Taxed, throttled or thrown in jail: Africa's new internet paradigm
The costs of speaking out online are rising rapidly
Egbunike, Nwachukwu; Leigh Lichtenstein, Amanda; Roberts Biddle, Ellery
Date Written: 2019-08-06
Publisher: Global Voices
Year Published: 2019
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX23790
Many governments in Africa, threatened by the democracy of internet communication, are stifling it by imposing taxes and fees, throttling internet service itself and even arresting bloggers.
In 2018, the governments of Uganda, Zambia and Benin imposed new taxes on social media users, leaving them struggling to pay new fees on top of already-costly internet service. Alongside an apparent desire of government leaders like Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to quell online "gossip", these tax policies stem from a long-standing frustration with Internet-based communication applications, such as WhatsApp. Typically foreign-owned and free of charge for anyone with internet access, government actors long argued that these apps cause revenue losses for national telecom operators who were once the primary providers (and cost beneficiaries) of these services....
"When I interviewed women living in Bwaise, a slum in Kampala, I learned that for them, WhatsApp and Facebook are the internet. These are the only platforms they know how to use. So with the new tax, they will be cut off altogether...."
Internet shutdowns in Africa persisted in 2018 after occurrences peaked across the continent in 2016. Approaching and during major elections, and at the height of political protest movements, the governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Chad, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gabon, The Gambia, Mali, Zambia, and Zimbabwe have resorted to shutting down the internet or social media — or at least slowing down certain applications....
Arrests and arbitrary detentions of journalists and human rights advocates in Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia and Tanzania (to name a few) show that governments are actively seeking to put a barrier between people and their right to be informed.