This is why Ugandans refused to pay the OTT tax

Bazanye's Quick Shots

OTT is going, according to the rumours around in the bufunda, -- you know, the place we go for lugambo that is not subject to tax.

Mbu due to collections from social media tax falling so far short of expectations, URA is considering scrapping the tax completely.

The reaction astride the barstools was, “So what?” Because it is not like we were paying the tax anyway.

Ms Akol, the head tax-collector, thinks that the shortfall came at the hands of evasion; the use of VPNs to bypass the blockages to access.

But, as you would expect from guys who try to tax social media, they have no idea how social media functions.

Take me as a case study of an non-VPN-using, non-OTT-paying individual.

I woke up one morning and reached for the phone because that had become the habit. The thing refused to load Twitter.

I remembered: "Oh! President @KagutaMuseveni had decreed that we can’t get on shoshos without paying. What? 200 shillings? The kafish? I can give them their fish. Now, how is this payment to be done? What? A menu? Where I have to go through that tedious, annoying ritual of typing a number and waiting, then another number and waiting, then another number and what? Wapi. I can afford to throw fish at URA every other day, but honestly, do I really want to do this menu one-number-at-a-time drudgery? For what? Tweets? No. Let me go brush my teeth and shower and go to work. I will get to twitter later.”

And for the next two weeks I did not touch shoshos, just because it wasn’t worth the effort of going through the menu.

I only got on eventually when I discovered that I could access them on office Wifi and even then, I just scrolled through eight tweets before going to BuzzFeed.

Contrast this with what I presume the tax-collectors imagined: “Let me check my shoshos. I am craving them and their unceasing flow of false validation, idle chit chat, gossip and pettiness. I love that stuff so much, I cannot do without it, no matter what the cost! Tap tap… wait. What is this? I cannot get access unless I pay 200 shillings? No way. I am a criminal. As you can see from my choice of online entertainment, I have weak moral fibre. Let me evade this tax by using this VPN app. Heheh! Done. Now let me gorge myself on the lugambo! #ThisTaxMustGo!”

My guess is that the people who did pay, to make up the paltry amount the taxmaster did collect, are not the idle lugambo @KagutaMuseveni wanted to target: those are professional communicators who need to maintain a social media presence for their business, organisation or whatever category Don Wanyama fits in.

The actual VPN users-- the evaders? Those are just junkie kids. Twitter and Facebook have been shown to excite addictive neurological responses similar to those from of narcotic drugs. Particularly among youth, who are too young and unemployed to afford anything but the Social Media bundles that were struck out of business by OTT: if they couldn’t pay more than 500 shillings to get their fix, you think they will pay 500 plus 200?

The third group is the people who just behaved the way a normal, civilised functioning member of a economy responds to fiscal policy changes. You add a tax and increase the price, you reduce consumption. We just stopped using social media as much.

It had never been worth money in the first place. To the bulk of users, it was an idle diversion. Twitter is not water, Facebook is not food. Instagram is not sugar and Snapchat is not milk. They are non-essentials. Easily done without.

Many of us did not evade your tax-- we just went off soshos and got lives.

In place of taxing the socials, URA is considering adding to the already existing taxes on internet access in a bid to gather the money they missed from OTT.

But the same thing will happen, @URAUganda. You make internet more expensive, even just slightly, the numbers of users will just drop as hordes of us just return to the kafunda, preferring to spend our money on gin.

We are not evading. We just have better options.

Meanwhile, every time you increase the tax on beer...

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