Briefing Paper

Multifaceted Challenges of Digital Taxation in Africa

Digitalisation has prompted the evolution of innovative business models and created new forms of value creation. In the mobile telecommunications industry, this has resulted in the ubiquity of over-the top (OTT) and other digital apps and services such as social networking platforms and fintech services. To supplement meagre tax bases, several African governments have imposed regressive excise taxes on these services, which impact end-users. With the poor most negatively affected, this undermines developing countries’ universal access strategies and impacts a wide range of social and economic development efforts. On the global stage, tax avoidance by dominant international firms have prompted ongoing negotiations for a reset of the international tax system, including digital taxes. As part of the reset, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has proposed new global tax rules that would enable taxation of firms (including technology platforms) in jurisdictions where they generate revenues, regardless of whether they have a physical presence in the country. Despite the shortcomings of the OECD’s proposed tax system, for those African countries that are participating in the BEPS inclusive framework (IF), the reform efforts may provide the necessary platform to elevate the discourse on the disproportional impacts of corporate tax avoidance in Africa and provide a more sustainable tax base for capital investments in critical infrastructure and social investment and protection, particularly in the context of COVID-19