Social media boosts the way information is transmitted from one part of the world to another in a matter of seconds and the immense impact this has is unequalled. For a developing country like Uganda, social media is a critical platform that connects us to the globe for political, economic, environmental and social information.
The 2018/2019 Ugandan budget-imposed Over the Top (OTT) and Mobile Money Tax on all Ugandans regardless of background, position or stature, ignoring that there is a large percentage of vulnerable groups especially youth and women who will be more hurt by this tax than the others. So many youths are running small start-ups using social media as their main source of a market. It is quite common to purchase household items and clothing materials from youth who advertise on social media. These youth don’t run shops because they lack money for rent, trading license etc. But they buy these items from wholesalers, keep them in their homes and deliver them to a customer at a profit.
Mobile money business is largely dominated by women trying to earn a living.
Uganda’s majority population is largely made up of youth and women and so the most critical agenda should be harnessing the collective power of these groups to realize their potential using the means available instead of stifling it through unfair taxes.
Youth unemployment stands at a staggering 32%, according to the UBOS employment rate of 2012 while according to the Uganda National Household Survey (UNHS) 2016/17 the number of poor people in Uganda rose to 10 million from 6.6 million.
To change the above trends, innovation through solution-based applications and empowerment through information sharing and networking via social media networks has been one of them till this 2018/2019 budget.
Beyond economic empowerment, social media has played a vital role in giving the youth and women a voice to rally around causes that are sometimes ignored by the policymakers. The internet and specifically social media offer a platform to many to have a say on political, social and economic and environmental issues that affect us.
Through such collective activism like the current social media uproar, President Museveni was quick to react and alter his earlier position about mobile money tax and have it halved.
We support the government efforts in seeking to widen its tax base. But taxing already disempowered and vulnerable groups is only a knee-jerk solution that will have far-reaching macroeconomic implications such as surging unemployment. The government should explore lasting solutions to fixing the economy that will not cripple the vulnerable like start-ups for the youth and retail businesses for the women.
We are seeking new solutions for a new generation and taxing one of the gateways for these solutions is not the answer. Corruption, public administration expenditure and perennial unjustified tax holidays to unscrupulous investors and members of parliament are some of the immediate problems that should be addressed before we can widen the tax base.
We demand that our leaders; most of them out of touch, step up to the task and do the right thing by scraping both social media and Mobile Money taxes.