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Social media, mobile money taxes widening digital divide in Uganda – Experts

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The collaboration on International Policies for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in partnership with the Internet Society Uganda Chapter has hit out at the government over the tax that is being imposed on every social media user in Uganda. At the beginning of this month, the government put into effect a law that requires one to pay Shs200 daily before accessing what the government has termed as over the top services.

In a dialogue that brought together stakeholders at Protea Hotel in Kampala on Thursday to deliberate on the economic, social and human rights impact arising from the new taxes, experts said that the new tax was broadening the digital divide while the government has previously said it was ramping up efforts to close that gap.

“Taxes on social media are further widening the digital divide while limiting the public’s ability to access information, communicate and express themselves,” Dr. Wakabi Wairagala, a researcher at CIPESA submitted.

He added that social media is the entry point to internet use for many Ugandans, stressing that introducing the aforementioned tax hinders uptake of the internet in general, which is also a main source of information.

Recent surveys have indicated that most Ugandans use social media to access news, and another significant portion uses social media to make professional business contacts.

Speaking at the conference, Dr. Christopher Stock of Research ICT Solutions said that that taxes on social media are being implemented to essentially eliminate the population from holding the State accountable, cautioning government on continued encroachment on freedom of expression and the digital divide.

“Uganda should have been 10th in Africa by now in terms of affordability with its previous data rates but is now 17th with the introduction of the tax,” he said.

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Dr. Stock also said that there was a need to expand price analysis to include bundles, calculate net tax effect and estimate the impact of these new taxes on GDP growth and job creation.

Dr. Abdul Busulwa, who was representing People with disabilities (PWDS) said that the social media tax has a great impact on the lives of PWDS especially in access to information using the WhatsApp groups for the Deaf Persons.

“We cannot have meetings on WhatsApp and Facebook anymore because the tax has made them expensive for us; most of the PWDS are unemployed because of the Stigma against the PWDS. PWDs are equally affected by OTT [social media taxes] tax just like every member of society in both physical and digital access to services,” he said.

Mr. Raymond Mujuni, a journalist-activist asked the government to reintroduce the income tax on our Members of Parliament saying it will help to address budget deficits. “If Government wants to get the 729 Billion from social media tax; they only need to fire 20 ministers and we will be good!” Mr. Mujuni said.

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