On July 1st, many Ugandans woke up to find that many of the social media and messaging platforms that they were used to using were blocked. That was the result of a new law going into effect that imposed a 200 Uganda shilling tax – equal to $0.05 – on the use of social media.
Instead, what they saw was a joint statement from their telecom companies – MTN, Airtel, and Africell – informing them about mobile packages that would allow them to resume their activities on the 58 websites, apps, and voice calling platforms that were affected by the new law.
The tax targets Over The Top services including Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Skype, and WhatsApp, as well as dating sites Tinder and Grindr.
The levy, which was approved by the parliament, was pushed for by Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni; he had complained that social media was costing the country precious time and money.
In his defense, he did say that he opposed taxing the internet in general, saying that it would negatively affect its use for “educational, research or reference purposes”. It must be noted though that Museveni is an avid Twitter user with over 855,000 followers.
Mobile network companies that don’t implement the new rules could be fined or suspended. Smaller internet service providers applied a blanket increase in their prices, which contradicts Museveni’s claims that the tax would not affect wider internet use.
Activists meanwhile are saying that the tax is meant to suppress critical commentary about the government.
VPNs to the Rescue
Some Ugandans have turned to VPNs, or virtual private networks, to bypass the newly set blocks. VPNs are online services that utilize a network of servers around the world to reroute and encrypt traffic, making it impossible for local internet service providers to know what services users are connecting to.
There is a contradiction here. Any reliable and safe VPN would end up costing its users more money than the tax, but as some activists have pointed out, people using VPNs are not protesting the amount of money but rather the principle behind the tax, which they see as an attempt by a corrupt government to meddle in people’s lives and steal money.
This is not the first time that VPNs have benefited from political manoeuvers meant to suppress freedoms. Their popularity has surged following events in Egypt, Russia, and China for instance. VPNs serve as a good tool to break through internet restrictions. There are many services out there, some good, some bad, but our favorite has been ExpressVPN, as it offers a very intuitive and easy to use interface, very safe protocols, and impressive speed.
Be sure to check out our top 5 rated VPN services. Each of those services was reviewed by our experts.
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