Tuesday July 10 2018

Social media tax: Here is the humbling bit

Nicholas Sengoba

Nicholas Sengoba  

By Nicholas Sengoba

Since July 1, accessing social media in Uganda will set you back by a ‘mere’ Shs200 as an entrance fee into the party.
Now many of those who enjoy WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and many others are not ordinary hard up citizens scratching for a living. But they are up in arms.

They say by levying the tax, the government is trying to muzzle them. That it is their right and freedom to communicate via social media.
Others like Timothy Kalyegira are very gleeful and wish that the tax would go up to about Shs500 because most of the people accessing social media (probably the ones he interacts with) are not exactly a serious lot.

That they hardly reason or think correctly as they rush to make arguments. That they are prone to making typos, don’t appreciate good photography and generally are wasting this opportunity of tapping into the vast potential that is social media to bring about political, social and economic change.

Government on the other hand, says this ‘luxury’ called social media that prompts many to gossip, spread false news and incite the public, must be taxed to contribute revenue for national development.
We shall hear these arguments and many more for a long time to come so here we won’t go in that direction.

Suffice to say that there is almost nothing this Shs200 can buy in the Uganda of today, not even a sweet. So, you can’t rule out that most people are digging in as a form of protest. They just don’t want to finance the government mostly for political reasons.
The enduring argument being that ‘their money’ will just go into the pockets of the fat cats and their cronies. All that will become clear in the days, weeks and months to come.

For me, the most humbling aspect of the brouhaha this matter of social media taxes has caused is the one about the opportunism of African countries, how they have been spoilt into waiting for outsiders to think for them and what impact this has had on their productivity, imagination and ability to invent or create things.
To speak very plainly, both the government, which intends to fork in billions of shillings by taxing social media and those beating their chests claiming access to social media as their right have contributed nothing to its making. They are just taking a piggy ride.

Yet when you think of it, social media is not exactly about building using motar and stone. You don’t have to possess big muscles to be part of the Internet and communication revolution. The whole thing is virtual and provides equal opportunities for those with access to the Internet.
An American executive on Wall Street and the barefooted shamba boy in Mutukula have equal opportunities on the Internet. The difference is what they do with this access to the World Wide Web. Their cerebral limits, interests and attitude determine which direction they take on the Internet and how it benefits them.

You see, one may choose to share jokes and the ‘latest nudes’ the whole day on social media and this one is the wont for many.
Then there are those who get the most out of this business by creating apps that they sell and get billions of dollars. They are the brainy warriors who have put their creative spirit to test.

Many of the inventors or investors of Facebook and Twitter plus a whole load of others are now billionaires. We are talking about the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, Noah Glass, Biz Stone, Evan Williams, Bill Gates and all the people in Silicon Valley and other Tech Hubs.
These ones burn the midnight candle and to make happen, what many of us who come in to simply use and (abuse if you asked some) and are now calling ‘our right.’

Just imagine if we woke up one day and the maverick President of the USA, Donald John Trump, restricted the use of social media in countries like Uganda for preposterous reasons that it is encouraging ‘terrorism!’ What will become of this ‘right’ of ours?
Or better still, what will happen to the government’s targeted estimated revenue in billions of shilling this financial year? The answer tells you that Africans have been baby-sat for so long that it will be difficult for them to ever walk without being held.

Aid, grants, donations are part of that narrative. The African mind is dying.
Just imagine what the universe would be like if it waited for Africans to come up with communication solutions. Probably we would still be at the stage of sending the village messenger to the next village to courier news and pray that wild animals did not eat him up along the way.

Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social
issues. [email protected]