Uganda plans to introduce a new tax on social media users from July, prompting concerns that President Yoweri Museveni is attempting to crack down on opposition to his 32-year-rule.
The move is unlikely to go down well in a country where more than 40 percent of people use the internet.
Finance Minister Matia Kasaija told Reuters that the tax will levy 200 Ugandan shillings (US$0.027) per day on each mobile phone subscriber using platforms such as WhatsApp, Twitter and Facebook.
“We’re looking for money to maintain the security of the country and extend electricity so that you people can enjoy more of social media, more often, more frequently,” he said.
But Museveni seems to have a different take on the law. In a statement quoted in Ugandan daily The Daily Monitor on April 1, he portrayed social media sites as platforms for “lugambo” (which is Lugwere for “gossip”): “Lugambo on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) and advertisements by Google and I do not know who else must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo.”
Meanwhile some human rights activists have taken to social media to criticise the proposal.
“It’s part of a wider attempt to curtail freedoms of expression,” Rosebell Kagumire, a human rights activist and blogger, said.
Around 23.6 million of Uganda’s 41 million people are mobile phone subscribers, while 17 million use the internet.
Kasaija said the proposal had been sent to parliament this week for review after being approved by the cabinet.
The government blocked access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp during the most recent general election, in 2016.