Benin has joined a fray and growing list of African states imposing spurious taxes on citizens for using the internet.
The government passed a decree in late August taxing its citizens for accessing the internet and social-media apps. The directive, first proposed in July, institutes a fee (link in French) of 5 CFA francs ($0.008) per megabyte consumed through services like Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. It also introduces a 5% fee, on top of taxes, on texting and calls, according to advocacy group Internet Sans Frontières (ISF).
The new law has been denounced, with citizens and advocates using the hashtag #Taxepamesmo (“Don’t tax my megabytes”) to call on officials to cancel the levy. The increased fees will not only burden the poorest consumers and widen the digital divide, but they will also be “disastrous” for the nation’s nascent digital economy, says ISF’s executive director Julie Owono. A petition against the levy on Change.org has garnered nearly 7,000 signatures since it was created five days ago.
The West African nation joins an increasing number of African countries that have introduced new fees for accessing digital spaces. Last month, Zambia approved a tax on internet calls in order to protect large telcos at the expense of already squeezed citizens. Uganda also introduced a tax in July for accessing 60 websites and social-media apps, including WhatsApp and Twitter, from mobile phones. They imposed a 200 shilling [$0.05, £0.04] daily levy on people using internet messaging platforms like Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber and Twitter. President Yoweri Museveni had pushed for the changes, arguing that social media encouraged gossip.Officials in Kampala also increased excise duty fees on mobile-money transactions from 10% to 15%, in a bid to reduce capital flight and improve the country’s tax-to-GDP ratio.
Taxing the digital sector however might have a negative impact in the long run. Research has already shown that Uganda’s ad hoc fees could cost its economy $750 million in revenue this year alone. “These governments are killing the goose that lays the golden egg,” Owono said.