Footing the Bill? Less Legitimacy, More Avoidance Mark African Views on Taxation

Taxation is a key fiscal tool for domestic resource mobilization. In many African countries, however, weak tax-administration systems limit the ways in which governments can finance their development agendas and provide essential services such as health care, education, and infrastructure. The importance of raising resources through taxation has been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic. Governments globally have confronted a sudden drop in tax revenue as many economic sectors have slowed amid lockdowns. Especially in developing countries, this shock has significantly curtailed governments’ ability to fund access to vital health, financial, and other services and assistance to those most affected by the pandemic. The reduction in tax revenue during the pandemic is likely to compound itself over time and limit how quickly developing economies can bounce back as governments lack the fiscal resources to stimulate growth. Afrobarometer survey data collected in 34 African countries in 2019/2021 show that a majority of Africans endorse their government’s right to collect taxes. But popular support for taxation has weakened over the past decade while perceptions that people often avoid paying their taxes have increased sharply. Moreover, many Africans question the fairness of their country’s tax burden, and only half think their government is using tax revenue for the well-being of its citizens. While a majority would pay higher taxes to support young people and national development, most say they find it difficult to get information about tax requirements and uses, and many see tax officials as corrupt and untrustworthy. Such perceptions may play a role in how willingly citizens support – and comply with – their government’s tax administration.