugandan government began enforcing a new law that imposes a 200 shilling [US$0.05, 2£0.04] daily levy on people using internet
messaging platforms, despite protests to the contrary from local and international online free speech advocates.
This move, according to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, has the dual purpose of strengthening the national budget
and also curtailing gossip by Ugandans on social media. It was also popular among local telecom providers, who do not directly benefit from the use of foreign-based over-the-top services such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
The polic was preceded with an order to register all new mobile SIM cards with the National Biometric Data Centre. The measure also forces Ugandans to only use mobile money accounts in order to recharge their SIM cards and makes it mandatory to pay a one percent levy on the total value of transaction on any mobile money transaction .
These new policies make it more costly for Ugandans -- especially those living in poverty -- to communicate and perform everyday tasks using their mobile devices.
On July 2, civil society and legal
advocates in Uganda filed a court challenge against the law, arguing that it violates the country's constitution.
A protester demonstrates his opposition to Uganda's social media tax at a gathering on July 6, 2018.
On July 6, concerned citizens and civil society advocates issued a joint press statement [see below] calling on Ugandans to avoid paying the tax by using alternate methods to exchange money and access social media, and to join a
National Day of Peaceful Protest Against Unfair Taxation on Wednesday, July 11, 2018.
The Global Voices community and our network of friends and allies wish to support this and other efforts to demand an end to the tax. We believe
that this tax is simply a ploy to censor Ugandans and gag dissenting voices.
We believe social media should be freely accessible for all people, including Ugandans. The Ugandan social media tax must go!
Monday, July 9, beginning at 14:00 East Africa Time, we plan to tweet at community leaders, government and diplomatic actors, and media influencers to increase awareness and draw public attention to the issue. We especially encourage fellow bloggers and
social media users all over the world to join us.
Uganda has just introduced a significant tax on social media usage. It is set at 200 shillings a day which adds up to about 3% of the average annual income if used daily.
Use of a long list of websites including Facebook, Whatsapp, Twitter, Tinder
triggers the daily taxed through billing by ISPs.
And as you may expect Uganda internet users are turning to VPNs so that ISPs can't detect access to taxed apps and websites.
In response, the government says it has ordered local ISPs to
begin blocking VPNs. In a statement, Uganda Communications Commission Executive Director, Godfrey Mutabazi said that Internet service providers would be ordered to block VPNs to prevent citizens from avoiding the social media tax.
Dispatch that ISPs are already taking action to prevent VPNs from being accessible but since there are so many, it won't be possible to block them all. In the meantime, the government is trying to portray VPNs as more expensive to use than the tax. In a
post on Facebook this morning, Mutabazi promoted the tax as the sensible economic option.
it appears that many Ugandans are outraged at the prospect of yet another tax and see VPN use as a protest, despite any additional cost. Opposition figures
have already called for a boycott with support coming in from all corners of society. The government appears unmoved, however. Frank Tumwebaze, Minister of Information Technology and Communications said:
If we tax
essentials like water, why not social media?
Uganda is reviewing its decision to impose taxes on the use of social media and on money transactions by mobile phone, following a public backlash.
Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda made the announcement soon after police
broke up a protest against the taxes.
President Yoweri Museveni had pushed for the taxes to boost government revenue and to restrict criticism via WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter.
The social media tax is 6000 Uganda shillings a month
(£1.25), but it is represents about 3% of the average wage. Activists argue that while the amount may seem little, it represents a significant slice of what poorer people are paying for getting online. There is also a 1% levy on the total value of mobile
phone money transactions, affecting poorer Ugandans who rarely use banking services.
In a statement to parliament, Rugunda said:
Government is now reviewing the taxes taking into consideration the concerns of
the public and its implications on the budget.
A revised budget is due to be tabled in parliament on 19 July.
Update: And the government continues to repress the people
Internet censors of the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) have instructed telecommunications companies and ISPs to block a list of pornography websites. Godfrey Mutabazi, Executive Director at the UCC, has said that they have identified 17 popular
local and 10 international pornography websites which they, as the UCC, have asked ISP's and telecommunications companies to block.
The commission received the list of porn sites from the Pornography Control Committee. The committee has
established that the list of the websites attached hereto is currently streaming pornography to Uganda in breach of section 13 of the Anti-Pornography Act, 2014.
Mutabazi has warned that telecom companies and internet providers risk penalties if
they don't comply with the new directive.
Perhaps the recent introduction of high taxes on social media websites has pushed Ugandans onto the next best internet freebie, porn.
Despite the prevailing porn ban in Uganda, it can safely be said that pornographic materials and information has never been more consumed than now. The latest web rankings from Alexa show that Ugandans consume more pornographic materials and information
than news and government information, among other relevant materials.
The US website Porn555.com is ranked as the 6th most popular website in Uganda, ahead of Daily Monitor, Twitter, BBC among others.
The country's internet censors claim to
have blocked 30 of the main porn websites so perhaps that is the reason for porn555 to be the most popular rather then the more obvious PornHub, YouPorn, xHamster etc.