Ugandans have started off this financial year by saying goodbye to WTF –WhatsApp Twitter Facebook, the most popular social media platforms in the country and many parts of the world.
But the government has now decided to impose a tax on WTF, citing the need to curb lugambo or gossip. So as of July 1, you pay a Ush200 ($0.05) daily tax to use WTF.
On Monday, July 2, a group of citizens petitioned the constitutional court seeking to outlawing what they consider an illegal extra tax because the airtime and phone data people use for WTF is already taxed.
Already, data in Uganda is so overpriced that most WhatsApp users don’t download anything – picture or video – without first checking its size in megabytes. In fact, MBs is such a common “word” that we give it a vernacular pronunciation that in many sounds like “pigs.”
There is also the rather scary intention of the state to curb people communicating, otherwise known as freedom of expression. And then the cruel curtailing of access to the internet, which is now universally considered a human right.
But the saddest part of the new taxes is the imposition of taxes on mobile money usage.
The week opened with thousands of mobile money operators being rendered partially unemployed as many people simply decamped, having worked out that it had become cheaper to board a bus and carry money physically to recipients in different parts of the country, the attendant risks and loss of time notwithstanding, than transferring it by digital means!
All the financial inclusion talk of recent years was flushed down the toilet. Paying bills by mobile, which people have become used to, became so costly it was back to queuing at banks and at the offices of public utilities.
So bizarre and irrational were the results of the new tax that many wondered what its real motive was.
The timing of the new taxes targeted the tonic that takes away financial misery via entertainment; World Cup follow-ups and chatting with virtual friends couldn’t have been more welcome, for the economy is not at its best.
Talk of attaining a middle-income status in 2020 has gone curiously, but understandably quiet. Talking of rising incomes to people who feel worse off can sound like singing off-key, loudly.
But there is a silver lining in the fiscal curbing of social media usage even as many Ugandans say WTF, bye bye! Some have opined that the youth are going to discover the romantic practice of their parents’ era of writing poetic letters perfumed with powder and wrapped around dried flower petals.
Families are also likely to come together again as people rediscover conversation instead of burying themselves in their smartphones even at the dinner table.
The good old post office should soon be back in business and registered mails through which you can safely send cash may no longer be things of the past. Yes, we can safely say, WTF, go to hell!