West African country Benin has shown respect to the demands of its citizens who fought against a planned social media and internet tax that was imposed via a new law in late August.
The government planned to tax its citizens 5 CFA francs ($0.008) per megabyte on the usage of social media apps, and another 5% levy on texting and calls. A decision which civil society organisations have described as a move to silence critics.
Over 7,000 people signed a petition calling for the suspension of the levy which would not favour the mass poor population of a little above 10.5 million and a minimum wage of about 40,000 CFA francs ($70.56) per month. Thousands of young Beninese citizens used hashtags to protest against the tax.
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The Beninese president Patrice Talon, in a tweet, announced the repeal of the law on social media and internet tax “following a meeting the government ministers had with telecommunication companies”.
Suite à la réunion entre le #prbenin #PatriceTalon, quelques Ministres, et les opérateurs GSM ce samedi 22 septembre 2018, la taxe sur les forfaits réseaux sociaux et sur internet sera annulée.
Un communiqué sera diffusé en fin de journée pour préciser les contours de la décision pic.twitter.com/howoVP51ex
— Présidence du Bénin (@PresidenceBenin) September 22, 2018
Digital rights advocates, Internet Sans Frontières (Internet Without Borders), attributed the “victory” to the activism and strength of the thousands of young Beninese citizens who engaged the government and enforced democracy in their country.
“Internet Without Borders welcomes this victory of digital citizenship in Benin. The mobilization online, around the Hashtag #TaxePamesMo (Don’t Tax My MegaBytes), showed to the world the anger of netizens in the country. This anger and indignation enabled them to denounce the tax and to enter into a dialogue with the authorities, which fortunately led to its cancellation. This case also shows the strength of the young Beninese democracy. The annulment of the social media tax is an important precedent for digital rights and freedoms in West Africa,” says Julie Owono, the Executive Director of Internet Without Borders.
This decision makes Benin the first African country to repeal a law on the internet tax after it joined the likes of Zambia and Uganda to impose taxes on internet usage despite a heavy backlash.
Kenya recently announced plans to impose taxes on the internet as part of the amendments of the country’s Finance Act which proposes a 15 per cent tax on internet services.
The amendment also includes an increased tax on telephone services and all money transfer services from the previous 10 per cent to 20 per cent. The tax will affect money transfer via mobile, banks, agencies and other financial service providers.
In Zambia, the government collects the taxes through mobile phone companies and internet service providers at a daily rate of 30 ngwees (3 cents) per day, irrespective of how many internet calls are made.
The whole internet tax craze started in Uganda where the government ignored protests and imposed a mandatory 200 shilling daily levy (less than a dollar) for WhatsApp users while mobile money transactions also attracted a one per cent levy on the total value of each transaction.
In a bid to control what he called gossip and to rake in more revenue to the state, Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni announced the taxes in April and it was approved by the parliament in May.
It is expected to raise between $108,000,000 (Sh400 billion) and $270,000,000 (Sh1.4 trillion) from social media users annually, the government said.
Ugandans, have, however, expressed disgust at the development, saying it infringes on individual freedoms.
Others are also wondering how social media companies that do business in Uganda will be taxed since internet access is not based solely on the activation of data bundles through the purchase of airtime from telecoms.
For some lawmakers, instead of taxing social media, the president must pay attention to the fight against corruption in government.