By Joseline Byakatonda
When social media picked up in Uganda 4-5 years back youth advocates and campaigners – me inclusive – rejoiced because they could easily solicit support around youth issues as well as collect views from the youth themselves. At last there was a light in the tunnel, social media being vibrate, only for it to be blown out by the social media tax. For youth engagers mobilization has been a little easier than before where we had to spend a mega sum of money on phone calls due to the chain of communication before reaching the right recipient. You had to call the parent, wait a few minutes then call again after the youth has been called and at times parents would be far from home. The other mode of connecting would be through a friend who would sometimes be in another place or attending a different occasion.
What a hassle! In some cases parents or guardians would deliberately deny access to the child or youth to deter them from attending activities, nothing to do with them being bad, sometimes either they were not priority to the parent or were just ‘adamant’. You had to bear with primitive phone mannerisms of being asked rudely: who gave you my number? It was a night mare. It would take two days at times to mobilize a single youth. If 200 was the target how many days would one need to mobilize them? Did you ever struggle this way in mobilizing or engaging youth? Oooh gosh I wouldn’t want to remember the hassle yet here it is again. A mere thought about those days makes me want to shy away from youth engagements even though I am convinced to the marrow that they are the foot of the nation.
There is no choice but to carry on the mantle even at a time as this when youth are leaving social platforms because of the UGX 200 Shillings tax. Were the youth the target for taxi?
About 24.8 million Ugandans own and use mobile phones, a big increase since 2014. According to a report by National Information Technology Authority-Uganda from 2017/2018 National IT survey rural areas were out competing urban dwellers. With Uganda’s population composed of mainly youth, you don’t have to go to university to know that youth are the user – majority. This tax will affect both adult and youth. First the vices in communities will not be effectively unearthed which is to the disadvantage of many and to the advantage of the few perpetuators.
Justice has been given to many because of vices being exposed while crucial issues in communities have been addressed too due to the viral nature of social media. Students and lecturers have also been communicating through social media. The tax however is hampering the participation of youth who may not easily access other Medias of communication. If the intent of this tax was not to clamp on youth participation, the unseen effect has. I know social media has not been of good influence throughout for youth – neither have other platforms. Could we say print media, televisions and radios are? For some, social media has been a pain and night mare, those whose nude pictures went viral, those implicated in corruption whose stories were shared beyond imagination all through the World, and public officials whose efficiency has been questioned by factual information given by those on the ground. With social media the truth will always pop out. The media has had its evils but the beauty is everyone on it is an author without control.
So self control is a must have. Controlling what comes through your inbox is the best you can do not what the other user sends out; we are all bosses with social media, everybody is a boss. Because of this, people with ill intentions easily get easy routes to corrupt others and this is a fact. However it is not true that engagement through social media is bad! Many have got job opportunities thanks to social media. Interviews abroad that would otherwise require money for tickets and time to travel have been conducted within few minutes again – thanks to social media for saving us the hassle.
Opportunities are easily shared because of its viral nature. It is really viral. How about social media’s contribution to reducing corruption in communities? With a smartphone and social media, everyone is equipped for citizen journalism. It is the only media where all of us users are qualified to be news anchors. That way, we are all equipped with the responsibility of exposing negative vices behind the faces of the perpetuators who often are those in authority who can crash you like a cockroach at a mere suspicion of attempting to expose them. They are now rejoicing as numbers on social media drop. There are many things children and youth will be addicted to until they grow in self control; social media tax, dear parents and guardians is not the solution.Use of WhatsApp (as shown above) has dropped by 23% on day to day basis with a 15% month on-month drop since July. The youth at University and in vacation who cannot afford unit calls are the victims yet they are the most vibrant in unearthing social injustices. Social media is a media of quick research, at just a chat one gets answers to ‘septic’ questions. WhatsApp, Facebook has become youth’s health consultant to questions adults are not answering.
When adults have health challenges help is quickly offered; come to a youth, endless questions and judgments. One of the referral hospitals for youth – social media – has been closed. As shown by the graph on the left the Facebook usage recorded in Uganda has also dropped. Statistics picked from #Social Media tax https://t.co/r7T6cKOrxW. The unpatriotic tax of social media has taught youth to be unpatriotic instead of enhancing patriotism. Statistics show increase in VPN down loads which is a bypass from the social media tax. So it’s true some are off media but others have been assigned different locations different from Uganda making engagements on platforms challenging when the expected participate should be in Uganda but details show there in Peru. Verification is now a challenge.
Tax invasion is being nurtured and this time professionals, employed or unemployed youth alike. Patriotism calls for Ugandans to nurture and grow what is Ugandan and VPN is not one of them. President Yoweri Museveni while urging the finance ministry in March this year to introduce the tax said it was to reduce on online ‘gossip’ but the consequences are far from that. Patriotism is dying; instead of promoting our own alternatives around the social media tax eventually promote foreign inventors. Youth being the most unemployed in the Country social media has been an advantage in keeping an online presence after starting enterprises. Very few businesses can meet advertising costs on televisions and radios which have been dominated by multinational companies. Social media tax will automatically suffocate will them.
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