It actually happened.
Yesterday, on the 1st of July I tried to open facebook on my phone and got an extended loading bar. What? Surely not? The government actually blocked our social media!
Coup leader and Dictator of over 30 years Yoweri Musevini has become more and more annoyed with social media of late. One facebook personality (or group of people) known as ‘Tom Voltaire Okwalinga’ (TVO) has drawn his ire a number of times for flagrantly abusing the regime. Have a look at TVO’s posts, they are pretty funny. I don’t vouch for the accuracy of his tipst but its certainly entertaining!
Museveni even tried to get Facebook to reveal TVOs identity in an Irish court!
“We will get this man Okwalinga,” said Museveni on Friday while meeting media executives at State House Entebbe. “Now that we have the machines, we will get him.” Museveni has the machines …
Then he became annoyed with all of the “Gossip” going on on social media that needed to be dealt with. “I am not going to propose a tax on internet use for educational, research or reference purposes… these must remain free. However, olugambo (gossip) on social media (opinions, prejudices, insults, friendly chats) …. must pay tax because we need resources to cope with the consequences of their lugambo (gossip),”. By ‘lugambo’ (gossip), it seems that he means free discussions and opinions about the state of the government and Uganda.
Parliament listened and actually instituted Museveni’s tax! The outcry against it has probably surprised even the big man himself. It has made the front page of the papers. Oxfam and Amnesty international have blasted it. Lawyers have claimed the tax violates the constitution and have taken it to court. Many Ugandans are even finding ways to dodge it using Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).
Paridoxically the tax could be a good development in the end. It’s a sign that the leader fears the people and the power of free speech. The people are trying to take back a semblance of power by defying the tax. No-one is getting physically hurt. Who knows? Maybe the reaction against this could be one microstep to a more meaningful kind of freedom in Uganda?