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Informal airtime sellers across the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have reported the drop in the number of customers buying airtime for fear of being “robbed” by RAM ((Registre des appareils mobiles), a controversial mobile tax recently introduced by the government in this Central African nation.

“I haven’t sold any airtime since this morning, only internet megabytes. This RAM business is turning into a disaster, same thing last week,” Jean-Claude Mayala, an airtime street seller, told BizTech Africa in Kinshasa, as the sun set on the bustling city of 15 million people.

“It’s a hopeless situation. People are very scared of RAM, which behaves just like a serial killer. Our revenues keep decreasing as people stay away from buying airtime. If the trend continues in the next six months, I will close the shop and leave the country,” cellular shop owner Ephraim Boyata said from Matadi, a city located 350 km west of the capital Kinshasa.

Every purchase of airtime is being heavily taxed by the mobile network, which sends a message to the user to notify him or her that a certain amount of US dollars has been deducted from his/her airtime balance.

To make up for the loss of revenues in airtime, mobile networks have introduced the sale of minutes. Seven minutes to all networks cost 1000 Congolese Francs ($0.50) and last only 24 hours.

The debate about the tax has turned into a heated argument between the government and opposition politicians and civil society groups who describe RAM as a “state-concocted scam”. 

Despite the outcry, the government refused to budge, saying RAM was necessary to overhaul the telecom sector.

A motion of no confidence introduced in Parliament against Telecommunications and ICT minister Augustin Kibassa Maliba was rejected by the parliamentary majority last week, to the dismay of mobile users who accuse the state of running an organised crime syndicate.

Maliba revealed on 29 September 2021 that $25 million have already been collected and 38 million mobile telephones have been registered since the introduction of RAM, a claim outrightly rejected by some observers who believe the amount could be more.

Members of Parliament have submitted a report to Prime Minister Sama Lukonde about the controversial tax, in which they demonstrated the frustrations of the population and made some recommendations. Lukonde said the government would give an appropriate response to the population in due course.

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