P191 – The Changing Politics of Taxation in Africa
8 July, 14:00-15:30

Cheeseman Nic / Oxford University


Taxation is a core function of the state, and a purpose for which and by which states attempt to collectively mobilise society. The modes and means of taxation shape the political economy of a country and influence the relationships between citizens and states, as well as between states and external actors. Reforms to tax systems are common across the continent. In some cases, this has been the product of technocratic politics and donor assistance. In others, changes in economic dynamics, such as new service sectors, new natural resource discoveries, and attempts to ‘formalise’ and harness the revenues of the informal sector, have driven such changes. The public administration and economic significance of these transformations has been the subject of important recent scholarship. But the politics of these reforms, and their impact on patterns of state formation, are only just beginning to emerge as a field of study. This panel draws together an interdisciplinary set of papers in order to explore the political dynamics around tax revenue and fiscal administration, fundamental to the nature of states and to their relationship with the population. More specifically, the studies use evidence from Angola, Cameroon, the DRC, Mozambique, and Sierra Leone, to investigate a range of important topics including informal taxation and its relation to the formal sector, the (un)popularity of taxation, decentralization, external dependency, and the treatment of taxpayers by African governments.

L’évolution des politiques de la fiscalité en Afrique
La fiscalité est une fonction essentielle de l’État, et un but pour lequel et par lequel les États tentent de mobiliser collectivement la société. Les modes et moyens d’imposition constituent l’économie politique d’un pays et influencent les relations entre les citoyens et les États, ainsi qu’entre les États et des acteurs externes. Les réformes des systèmes fiscaux sont courantes sur le continent. Dans certains cas, elles ont été le produit de politiques technocratiques des donateurs. Dans d’autres, de nouvelles dynamiques économiques, comme dans le secteur des services, de nouvelles ressources naturelles, et les tentatives de « formaliser » et exploiter les revenus du secteur informel, ont entrainé ces changements. L’administration publique et la portée économique de ces transformations ont beaucoup été étudiées récemment. Mais la politique de ces réformes, et leur impact sur la formation de l’État, commencent tout juste à être étudiés. Ce panel regroupe un ensemble de communications interdisciplinaires afin d’explorer la dynamique politique autour des recettes fiscales et de l’administration fiscale, en lien avec la nature des États et leur relation avec leur population. Les études portent sur l’Angola, le Cameroun, la RDC, le Mozambique et la Sierra Leone, et s’intéressent à la fiscalité informelle en lien avec le secteur formel, la (non) popularité de la fiscalité, la décentralisation, la dépendance externe et la gestion des contribuables par les gouvernements africains.

Paper 1

Prichard Wilson / University of Toronto

van den Boogaard Vanessa / University of Toronto

The Prevalence and Relative Popularity of Informal Taxation in Sierra Leone

In low-income and post-conflict countries, and particularly in rural areas, citizens often pay a range of non-statutory “informal taxes” to a variety of state and non-state actors, but they are frequently overlooked in analyses of local tax systems. This leads to misunderstanding of individual and household tax burdens, as well as of systems of local governance. This study seeks to capture the reality of taxation in peripheral areas of Sierra Leone. It is based on a taxpayer survey covering 1129 heads of households, in-depth interviews with government and chiefdom officials, and focus group discussions with community stakeholders across three rural districts of Sierra Leone. We find that non-state informal taxation is a significant proportion of all taxes paid by individuals, and describe the variety, extent, magnitude, and enforcement mechanisms associated with different taxes – including those paid to local and central governments, chiefdoms, and non-state actors. We highlight a strong culture of “self-help” and the dominant role of social norms in compliance and enforcement of informal taxation. We find relatively positive perceptions of taxes levied by non-state actors in terms of fairness, transparency, accountability, and service provision. By contrast, taxpayers generally hold negative perceptions of local and central government taxes. We conclude by considering the implications of these findings, particularly in the context of on-going fiscal decentralization.

Paper 2

Englebert Pierre / Pomona College

Decentralization, Donors, and the Consequences of Partial Reform in the DR Congo

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, decentralization reforms promoted by aid donors have met with only partial implementation as a result of government resistance and weak capacity. Although provinces are legally autonomous, they have little or no effective authority over constitutionally decentralized matters, receive few resources from the central government, and lack electoral accountability. Despite or because of such limitations, aid donors have allocated considerable resources to build capacity in provinces. Given the partial implementation of reforms, however, their efforts have unleashed unexpected dynamics. While they have contributed to greater provincial capacity and revenue, they have also facilitated the development of provinces as extractive institutions and the multiplication of taxes faced by grass-root Congolese; promoted the recentralization of authority at the provincial level and away from local entities; and failed to prevent largely unaccountable provincial governance. As donors intend decentralization to promote good governance, these findings suggest that partial reform implementation can yield effects at odds with their intentions.

Paper 3

Anderson Emily Jean / LSE

Tax, statebuilding, and external dependency in postcolonial Angola and Mozambique

Tax reform provides a politically important means for single resource-dependent countries such as Angola and Mozambique to reduce external dependence while improving income redistribution following protracted civil wars. In comparative perspective, this paper analyses tax reforms adopted in postcolonial Angola and Mozambique and assesses the impact of fiscal policy on state capacity and accountability. Drawing on recent fieldwork in both countries, including fiscal data collection spanning the post-independence period and elite interviews, the paper argues that, by providing the governments with autonomous revenue streams, foreign aid in Mozambique and oil income in Angola have disincentivised reform and undermined extractive capacity. The analysis compares the impacts of oil and aid on revenue collection processes and particularly on the flow of public finances between state and society. It suggests that these autonomous revenue streams have disconnected state finances from society, with the effect of disrupting the link between the imperatives of revenue generation and redistribution.

Paper 4

Titeca Kristof / University of Antwerp

“Real” taxation practices in the Congolese police sector

How are public services financed in a situation with minimal state infrastructure and state resources? Through the case of the Congolese traffic police, it will be shown how in the absence of state regulation and financing, an extensive system of informal revenue collection has been established. Based on both ethnographic and quantitative field research in three Congolese towns, it will be shown how first, there is a strong competition for control over these informal revenue streams. Second, the paper analyses the tension between informal and formal tax collection, and more concretely efforts by the state to formalize the informal revenue streams. Lastly, attention will be given to the distribution of power and authority in the Congolese police sector and within this taxation system.

Paper 5

Muñoz José-María / University of Edinburgh

How are taxpayers categorised and treated? The technopolitics of segmentation in Cameroon

As Jane Guyer noted more than two decades ago, public revenue systems in Africa contain powerful moral, political, and economic theories of state and society. This paper explores the political implications of the differential categorization and treatment of taxpayers by revenue authorities. With the institutional backing of the OECD and the IMF’s Fiscal Affairs Department, numerous revenue authorities across the world have in the last decade adopted what in the administrative jargon are called ‘segmentation models’. Segmentation in this context involves dividing taxpayers into categories according to their attitudes towards compliance and treating them accordingly. The paper places segmentation, whose implementation in Africa is still limited and uneven, within a broader set of legal and administrative tools that have equivalent effects. To what extent and how is the differential categorization and treatment of taxpayers changing in sub-Saharan Africa today? The paper probes that question using Cameroon as a case study.

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