Millions of Ugandans have called it quits on the Internet streets after a new ‘social media’ tax took effect with critics claiming it is restricting free speech and the ability to criticize the government in this day and age.
Social media users are now parting with 200 Ugandan shillings (5 KES) a day. It should be remembered that this punitive tax was introduced in July 2018 to curb ‘gossip’ on websites that President, Yoweri Museveni, labelled ‘over the top’.
It affects 60 websites including Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter and has already seen at least 2.5million people shun Internet subscriptions. The number of people paying the levy has dropped by 1.2million.
When the tax was first introduced protesters took to the streets to demonstrate and some activists even sued the government for restricting their rights to free speech and access to information.
Heightened exposure to information via the Internet has led to Ugandan citizens being more critical about political conditions in the country that has kept the government on the edge and perhaps this would mark the beginning of more restrictive measure put in place by the government of the day to silence her Citizens.
In 2016, Museveni —who has ruled Uganda for the last 32 years – ordered all social media sites to be shut down during the elections to stop the spread of ‘misleading information’.
Most Ugandans have vowed not to pay the tax and installed virtual private network (VPN) software on their smartphones which allows them to use the otherwise banned social networks by making it seem as though they are in a different country.
Fears have been raised that the economy will also suffer as mobile phone companies already have to fire staff and the value of mobile money transactions fell by almost a quarter in the first three months of the new tax.
While the rapidly decreasing number of Internet users has sparked new calls for the tax to be scrapped, Ibrahim Bbosa, spokesperson of the Uganda Communications Commission, expects usage to recover.