The parliament of Uganda has passed a tax on social media use in the country. Beginning on July 1, Ugandans will have to pay 200 Ugandan shillings ($0.05) a day to use popular social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and WhatsApp. The legislation also imposes a 1 percent tariff on all mobile money transactions.
As more Ugandans use social media, the tax could become an important source of revenue for the country. Over two million Ugandans are active on Facebook, according to official figures. Parliamentary spokesman Chris Obore defended the new tax, saying, “The tax is very small. 200 shillings in Uganda to a dollar is very negligible. People in Uganda will not find it too expensive.”
The Ugandan government has said the tax is needed to raise money for the country and to avoid donor aid. Government officials and proponents of the legislation say the money raised will be used to benefit Ugandans by providing free education, healthcare and roads. President Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986, said he will sign the bill once presented for his approval. Back in April, he wrote that “gossiping on social media” must be taxed because the country needs “resources to cope with the consequences.”
The tax would be implemented through mobile phone operators on individual SIM cards used to access social media. However, experts are questioning how the country will be able to accurately accomplish this. The nation already has a problem with ensuring the SIM cards of the nation’s 23.6 million mobile phone subscribers are properly registered.
Critics of the new tax have argued that it will cause a financial burden to poorer subscribers. Katusabe Godfrey, a legislator from Uganda’s biggest opposition party, said, “We are losing money to corruption yet we want to tax the poor who are trying to survive. I don’t want to be part of the parliament that strangles the life out of Ugandans.”
This is not the first time that Uganda has moved to restrict social media use. Last June, the Uganda Media Center announced that it would be scanning social media profiles to find posts critical of the government. During the 2016 presidential elections, the government blocked Facebook and Twitter, while also placing Museveni’s main opponent under house arrest. The legitimacy of that election has been called into question.