February 28, 2019
Millions In Uganda Quit The Internet To Avoid Social Media Tax

After the Ugandan government implemented a social media tax, millions are giving up their internet use to avoid paying, according to the Daily Mail.

Uganda President Yoweri Museveni implemented a tax last year on the use of at least 60 websites and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp. The tax costs social media and internet users 200 shillings or $0.05 a day at current conversion rates. Assuming daily use, the tax would cost internet users about $18.25 a year.

For internet users in the U.S., this may not sound like a big cost, but for a citizen of Uganda making $133.50 a month on average in 2016, according to Uganda Business News, spending $0.05 a day can be a problem for some.

Since the punitive tax was rolled out last year, some 2.5 million users have abandoned their internet subscriptions, with only 1.2 million people continuing to use the internet in spite of the tax.

Apart from economic reasons, many critics have seen the social media tax as a way for political leaders like President Museveni to keep citizens uninformed about local political issues and world news.

"Heightened exposure to information via the internet has led to Ugandan citizens being more critical about political conditions in the country," says Irene Ikomu, a lawyer in Uganda.

There's also a growing concern that with elections coming up in two years, incumbents will enact additional measures similar to the social media tax to keep potential voters in the dark about their opponents, as well as any controversies or criticisms that may arise.

President Yoweri Museveni at London Conference on Somalia
Getty Images | WPA Pool

There are also concerns that these restrictions have affected the profitability of mobile phone carriers and internet providers, some of which have been forced to lay off employees to make ends meet, which can lead to trouble in the overall economy.

It's also caused problems with people's personal finances as many in Uganda use the internet and mobile apps to conduct their banking. Without the internet, many are left without options to track and transfer funds as Uganda lacks standard banking services.

Some Ugandans are fighting back against the internet restriction by turning to virtual private networks or VPNs that make the user appear to be accessing the internet from a different country.

Considering President Museveni has been in power for the last 32 years, it's unlikely he's interested in giving up his power any time soon. With the upcoming elections, policies like the social media tax could be his method of preventing political opponents from being able to reach out and attract the attention of voters who can't or are unwilling to pay for internet service.