Uganda's Regressive Social Media Tax Stays, at Least For Now

WIRED | 7/19/2018 | Emily Dreyfuss
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The Ugandan parliament referred a controversial new social media tax to a committee for further consideration on Thursday, after protesters took to the streets of Kampala last week. The tax, which went into effect July 1, charges 200 Ugandan shillings (or $0.05) per day of use for 60 mobile apps, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp. Critics say it puts an undue burden on the poorest members of society, and that it is an assault on freedom of expression.

“The primary motivation behind [the social media tax] is to silence speech, to reduce the spaces where people can exchange information and to really be able to control, with the recognition that online platforms have become the more commonly used way for sharing information,” says Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

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While Uganda’s social media tax is the first of its kind, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it follows a wider trend in the region of governments limiting internet access and speech. Neighboring Tanzania recently passed a law charging bloggers a $930 annual fee to publish online. And earlier this week, Egypt passed a bill allowing the government to block any social media account with more than 5,000 followers if they find it has spread "fake news." Uganda's social media tax was passed as part of a larger bill, which also included an unpopular 1 percent tax on all mobile transactions that has since been reduced.

Political analysts have categorized Uganda’s government as “dictatorship light.” The country’s 73-year-old president, Yoweri Museveni, has been in power since 1986. He abolished term limits in 2005 and in January overturned a rule that would have forced him to retire at age 75, instead allowing him to be president for life—a move critics called illegal. During elections in...
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