Social Media Tax – A Middle Finger to Ugandans

By on June 4, 2018

The month of june in Uganda is usually a month of reflection. It was in the month of June in 1974 that Palestinian terrorists hijacked an Air France flight and forced it to land at Entebbe airport. The events that proceeded have been well document over the years with the general acceptance that it was a huge mistake. It was in the month of June in 2014 that two piglets were smuggled into the premises of Parliament not for an epic barbecue but for a political statement – something about Members of Parliament and corruption.

June is also a very great month for people around the world to visit Uganda for two important reasons. First the weather around this time of the year is to die for.  It is traditionally the beginning of the dry season so many parks and wildlife locations are very accessible with a lush green, fresh from the awesomeness of the rainy season.

Secondly and perhaps most importantly, it is in June that we have the Uganda Martyrs Day. The Uganda Martyrs were an enthusiastic and zealous lot of 23 Anglican and 22 Catholic folks who because of their conversion to Christianity earned themselves an execution on the orders of the then king of Buganda Mwanga II. This unfortunate series of events happened between 1885 and 1887.

Generally in Uganda, June is a busy month.

Now, the Government in conjuction with the Parliament has given us one more thing to sit back and reflect on – the spanking new ‘Social Media Tax’. If you have not been in the know, the Governmnet of Uganda in conjuction with the Parliament have decided to levy what we are now calling the Social Media Tax.

And that’s not all, the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill, 2018 seeks to tax social media as well as mobile money usage in Uganda. This essentially means that from July 1, 2018, anyone using over-the-top (OTP) platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will pay UGX 200 (about $0.05 cents) everyday to access the platforms. It also means that there will be a compulsory 1% levy on every mobile money transaction.

What does this mean? Well, quite simply it means we are screwed!

Brace yourselves

The title of this blog post might have suggested that I am going to give a number of well thought out points regarding why and how I think this new Social Media Tax is a middle finger to Ugandans but far from it. I am just here to rant. Nothing more.

The president and his henchmen argue that this Social Media tax will help raise much needed revenue. And they are absolutely right. Shitloads of dime will be milked from the citizenry. And I am confident it shall be gathered very well, poured into the coffers with the rusty lock and then devoured by the usual culprits of corruption. Which brings me to my next point. Why the hell have we not yet legalized corruption? This demon has become part and partial of our everyday lives it is a surprise we have not legalized it and benefited from it somehow. In  fact, if there is anything that needs to be taxed, it is corruption, not social media or mobile money for that matter. It is so widespread in this country that if we taxed even half of the corruption instances, we would be closer to the middle income status than we are  now.

The corruption index has consistenetly been worsening over the years there is a general fear that whatever money we collect, most of it will be embezzled or gobbled up by a few corrupt individuals.

People here play around with figures so much that our own parliament failed to beat the deadline for approving the national budget for the financial year 2018/2019. Why? Pretty simple really – there was a mix-up in the figures – a fancy way of saying someone was trying to inflate figures. After a rather fiery debate that lasted almost four hours, sandwiched between two adjournments, Parliament failed to agree and approve the budget because according to Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah, the figures that were presented could not be reconciled. Imagine that!

Replace Illinois with Uganda and you are good to go! Oh and the guy on the bed could be a shade darker.

So the president is quick to identify areas that need taxing but he can not exactly put a stop to the corruption. If it were up to me, I would liken this regime to Mobutu Sese Seko who between 1965 and 1997 ammassed nearly $5 Billion through embezzlement, or Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines who between 1965 and 1986 collected between $5 Billion and $10 Billion over a 21 year period. I could even liken this regime to that of  Muhamen Suharto of Indonesia who between 1967 and 1998 is rumoured to have embezzled between $15 Billion and $35 Billion.

I am not saying Citizen 001 is amassing wealth but in all honesty, if we looked back at how much as a country we have lost to corruption and embezzlement since 1986, the figures would be staggeringly hilarious.

While still on the subject of hilarity, Citizen 001 mentioned that the reason why he wanted to put in place the Social Media tax is to cut on the gossip that Ugandans do. WOW! This dude seriously hopes to reduce how many hours people spend on Mama Tendo and Kilimani Mums and Dads by enacting a worthless tax that will slow down the progress of Uganda by a huge mile. Uganda was beginning to make great strides in joining the rest of the world on the Internet and now we have to sit back and watch the world move forward as we get shackled by Social Media Tax.

Many young Ugandans are doing brilliant things on the internet and they are connecting with their peers from all over the world. And what does Citizen 001 do? He goes ahead and throws a spanner in the works with a ridiculous and archaic decision.

On another day, an act of this kind would have been branded anti-people because it goes against everything right and just. Fewer people will afford to express themselves on these Social Media Platforms that the Government is keen to suffocate. It also means that fewer people will be able to access helpful information to grow themselves and their communities because, well, there is this thing called Social Media tax. And we are supposed to believe that this is a Government of the people by the people?

Some observers have even argued that Citizen 001 is doing this to stifle any attempts at free speech and freedom of expression on the internet. I can not say they are entirely wrong because why else would the president of a country want to disempower the population if not to remove or limit the platforms on which they can put the Government to the sword?

I guess for some of us whose lives are built around presence online we can only say that at least now the Government realizes the importance of Social Media. It is only sad that they now want to roll us a few years back.

Whatever happens, we shall continue the struggle to bring more people onto these social media platforms, one at a time. I am positive that some day, one day, maybe, perhaps, we shall actually make enough noise online to create and effect some real change offline.

Aluta Continua.

“If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.” ― George Washington

a.k.a Beewol
The Talkative Rocker
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Beewol - The Talkative Rocker