Uganda’s Angry Tax
Have you heard? In Uganda something angered our president, so he introduced an Angry Tax. Yes he did. He might have called it a Social Media Tax, but critics insist it is in fact an Angry Tax. A tax levied against those who are not singing his praises.
What started out as a rant, a rusty style of communication the elderly statesman has taken to of late, became a full-blown tax. President Yoweri Museveni called social media a place of lugambo (gossip) just before he took action.
And the tax in question, though seemingly minor, is not going down well with many Ugandans. And rightly so. An annual $20 (R275) for a population with just a 47% employment rate is a lot. We are already taxed to death, the economy is being battered by inflation and the dollar has rendered our shilling senile. We can barely get a decent minimum wage and still have some people taking home just a little more than $10 a month. Yes, $10. This tax is two months pay for them and that’s before data costs. It’s a grave situation but still doesn’t begin to cut through the real issue.
What calls for worry is the fact that Angry Pres is clearly fighting what social media represents: freedom of speech. Our Parliament is a far yawn from what it should be and citizens don’t feel represented; the voters have to speak for themself nowadays.
And there’s no end in sight. Just last year parliament removed presidential age limits, the only hope Ugandans had of ending Museveni’s more than three-decade rule.
No wonder there’s a rise in “social media vigilantes”, people who have taken it upon themselves to expose government’s shoddy doings. Before his arrest, for example, former head of the Ugandan police Kale Kayihura’s alleged misdeeds were exposed on social media and the man has been detained on, among other things, allegations of the murder of fellow police bosses. But Angry Pres had been singing his praises and renewing his contract.
To claim that all we do on social media is gossip is ignorant at best. For many of the youths who make up almost 80% of the estimated 41 million Ugandans who are trying to make ends meet, social media offers endless opportunities to grow brands and businesses.
The creative crowd relies on it to showcase their work and don’t get me started on the direct sales and contacts to employment opportunities in this space. And what will the state be doing with the estimated revenue of $104 million (R1.4 billion)?
Ugandans know they will most likely not see a dime of it and many will argue it will end up wherever the rest of the millions lost to corruption go. As we talk, someone might already be budgeting for it. After all, 90% of the cases reported to the country’s corruption office involve public money.
It doesn’t help either that with the social media tax came another tax: the mobile money tax. At first the government said 1% of a mobile money transaction was the tax and it seemed fair enough.
That was until we learnt that the 1% was levied only on money sent and there was another tax for withdrawals and then the telecom companies also collect their fees.
In the end, more than 5% tax was being imposed on mobile banking, the only option for the country’s poor who live in hard-to-reach areas. What a sick joke.
And then Angry Pres added to the confusion when he released a statement insisting that he meant 0.5% tax.
The finance minister blamed Parliament for increasing the amount while he was away and the revenue collecting body stared in confusion. In jumped the communication regulation boss claiming that Europe also paid taxes like these. It was an exaggerated lie.
Will I pay it? Sadly, yes. Why will I pay it? Because my own government is trying to shut me up.