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How Uganda's social media tax is choking communication

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Added 13th September 2018 10:57 AM

A July 2018 survey by Whitehead Communications indicates a sharp drop in Social Media and Mobile Money usage in Uganda.

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A July 2018 survey by Whitehead Communications indicates a sharp drop in Social Media and Mobile Money usage in Uganda.


July 1, 2018 was the start of a dark period that limited universal free access to online information. Social media tax (OTT tax) dramatically took off several Ugandans which reduced online community engagement.
The social media tax removed free universal access to information which is a pillar of any democracy. Without media, a democracy is wounded. 
There was Facebook zero which didn't require any mbs to run on most Ugandan telecommunication networks. Without OTT tax, Ugandans can't access important information even if it’s an emergency or community policing alerts.
Social media is now for the rich yet communicators speak to all classes of people. Access to internet is a human right.
A July 2018 survey by Whitehead Communications indicates a sharp drop in Social Media and Mobile Money usage in Uganda. It reported that at least 85% of the respondents hadn’t used social media since the tax came into effect.
As a member of over fifty Ugandan Whatsapp groups on media, agriculture, religion, and business, I have noticed a drop in engagement. Members no longer share frequently as they used to before the introduction of OTT tax. Even Mama Tendo Facebook group isn’t active as it was before OTT tax. 
OTT tax supporters continue to push it as a tax to reduce on rumour mongering which is not entirely true. Social media has been instrumental in Community policing, employment, agricultural extension services research, customer care, Communication, education marketing, Charity, accountability, and crowd funding. 
Social media has a million opportunities for everyone and as such access should not be limited with a tax. Someone once posted online "MPs should start doing plenary on WhatsApp instead of getting expensive security pick-ups." 
Why should Uganda Communications Commission allow the speed of communication to be slowed down by a tax? OTT tax reduced the speed at which communication flows on social media. This is worsened by the technicalities involved with paying the tax. You cannot pay all year and OTT tax is paid using mobile money not airtime. If you are in a remote place with no mobile money agent or without mobile money, you have to give up.
OTT tax has made it more expensive to receive and send online communication by professional communicators and the general public.
The tax resulted in a suspension of cheap social media bundles offered by Ugandan telecoms. On top of buying internet generic bundles, an internet subscriber is required to pay UGx200.
This makes PR digital campaigns more expensive. Some brands rely on volunteers or their staff to pass on their messages on social media which may not be possible now. The tax also makes costs of PR third party digital service providers higher.
Companies especially SMEs had cut down on huge advertising budgets for traditional media to embrace affordable digital media.
Those in brand communication may embrace content post automation more than before which may remove the human element in communication.
Social media tax killed effective communication. A survey by Whitehead Communications indicated a smaller online audience after the social media tax. Effective communication involves communicating at the right time to the right intended audience.
Ugandan communicators cannot claim effective communication if a huge part of the community is being taken off online communication platforms by a daily mandatory tax.
The amount of time people spend online to engage with their target audience has greatly reduced. It’s likely that a person will read a message after a week yet it was intended for immediate release.
There is no doubt that there is unemployment especially for people who were offering outsourced social media account management services especially to individuals. Celebrity individuals may opt to do their social media communication themselves to save on costs.
Tax was unnecessary. I strongly feel that government should tax exempt some entities and make weekends as OTT tax free days if all they want is a tax contribution. Exempt every person in the field of communication.We still have lots of charity car fundraiser campaigns that run almost on a daily on these digital platforms that  save lives.
Ivan N Baliboola 
PR and organisational diagnosis specialist


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