African Despots Benefit from Taxing and Restricting Social Media

Mo Ibrahim called internet shutdowns “a crime” that shouldn’t be tolerated.

Screen Shot 2018-07-08 at 10.50.26 AM.pngAuthoritarian governments, despots and dictators stand to benefit from restricting social media and making it unaffordable! The trend to tax social media and clamp down on internet use is quietly spreading across African countries and they seem to be influencing each other.

Ugandans may want to believe that their country is a democracy – however truth be known it is a dictatorship, where only lip services is given to constitutional rights and ideology such as free press, etc.   President Yoweri Museveni has been at the reigns for some 30 years, and has had more than his hand in maintaining his autocracy, such as changing the age restriction for serving as president, and other laws and regulations that serve to embolden his position.

The social media tax, one such example. After Museveni complained about people “wasting their time gossiping online” a social media tax was proposed and is now in effect much to the fury of many Ugandans.

This will weigh heavy on the marginalized and all those who use social media for activism, advocacy, exposing human rights issues and those who are persecuted by the Museveni regime, such as LGBTQI people.

The use of affordable and unrestricted social media provides a critical life-line to ongoing global support provided to LGBTQI activists and communities as well as all human rights defenders in Uganda and all across Africa.

Museveni has since clarified his earlier statements and emphasized this rather as an opportunity to raise much needed tax revenue. But as Kampala-based journalist Lydia Namubiru brings into focus that Uganda’s government has a record of online censorship and restriction going back for years!

Another example where social media is set for restrictions is  Zambia which is to introduce laws to restrict social media use.

And so there is a long list of countries using or proposing questionable laws, technology or just total shutdowns to try and control the government’s message:

Targeted internet shutdowns

Even though fewer African nations intentionally disrupted the internet this year governments either did so more frequently or over longer periods of time. In Africa, there were at least 12 instances of intentional internet or mobile network disruptions in 9 countries in 2017, compared to 11 in 2016.

There has also been increasing sophistication of shutdowns, targeting smaller groups of people and locations. For instance, In Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, a 93-day shutdown following anti-government protests lasted from January to April, before the government instituted another block that is currently ongoing for more than 80 days. The same scenario happened in Ethiopia, where the government shut the internet ahead of national exams in May and blocked Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube after new protests flared in December.

Algeria, DR Congo, Togo, Egypt, Morocco, Equatorial Guinea, and the Somaliland region in Somalia are the rest of the countries that thwarted live internet feeds, according to digital rights advocacy Access Now.

In 2017, a new measurement approximated the immediate and long-term structural effects of internet shutdowns showing that when connectivity is throttled, it undermined economic growth. The scope of these shutdowns was of concern to experts and stakeholders alike: the African Network Information Center (AFRINIC), a Mauritius-based agency that manages and allocates the registration of internet IP addresses, discussed a proposal to deny an IP address for one year to any government that oversees a shutdown and any of their related bodies.

In an interview with Quartz, billionaire businessman Mo Ibrahim called internet shutdowns “a crime” that shouldn’t be tolerated. “To try to gag the people and silence them is not appropriate really. It’s not acceptable.” READ MORE

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Posted by Melanie Nathan
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