Uganda social media tax challenged in court

Many Ugandans are unable to access social media platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook after the government directive to charge users took effect on July 1, 2018. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Users of these platforms are required to pay Sh5 (USh200) daily before they can access them.
  • State Minister for Finance David Bahati said the tax increases were needed to help Uganda pay off its growing national debt.
  • The law was passed despite stiff resistance from a section of young lawmakers.

A petition has been filed at Uganda’s Constitutional Court challenging the social media tax which took effect on Sunday.

The petition, filed by a team of young advocates under their Cyber Law Initiative (U) Limited and four individuals, Mr Opio Bill Daniel, Mr Baguma Moses, Mr Okiror Emmanuel and Mr Silver Kayondo against the attorney-general, is challenging the Constitutionality of the Sh5 (USh200) daily charge for access to social media platforms.


“The petitioners are ardent believers in the rule of law, fundamental human rights and freedoms, and Constitutionalism and are interested in the matters here below which the petitioners firmly believe are inconsistent with, and in contravention of the specified provisions of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda,” the petition reads.

The petition is particularly targeting several sections of the Excise Duty Amendment Act 2018, which provided for taxes on Over The Top (OTT) services from mobile telephone usage.

Uganda's three principle telcom service providers shut down access at the stroke of midnight July 1, at the start of the new financial year, requiring a payment of Sh5 per day for access, sparking off outrage among the social media users.

In a joint statement issued on Friday, the three major telcos, MTN, Airtel and Africel said the monthly charge would total Sh150 (USh6,000) or Sh1,800 (USh72,000) annually.

The Act also provides one per cent charge on every mobile money transaction.

Government targets to raise at least Sh10.3 billion (USh400bn) annually from the social media tax.

The two taxes have been trending as top items in Uganda on Twitter, which is also part of the targeted social media.

Critics accuse the government of double taxation, since both airtime and data were already taxed.

President Yoweri Museveni presented the proposal as aimed at regulating lugambo (loose talk), saying many Ugandans were misusing social media to insult and mock government and leaders. Many have interpreted the tax as aimed at gagging free expression.

But challenges of enforcement were lurking as many were still able to reconnect through Virtual Private Network options.