Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni wants social media users to suffer the consequences of their gossip — and to bolster the national budget at the same time.
In early April 2018, Museveni directed the Ministry of Finance to introduce taxes on “over the top” communication platforms (OTTs) such as Facebook, Twitter, and WhatsApp.
In Museveni’s view, social media users use these platforms for what he called ‘lugambo’ (meaning gossip in Lugwere). In a statement quoted by The Daily Monitor, Musveni explained his position:
I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, 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…
The president accused the Finance Ministry and Uganda Revenue Authority of not working hard enough to identify new sources of taxes, lamenting that the government currently lacks tax income.
The government’s attention to “over-the-top” applications raises a long-standing issue that many governments have taken with IP-based (Internet Protocol) communication applications, such as WhatsApp, which are free of charge for any person with internet access. Government actors (in Uganda and many other countries) have long voiced concern about losses in revenue for national telecom operators that were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services.
Museveni assures citizens that this tax will not affect those who use the internet for educational purposes, arguing that it will only affect those who spend time online engaging in idle gossip.