On July 1, just as Uganda’s government promised, many of the country’s citizens woke up to the realization that they could no longer access services like WhatsApp and Twitter. This only affected people who had not yet paid a new tax: Uganda’s new social media and mobile money tax. Without payment, access isn’t given.
In an effort to keep as much control over its growing young population as possible, the Ugandan government has implemented many tactics over the years. In 2016, it blocked access to the internet altogether during an election season. Without access to social media sites, the government said there would be far less threats of violence made toward candidates.
This new tax, which is mainly targeted toward social media use, is being touted as a way to cut back on online bullying while also raising money to pay for government services. This idea came after president Yoweri Museveni complained that idle talk on social media was costing the country much-needed time and income.
The fee also impacts mobile money usage, which now has a 1% tax. As Uganda’s tech-savvy population grows, however, many people are starting to use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access these sites and services online without having to pay the new tax (5 cents/day).
Those saying 200/- is little money or that VPNs cost more forget that people are not protesting the amount being paid, but the principle behind taxing every little thing from an already suffering economy so a corrupt government can get even more money to steal.#SocialMediaTax
— Solomon King (@solomonking) July 1, 2018
Major telecoms providers MTN, Airtel, and Africell, issued a joint statement informing customers of how to pay the new tax with mobile money services of MTN and Airtel.
Uganda blocks Social media & other OTT SERVICES.
Many have taken it to Private Secure Networks, VPN & VPS to avoid the daily ugx 200.
Daily's ago public servants, ministers privileges were increased by over 73%. Cc. @Info_Activism #IntelPostUpdates #SocialMediaTax pic.twitter.com/lsnSz3ZX4E
— IntelPost (@intelpostug) July 1, 2018
Internet penetration stands at just 22% in Uganda, according to the World Bank. Social networks constitute the internet for those already online, with Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter being the most popular apps.