While Ghana prepares for presidential elections in 2020, about 75% of the population access the internet via mobile phones.
On October 1, 2019, when the increase in the communication service tax (CST) proposed by the Government came into effect, the Ghanaians turned to Twitter with the label #SaveOurData (save our data) to express your dissatisfaction – and directed your anger especially against Ghana's telecommunications companies and against the Government.
The tax was proposed as a deduction in advance for the purchase of any prepaid card, and any other electronic communication service, including the cost of internet data and text messages. This also means that consumers are subject to taxes regardless of whether or not they use a particular communication service. For example, the CST rate applies to the provision of communications services such as text messages, calls, internet, etc. to subscribers before they use those services.
This extreme increase in internet data costs will inevitably exclude those who cannot afford the data. Therefore, they cannot participate in the political debate and dialogue in social media and mobile platforms.
Many tweets of the protest online #SaveOurData They accuse Ghana's telecommunications companies of being behind recent exorbitant data charges. However, the increase in data prices is the result of the Government's increase in the CST from 6% to 9%. Before, the CST tax was paid by telecommunications companies, now paid by users in full since the increase took effect in October.
The main organizer of the online protest, Saddick Adams, Ghana's award-winning sports journalist, tweeted:
Dear Valued Telcos,
We in #SaveOurData campaign are NOT protesting “Unusual Technical Challenges”.
We are fighting CONSISTENT excessive charges. We are calling for a drastic reduction in anti-poor data prices. An end to exploitation of market power and reckless service
– Saddick Adams (@SaddickAdams) December 2, 2019
Dear telecommunications companies:
In the campaign #SaveOurData We are NOT protesting against “unusual technical challenges.”
We are fighting CONSTANTS excessive charges. We are asking for a drastic reduction in data prices against people. An end to the exploitation of the power market and reckless service.
The #SaveOurData campaign group awaits the approval of the Ghanaian police service to protest against the high data costs and promises to go to the Ministry of Communications and telecommunications offices:
#SaveOurData is trending and I assure it will not end here on Twitter. We are walking to the Communications Ministry and all the Telcos soon.
We are not angry enough
– Saddick Adams (@SaddickAdams) December 2, 2019
#SaveOurData This trend and I assure you that it will not end on Twitter. Soon we will go to the Ministry of Communications and telecommunications companies.
We are not angry enough.
MTN Ghana Limited in particular has been accused of snatching ordinary Ghanaians from their meager income with high data charges, and their reputation has been affected by the online protest:
Journalist and merchant Nathanial Obeng (@obengnat) tweeted:
– Nathaniel Obeng ? (@Obengnat) December 2, 2019
MTN has faced difficulties in some channels after the implementation of the price adjustment and our new data packages.
We are working non-stop to solve the problem as soon as possible.
Our priority is to continue serving them and give them the greatest value for their money.
We are with you wherever you go.
Dear MTN Ghana Limited, our request is not about your one-day technical failure but about how expensive the data has been placed in our country.
Nungua Mia Khalifa (@BlackDelite) also accused MTN Ghana of robbing Ghanaians of high data prices:
Your network is big across Africa.
You are the biggest running mobile money network.
The largest network usage in Ghana.
What at all again do you want that you keep robbing us of the little cash we raise from our hustles?#SaveOurData
– Nungua Mia Khalifa. ?? (@BlackDelite) December 2, 2019
Dear MTN Ghana Limited:
Your network is big around Africa.
You are the largest mobile network in operation.
The largest network use in Ghana.
What do they want again to keep stealing from us the little money we earn from our hard work?
Social media in elections 2020
Social media during the elections in Ghana play a fundamental role in convincing voters and spreading political messages. They directly impact how voters make their final decision, help hold leaders accountable and encourage greater and more informed participation. The active presence of social media encourages voter participation even more, strengthens political activists and some previously marginalized voices.
Internet blockades are common during elections in several countries around the world, especially in Africa. Months before the December 2016 elections in Ghana, the inspector general of the country's Police indicated that the Government was evaluating limiting access to social media networks to prevent and control the dissemination of false news and wrong information, and to Keep the peace. But a more subtle way to interrupt access to Internet services is to increase data taxes to prevent citizens from participating in national and political discourse online.
The recent increase in internet data costs will likely reduce the number of people participating in political discourse via social media platforms in the electoral period in Ghana.
A recent report published in November 2019 by the University of Exeter offers a vision of the combined impact of social media on politics in Ghana:
The fact that elections – from party nominations to presidential and parliamentary contests – are often extremely closely fought also means that, while a politician cannot rely on social media alone, an effective use of platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp can help to make the difference between winning and losing. Given the (perceived) importance of social media to politics, there is heavy investment in this space.
The fact that the elections – from the nominations of the parties to the presidential and parliamentary elections – are often fought very closely also means that, although a politician cannot rely solely on social media, an effective use of platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp can help make the difference between winning and losing. Given the (perceived) importance of social media for politics, there is a strong investment in this space.
A significant majority of journalists interviewed for this report estimate that the source of more than 80% of headlines for their articles broadcast on radio and television were social media.
As expected, the Government hired more than 700 “social media communicators” to expand its party's message on various social media platforms. They were paid small subsidies and given telephone credit to spread propaganda messages and respond to political opponents. In an interview included in the report of the University of Exeter, with a communicators from the ruling party, he pointed out how they used social media to “expand” the small mistakes of their political opponents to win the 2016 elections:
Because (the NDC) couldn’t use social media effectively, they did some projects but it looked as if they did nothing (…) When we noticed a little mistake from them, it was what we hyped on social media. We used (social media) extensively and it contributed about 40% to our victory.
As the National Democratic Congress could not use the media effectively, they did some projects, but it seemed that they did nothing (…) When we noticed a small mistake it was when we made it notice on social media. We use (social media) extensively and collaborated with 40% of our victory.
An increase in the CST will highlight the inequalities in representation and voice. Groups such as rural women, citizens with little or no education and others will not be able to pay mobile phone credit are vulnerable to exclusion.
Customers carry the load
According to the Government, the income increased by the CST is intended to strengthen cybersecurity, protect users of information technology and combat money laundering, among other financial crimes.
This increase in the CST tax from 6% to 9% applies to the fees to be paid by the user of an electronic communication service provided by telecommunications operators.
Currently, mobile phone users in Ghana are subject to the payment of various taxes (value added tax -IVA, national health insurance tax -NHIL- and an additional 9% fee) on services such as calls , text messages and data usage.
Historically, a government reform to increase the CST has always aimed to pressure Ghana's telecommunications companies to pay more taxes. However, telecommunications companies always transfer that additional tax burden to the consumer.
Therefore, it is not surprising that the Ghana Telecommunications Chamber issued a statement stating that the increase in the CST will be “on behalf of the customer”:
CST, as specified in Act 998, is a consumer tax and will thus have to be borne by consumers. This will require modifications of what customers pay in total for communication services. As intended, the incidence of the modification will thus be on consumers. It will increase the cost of telecommunication services.
The CST, as specified in Law 998, is a consumption tax and, therefore, will have to be paid by consumers. This will require modifications of what customers pay in total for communication services. As expected, the incidence of the modification will therefore fall on consumers. It will increase the cost of telecommunications services.
In Ghana, rich and educated young people are more likely to have access to the internet – which creates a huge gap. The high cost of data keeps many citizens offline, especially women.
One gigabyte (GB) of internet data in Ghana costs the equivalent of US $ 3.60, which is more than 2% of the average monthly income. It certainly does not meet the United Nations threshold of “1 for 2” for Internet affordability.
Online protests led the Government to ensure that telecommunications companies leave deductions in advance – calls, text messages, internet data, etc. – but the CST is still standing and the Government has not eliminated it.
Bright Simons, an experienced consumer rights activist, argues in a recent blog post that “increasing CST rates, as the government has been doing recently, is clearly and painfully contributing directly to the fall in value of values of data and voice that consumers across Ghana continue to lament. ”
Digital inclusion in play
A Deloitte report indicates that the removal of CST from mobile data and its halving to about 3% in other services, such as calls and text messages, reduces barriers to mobile use and promotes digital inclusion .
CST revenues as a whole will be transmitted to consumers and will create 1.3 million additional internet connections.
It would also increase productivity by up to 0.5%, generate more than $ 200 million in additional investments in 2020 and increase economic growth.
The increase in CST creates a huge barrier to affordability and exacerbates the existing digital inequalities in rural areas and among women, the elderly and citizens with little or no formal education.