Anger mounts in Benin as new data tax drives up internet costs
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A planned protest against a sharp hike in internet costs in Benin was blocked on Friday in Cotonou, the country's commercial hub, after the authorities refused to grant a licence for the demonstration.
This week saw the start of a new law, imposed without explanation, that has driven up the price of using social networks from 2 CFA francs to 10 CFA francs per megabyte.
"The request for authorising the demonstration was refused by the mayor," general secretary of the Benin association of web activists Hugues Sossoukpe told AFP.
"We have abandoned the protest because the commissioner says there aren't enough police to monitor us," said Sossoukpe, adding that another protest was planned for next Wednesday.
Opposition to the increased charges are growing momentum, ironically on social networks where activists have launched hashtags like #TaxePasMesMo (Don't tax my megabytes) and an online petition that has collected over 13,000 signatures.
"We think that the Beninese government should rather compel telecom operators to improve the quality of their service," said the petition on the change.org platform.
"This tax increase isn't justified and was done without any consultation," said consumer rights campaigner Alban Tometissin.
During the Benin investment forum in August, Finance Minister Romuald Wadagni hinted that "the cost of internet will be more expensive for those who criticise the government."
He claimed it was a joke but Sossoukpe takes a more cynical view.
"The government of Benin has just suppressed communication, a fundamental right that can't be compromised," Sossoukpe said.
"This tax strangles democracy and freedom of expression, epitomised by the fiery debates on social networks."
The opposition Party for the Liberation of the People said it "castigates the imposition of these taxes and the disregard of operators" calling for "strong citizen action".
Sources close to the Benin presidency told AFP they were in talks with telecom companies about the higher fee.
Africa has the highest price of internet relative to monthly income in the world, according to data published by the Alliance for Affordable Internet.
In late May, Uganda introduced a tax for WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to silence "gossip" that has been met with fierce resistance.
Tanzania has also introduced a new law requiring online platforms to pay for a licence and regulating internet content, requiring operators of online platforms to divulge the names of their sources and contributors if the authorities require it.
© 2018 AFP