Power and Politics – Perspectives on Taxation and State Building in Africa
Date: September 1, 2022 - September 2, 2022
This two-day in-person conference in Bergen, Norway, is hosted by CMI and the TaxCapDev-network, with support from the Research Council of Norway and the Nordic Tax Research Council. We aim to establish a platform for exchange of knowledge and experiences to explore new and more nuanced perspectives on the tax for development agenda. The programme includes a keynote by James Robinson and panel discussions and presentations from researchers, policymakers, tax practitioners and civil society organizations. See the whole programme here.
The conference adopts power and politics as central lenses to understand and explore the future of taxation and reforms in the Global South, with a particular focus on Africa. Across two days, the sessions explore the role of powerful interest groups and elites in shaping the fiscal state and tax policies, how norms, trust, and enforcement affect peoples’ attitudes towards taxation and the state, as well as how the legacy of historical political institutions may impact on current and future development.
Recent years have seen a massive growth in the academic and policy-oriented literature on taxation in developing countries, with a particular focus on Sub-Saharan Africa. The renewed interest in taxation reﬂects a concern for domestic revenue mobilisation to ﬁnance public spending, as well as recognition of the centrality of taxation to growth, redistribution, and promotion of a social fiscal contract between citizen state.
Using taxation to promote a fiscal contract between the state and citizens is not a given. Predatory taxation has produced revolts and widespread resistance by citizens. Thus, encouraging extractive governments to collect more taxes, and “keeping one’s fingers crossed for a governance dividend from taxation”, is likely to be naïve at best and harmful at worst.
Much of the existing research on state building presupposes environments where property rights and contracts are enforced by a state. Current literature tends to emphasize weak administrative capacity, lack of accountability, corruption, foreign aid, and resource dependence of African states as key explanation behind low tax-to-GDP ratios. There is robust evidence that this is the case in many settings. However, the problem is also one of power and politics, including elite’s capture of key state institutions, enabled by the Western tax avoidance industry. South Africa under Jacob Zuma’s presidency and Russia during the last two decades are prominent examples of elite capture. In other settings, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia and in the Sahel, the state is not the dominant actor for service provision and security to local populations. Armed groups regularly establish illegal monopolies of violence, offer protection, raise taxes, run administrations, and often enjoy more legitimacy than the central government. Moreover, since most African states appeared late through history – during the second half of the 20th century – the persistent legacy of pre-colonial and colonial political institutions affect peoples’ current attitudes towards taxation and the legitimacy of political authority.