WhatsApp tax will deal with 'consequence of gossiping'
Uganda joins other African countries as it imposes a social media tax
Ugandans who use their smartphones to access social messaging services are to be taxed under a new law seen by critics as a government attempt to restrict Internet freedoms.
Users of WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook will be required to pay 4p a day after Uganda’s parliament passed the controversial act late last week.MPs rejected suggestions that Yoweri Museveni, Uganda’s ageing president, was seeking to emulate other East African governments that have imposed exacting controls over the Internet this month.Museveni presented the legislation as a necessary step to deal with the “consequences of gossiping” on social media.
“We are going to control it,” he said. “We know who is spreading hate messages. We shall go for them. You must bring discipline in your systems.”
Government critics say the president is hoping to silence public discontent prompted by his reluctance to leave office.
Museveni, in power for 32 years, signed a law in January removing a constitutional provision that would have prevented him from seeking another term in 2021 on age grounds.The president, who is 73, had previously succeeded in forcing through a constitutional reform to abolish term limits.
Opponents of the new law said it was designed to deter poorer Ugandans from accessing social media, where they were likely to hear views critical of the government. There was also concern over plans to tax mobile money transactions, popular with the many Ugandans who cannot afford a bank account.“To people who earn less than a dollar a day, it is going to break their backs,” said Patrick Nsamba, an MP who opposed the bill.
The new law, which comes into force in July, reflects a regional trend of governments perceived as increasingly authoritarian seeking to curtail online criticism.Neighbouring Tanzania now requires bloggers to pay £690 (over R11,600) – more than the average Tanzanian earns annually – for a licence to publish online content, and £331 (over R5,500) every year thereafter to renew it.
Online bloggers are among the few Tanzanians who still openly criticise the country’s president, John Magufuli.Earlier this month, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Kenyatta, signed a law that threatened anyone who published false or misleading information online with a fine of £37,000 (over R600,000) and a two-year prison sentence.A prominent Kenyan governor, Alfred Mutua, attempted to use the new law within a day of its passage to arrest a journalist for reporting that the official had fallen into a river while taking a “selfie” after a footbridge collapsed.
Although Mutua admitted he had fallen into the river, he insisted he was not taking a selfie – and threatened to use the new law to jail anyone who retweeted the claim.
A Kenyan court has since issued a temporary injunction against the false information clauses of the bill after it was challenged by campaigners on constitutional grounds.Such controversies have not been confined to East Africa.
This week, Papua New Guinea announced it would block Facebook for 30 days in order to investigate subscribers who used fake accounts, uploaded pornography or published misleading information.
The move was again presented as a government move to silence the opposition. Authorities did not explain why Facebook needed to be blocked in order to carry out the investigation, raising further suspicion.
– © The Daily Telegraph