People In Uganda To Pay Tax For Using Social Media and WhatsApp

Telco ad on a van in Kampala, Uganda. Photo by futureatlas.com via Flickr

The Ugandan government approved a new tax law that will apply levies to a range of goods and services, including mobile money accounts and social media services such as Facebook and WhatsApp.

Ugandans will have to cough up 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) a day to use popular platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp.

President Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986, is reported in local media as saying that social media encourages gossip. 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 WhatsApp.

“Dear Uganda, I will not hesitate to sign the Social Media Bill into law once it lands on my desk. Social Media bill is seeking to tax every Ugandan using all social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter, Insta, WhatsApp on a daily basis,” Museveni said in a tweet.

He added: “The tax is very small. 200 shillings in Uganda to a dollar is very negligble. People in Uganda will not find it too expensive.”

However, many Ugandans on social media see the tax as a government crackdown on free speech.

Reuters reported the tax would be implemented through mobile phone operators on individual SIM cards used to access social media.

The Collaboration on International ICT Policy in East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) published a report in 2016 that argued that the Ugandan government was stifling digital rights.

Over two million Ugandans are active on Facebook, according to official figures. This new tax comes as neighboring country Tanzania recently introduced a controversial fee of $930 on bloggers and online publishers, a decision that is being challenged by local activists in court.

Citing a recent rise in murders and kidnappings, the Ugandan government has also ended a two-month freeze on SIM card sales and ordered telecom companies to register all new mobile SIM cards with the National Biometrics Data Center. It has banned the sale of scratchable recharge cards as well.

Authorities say violent criminals communicate using unregistered SIM cards in order to plan the attacks without being traced.

While the ban on SIM card sales has been lifted, new regulations will now require Ugandans to provide vendors with their national identification cards so that their personal data can be verified on electronic card readers at the time of purchase. Under the new law, which goes into effect July 1, customers will also be made to use mobile money accounts in order to recharge their SIM cards.

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