Bobi Wine leads Ugandans in protest against social media tax

Daniel K Kalinaki

Ugandan police fired live bullets and teargas on Wednesday to break up a crowd of demonstrators who had gathered to protest a controversial tax on the use of social media. Colleagues, the Excise Duty (Amendment) Bill 2018 was presented to this August House, debated and passed by this Parliament.

Rugunda said in a statement to Parliament on Wednesday that since the Act came into force on 1 July 2018; Government has noted "public concerns regarding some of the elements in implementation of especially tax on mobile money transactions and OTT".

The tax, introduced at the beginning of the month, requires people to pay Ush200 [$0.05, £0.04] before they can use services like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

I would like to assure this Parliament that Government is committed to ensuring that the tax on mobile money and OTT are designed taking into account the public concerns and balancing the need to raise revenue to finance our development agenda.

Parliament approved the tax in May after President Yoweri Museveni had pushed for the changes, arguing that social media encouraged gossip.

In a statement shared on his social media handles, the president described social media as a "luxury by those who are enjoying themselves or those who are malicious...all the moral reasons are in favour of that tax".

Wednesday's rally was led by singer and parliamentarian Bobi Wine - real name Robert Kyagulanyi - whose election a year ago was fuelled by social media.

He helped organise the rally on Wednesday, in which scores of people turned out defiantly dressed in red - a colour synonymous with protests against lifting the presidential age limit previous year.

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As cracks from police guns echoed around the tightly packed buildings of central Kampala, bystanders rushed to angrily confront the police and shout their support for Bobi Wine.

"Teargas was sacked and some live ammunition was sacked into the air to disperse the crowd", said police spokesman Luke Owoyesigire, adding two protesters had been arrested.

"During the unlawful procession officers had to act".

He said on Twitter that police tried to arrest him, but failed after protesters rallied around him.

"We set out to show our displeasure at the social media and mobile money taxes".

Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda made the announcement soon after police broke up a protest against the taxes.

"It's not right. Our rights as citizens are being trampled upon".

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