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Uganda passes 'social media tax'

On Wednesday a tax was passed by the Ugandan government that would charge users 200 shillings ($0.0531) per day for use of social media applications such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

President Yoweri Museveni had previously written to the Finance Minister Matia Kasaija in March to argue that the revenue collected would support the country and help it “cope with consequences of olugambo [gossping]”. The move, however, has drawn criticism from rights advocates such as Nicholas Opiyo, a Kampala-based lawyer and head of a local rights organisation, who maintains that this tax “is a new tool of stifling free expression and citizen organising that has been beyond the control of the state.” The government have denied the allegations.

Rights activists are skeptical of Mr Museveni’s government which has won several elections but have faced charges of election rigging. Furthermore,Reuters notes that his main rival Kizza Besigye, has been jailed dozens of times since he first ran against Mr Museveni in 2001. During the elections of 2016, access to sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp were blocked due to Mr Museveni’s insistence that it was it was a necessary step to “stop spreading lies”.

Finance Minister Kasaija has dismissed accusations that this is a deliberate step to restrict peoples internet access telling Reuters in March” "We're looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more social media, more often, more frequently”.

The charge levied amounts to approximately $19 per year in a country where gross domestic product per capita was around $615 in 2016, according to statistics by the World Bank. The Uganda Communication Commission notes that “About 40 percent of Uganda’s 40 million people use the internet”; frequently visiting using apps such as Facebook and Whatsapp. Part of the reason as to why the internet usage is low is, as the World Wide Web Foundation notes, that data costs are amongst the world’s highest due to “slow internet penetration and limited use even for those connected”.

See more from Reuters here and the BBC here.