Privacy Please

Uganda’s Elections and Social media shut down, WhatsApp and it’s privacy update, digital service tax in Kenya

Hello there,

It’s still early in the year so we’d start by saying a Happy new year! This has been the longest break we’ve taken in the past year and we’re glad to be back. 

Uganda’s Elections and Social media shut down 

Uganda recently had their general elections but two days before the parliamentary and presidential elections, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered all Internet providers in the country to shut down social media. 

What could have caused this?

Uganda has had a history of internet shutdowns during elections but this sudden move came after Facebook shut down several accounts belonging to Ugandan officials for the use of multiple Facebook or Instagram assets and for working in concert to engage in inauthentic behaviour with fake accounts. 

In other African countries

Internet shutdown has been a major tactic the government uses to limit citizen’s freedom of speech/expression. In 2020, a tribal feud between Tigray, an ethnic group in Ethiopia and the federal government, caused weeks of unrest in the country. The government ordered mobile networks, fixed-line internet, and landline telephones to be cut in Tigray. Before this, In July 2020, Ethiopia shut down the country’s internet for about a month after deadly protests that followed the assassination of activist and popular musician, Hachalu Hundessa.

Nigeria is yet to go through any internet shutdown but there was an Anti-social media bill introduced in 2015 by the senate, titled ‘a Bill for an Act to Prohibit Frivolous Petitions and other Matters Connected therewith.’ Although this bill has been hugely opposed by Nigerians and is yet to be made into law, it is just a few steps away from becoming law.

Countries like Zimbabwe, Togo, Burundi, Chad, Mali and Guinea also controlled access to the internet or social media at some point in 2020.

An Internet shutdown is expensive

In 2016, Ethiopia imposed restrictions on movement and internet usage, which cost the country about $500,000 every day in lost GDP.  In 2019, there were 25 documented cases of total or partial internet shutdown in Africa. 

Data shows that 759 days (18,225 hours) of internet disruptions cost the global economy a staggering $8.05bn in 2019 and Sub-Saharan Africa countries lost about $2.16bn. 

Chad lost $125.9m when the government blocked social media access for 4,728 hours (197 days) while Ethiopia lost $56.8m in its fourth consecutive internet shutdown which lasted 14 days. Sudan incurred the highest cost when the government shut down the internet for 65 days. 

In a nutshell

African leaders seem nonchalant about how much they are costing their countries with these shutdowns. The restrictions seek to silence the voices of citizens, which is against their constitutional human rights, freedom of speech and expression. 

WhatsApp and it’s privacy update 

It all started a week ago when WhatsApp sent out notifications to its users that it was updating its terms and privacy policies.

Yes, that pop-up that you mindlessly agree to because the other options aren’t worth your time or effort. Usually, an update doesn’t cause a ruckus but it did this time because...

The Changes 

It started with removing this statement, “Respect for your privacy is coded into our DNA. Since we started WhatsApp, we’ve aspired to build our services with a set of strong privacy principles in mind.” from the privacy policy.

Then also removing the option to ignore or not accept this policy and keep using WhatsApp. Simply put, if you don’t agree to it, you can’t keep using WhatsApp by the February 8th.

What are people saying: They responded by saying things like ‘How can WhatsApp do this? This is so unfair’ to‘ I’m moving on to other options like Telegram and Signal that care about my privacy.’ 

While some people just didn’t care about it.

What people might be missing: Nothing has changed, WhatsApp just came forward to inform people on how it was using their data. Although WhatsApp users think they’re now being forced to share data with Facebook, it’s already been happening if they didn’t opt out in 2016, when Facebook last changed their privacy policy.

Also, another reason Facebook is changing its policy is to provide information about how businesses can use WhatsApp to connect with their customers. A reason that has been overlooked.

Simply put, the reason WhatsApp recently notified app users about revised privacy rules is that Facebook is making WhatsApp a place to shop for clothes, book for a hotel room, and chat with an airline about a missed flight. A feature that will be beneficial to business owners, advertisers and even everyday casual users.

Bottom line: This update to WhatsApp terms and privacy policies may help WhatsApp provide “better” services, but it also raises several privacy concerns that have plagued Facebook for a while now.  

The question on many people’s minds is, would this data be used for only what Facebook says it will?

Still Movin’ Around

The pandemic and online businesses have been some sort of a love story over the past year. This growth has also catapulted the logistics sector which we talked about here.

In Kenya

As we continue to explore online businesses, The Kenyan government has started to implement the Digital Services tax it proposed last year for internet businesses. As we recall, businesses and individuals were obligated to pay a 1.5% fee on the value of goods and services sold or offered online.

The Kenyan Revenue authority claims that these online businesses have started to register. It  expects the number of registrations to hit 100 before the week runs out and 1000 by June 2021, generating a possible revenue of 5 billion Kenyan shillings ($45 million)


On the opposite side of the continent, The Nigerian Central Bank has updated regulations for fintech Sandbox operations. A sandbox is a formal process for conducting live tests of innovative products, services or business models. 

This regulation is expected to assist new fintech entrants with a safe testing environment and ease regulatory onboarding for their products. 

The Early Bird

While the pandemic is trying to keep everyone’s feet on the ground, it is a good omen to see that the authorities in two major economies in Africa have kicked off 2021 by trying to create a strong structure for businesses as well as generate revenue. 

Worth reading 

The Lastman standing: That’s how you maximize wealth.

Hail the Maintainers: What happens after innovation.

Not you FB ads users complaining about the new WhatsApp privacy policy 🙄

Quote 💭

Our trouble is not ignorance, but inaction. – Dale Carnegie