In what seems to be a crackdown on social media use, Benin has joined a list of African countries who have imposed social media tax on their citizens. Initially, Tanzania and Uganda were the pioneers, and soon after Egypt followed as well. The governments have deemed the move justifiable. Among the reasons include increased revenue for their respective countries and to cut down ‘Lugambo’ as Museveni stated. It seems gossip has become a public nuance via social media.
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Now in Benin, the government has passed a decree to tax its citizens for the use of social media and the internet as a whole. The directive was first proposed in July before being passed in late August. The tax will be imposed at 5 CFA francs per megabyte being consumed through the popular apps such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Yes, even messaging is not safe. Making it a lucrative move on the government’s part to continue making a profit from what has today, become the most basic way of communicating.
The president Patrice Talon adopted the decree in July, and as per the official website Internet Sans Frontiers, stating that the consumption of electronic communication services will not only affect over the top applications and social networks. It will also affect the voice and SMS services in the shocking new law. These services are now subject to a 5pc tax of the price, which will exclude the regular tax that is levied each month by the service providers.
The trend of taxing social media in Africa has become alarming, and it seems more and more countries are joining the bandwagon. The Zambian government has recently announced their levy on calls made online. This includes Skype and WhatsApp video calls. The taxes will apply daily, in what seems to be digital services under siege. The citizens of Benin have not taken the news kindly, ironically going to social media to air their views. They have since used the hashtag #taxepamesmo translating to ‘don’t tax my megabytes’.
The internet sans frontiers director Julie Owono says that the move will have disastrous effects for the country’s digital economy and burden the poorer consumers. Since being rolled out, a petition against the levy on change.org has garnered nearly seven thousand signatures from angry citizens who want the law reversed. It is barely a week since its implementation and the countrymen and women have swiftly used the internet to voice their concerns and disgruntlement.
Additionally, the new law has been viewed as a movement focused on only making financial gains from the people and undermining the already struggling digital economy making efforts for IT accessibility. The current internet penetration in Benin levels at 33pc, in Zambia it stands at 41pc and in Uganda and Nigeria, it is at 42pc and 50pc respectively. The move being taken by several African governments threatens to stifle the continent’s digital economy that was already opening up to welcome several tech giants and investors.
The move will make it harder for the ICT industry to progress at the speed they would prefer given the unexpected new cost for undertaking further internet development across African countries. Some of the incentives to tax social media are garnered towards a bigger overall scheme. In Uganda officials in Kampala also increased the duty fees on mobile-money transactions from 10-15 pc in a bid to improve the country’s tax to GDP ratio and curb the capital flight.
However, digital activists have accused the government of using the move to silence critics online and curb the vibrant socio-political conversations that take place online against their respective governments. The consequences could easily be a negative impact on democracy and community cohesion, as well as the overall innovation and economic growth of the countries. In Nigeria, Paradigm Initiative is working to advance the digital rights of Nigerians, has expressed worry that their country could follow suit.