COVID-19 Exposes the Contradictions of Social Media Taxes in Africa

This RIA policy brief examines the contradictions of social media taxes in Africa. Social media taxes appear irrational and counterproductive in that they operate as excise or ‘sin’ taxes and limit the use of the digital services that governments seek to expand in their digital policies. In some countries these taxes are also a tactic for repressive governments to control freedom of speech where dissent coincides with the largest band of Internet users, who are often between 18 to 35 years of age.

  • The effectiveness of social media to reach a wide audience has made it a critical medium for many governments across Africa and beyond to provide reliable COVID-19 pandemic mitigation information  to millions of people.
  • In some African countries, there are regulations that impose taxes on over-the-top (OTT) services, mobile devices, and mobile money— dampening their uptake and use and undermining the use of these mediums by states to fight the ongoing Pandemic and broader national digital transformation policies.
  • These regressive taxes add to already high data costs, making the Internet less affordable for households and individuals with lower incomes— excluding large segments of the population, deterring new users, and ultimately widening the digital divide.
  • As the continent battles the COVID-19 pandemic, these taxes need to be removed to provide relief to the marginalised, drive digital inclusion, and build future resilience.

Suggested citation

Ahmed, S., Chinembiri, T., Govan-Vassen, N. (2021). COVID-19 exposes the contradictions of social media taxes in Africa (Policy Brief 2021, No. 4). Research ICT Africa.