Social media tax is now active in Uganda

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Uganda’s much-debated social media (OTT) tax has officially gone live. From 1 July 2018, Ugandans were required to pay the tax if they wanted to access services such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and many others.

The social media tax was initially proposed in April 2018 in an announcement in which Uganda’s government said that the tax will help boost the East Afrikan country’s revenue and help with national security.

Screenshot of a menu presented to mobile users in Uganda prompting them to pay “OTT Tax” before they are able to use OTT services.

“We’re looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently,” said Matia Kasaija, Uganda’s Minister of Finance, when announcing the proposed social media tax earlier in 2018.

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Although “national security” has been cited by Uganda’s government as the main reason for implementing what is also colloquially known as “gossip tax” in Uganda, it is most probably a measure by authorities in Uganda to censor citizens indirectly given how Internet access is already expensive in the country. Previously, Uganda’s government blocked social media platforms and instant messaging services during the countries previous elections only to cite the same reason, “national security”, for doing so. In another announcement which hasn’t materialized but was equally seen as the government’s attempt at online censorship, Ugandan authorities announced they are looking into developing their own government-run versions of platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

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So far, Ugandans have reacted in anger and have come up with several ways of trying to bypass the social media tax such as installing VPN apps and using encrypted alternatives to WhatsApp such as the Signal app. It is also important to note how telecommunications companies in Uganda have co-operated with the implementation and collection of the social media tax with very little if any, resistance.

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