Uganda’s An­gry Tax

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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.

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