Social Media Tax Prompts Millions of Ugandans to Quit the Internet

A tax created to curb "gossip" might have a profound effect on the country's economy.

social media tax
Musician turned politician Robert Kyagulanyi (C) is joined by other activists in Kampala during a demonstration to protest a controversial tax on the use of social media. (SUMY SADURNI/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

Millions of Ugandan citizens have made the decision to leave the internet altogether after the government imposed a punishing tax on social media use and money transactions using mobile phones.

Th levy, introduced in June to reduce “idle talk” online and raise revenue, affects more than 60 online platforms including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. To use such sites, Ugandans are expected to pay a tax of 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) a day, The Guardian reported.

In the initial three months after the tax was introduced, the number of internet subscriptions fell by more than 2.5 million, according to the Uganda Communications Commission. Economic fears for the nation arose.

Uganda’s finance minister, David Bahati, said the legislation aimed to raise revenue for public services but, at the same time, the country’s president, Yoweri Museveni, wrote to the finance ministry in March urging the tax be passed as a consequence for online “gossip.”

Critics have described the tax as an attempt to restrict free speech, and warned of the damaging impact on the economy, according to The Guardian. A lack of formal banking services in Uganda means many people rely on mobile phone companies to send money by text message.

“The tax has not generated the revenue the government anticipated,” said Irene Ikomu, a lawyer based in the capital, Kampala.

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