Uganda embarked on the process of having an open data policy in May 2017. The initiative spearheaded by Ministry Of ICT and National Guidance was celebrated by the public and interpreted as a move to openness by Uganda’s government. Having a policy in place meant that certain data held by the government shall be made publicly available, with few restrictions on access. To the citizens and civil society enthusiasts, Uganda was finally becoming responsive to citizens demands on access to data.
On 29th May 2018, before passing of the policy , Uganda’s open data graph was slapped by the legislatures’ action of approving a law that imposes new taxes on social media services and mobile money. In defense of the unpopular legislation, the State Finance Minister in-charge of planning highlighted that such taxes will be invested in the country’s social sectors like health, education, amongst others. But let’s not forget that health and education sectors have been named amongst the most corrupt institutions in the nation; hopefully the taxes could redeem them from the corruption curve.
Is Taxing social media the right move?
Uganda has 31.3% internet users making it the 15th country with internet penetration in Africa, and 75% of these users are on social media. In Uganda, social media has increased information access, flow and has also enhanced collaborative e-governance for the country.
With social media channels like Facebook, twitter and WhatsApp, Ugandan citizens have increasingly demanded for accountability from government without hindrance from physical, technical and financial barriers. On the other hand, we have often seen government agencies responding to citizens queries and demands just on time. citizens’ increased participation in decision making processes and governance responsiveness on citizens queries has been made easier with the power of social media.
Civil Society Organisations like Evidence and Methods Lab have also used the opportunity of internet penetration and social media growth to disseminate graphics on Uganda’s budgeting process to the common man. This approach has contributed to enhancing citizens understanding of the budget and increased youth participation in the budgeting processes.
Social Media is an enemy to dictators, Martha Leah Nangalama
However, with the introduction of the tax on social media, exacerbated by the expensive data bundles, citizens may be left in the dark on what transpires in their country as well as government processes. According to the new legislation, 200 shillings approximately $0.0531 will be charged for users of Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
Implication of the social media tax legislation to Uganda
Social media provides opportunity to receive or create and share public messages at low costs and ubiquitously. The enormous growth of social media usage has led to an increasing accumulation of data, which has been termed Social Media Big Data. Social media platforms offer many possibilities of data formats, including textual data, pictures, videos, sounds, and geolocations.
Uganda’s social media tax takes the country two steps backwards into a closed society where there is a limit to questioning on whatever transpires in Uganda. At the end of it all, Citizens trust in government process could be slowed down as some may interpret the taxes as a strategy of hindering inter and intra communication as well as the right to know.
Uganda could do better
Just like Iran Open Data, Uganda’s open data enthusiasts ought to create spaces for themselves to talk about their practices, their achievements, and the challenges they’ve had to overcome in challenging environments. Activists have to work collaboratively with government officials and ensure some sort of buy-in into their projects. They can as well support government through making the information user friendly and also disseminate it to communities since they have easier contact with them.