Taxation in the Congo Free State, an exceptional case? (1885–1908)
Dr. Bas De Roo (U Leipzig)
|Publication Date||June 2017|
|Publisher||Economic History Society of Southern Africa (U Stellenbosch, South Africa)|
Journal Economic History of Developing Regions 32/2 (2017): 97–126.
This article analyses the annual budgets of the Congo Free State to examine whether the broader fiscal patterns observed for British, French, and Portuguese Africa can be found in Leopold’s colony, often considered a fiscal exception. The fiscal history of the Free State was unique. A history of the income composition of the state, however reveals that Leopold’s revenue-raising strategies showed a lot of similarity with colonial taxation in British, French, and Portuguese Africa. With little metropolitan support and limited access to international lending, Leopold’s administration faced the fiscal challenge of ruling a vast, thinly populated, inaccessible colony that produced little taxable surplus. To deal with this challenge, the Free State developed a minimalistic fiscal system that was based on the taxation of international trade and the African subject. Only during a commodity boom did this system generate sufficient income to cover colonial expenditure. Hence, the study of the not so exceptional case of the Free State supports the claim that the colonial scope to tax African colonies was fundamentally determined by local economic conditions and power relations, global demand for commodities, and metropolitan pressure to be financially self-sufficient.
Keywords: Congo, taxation, colonialism
Abstract and image source: Journal Economic History of Developing Regions, Link (20 July 2017)
Dr. Bas De Roo (SFB 1199, U Leipzig, Germany)
Bas De Roo is a historian specializing in African and global history. He obtained a PhD from Ghent University in 2016. His PhD dissertation deals with the fiscal history of the Congo Free State and the Belgian Congo. He mainly focused on the many hurdles that the colonial administration faced in its attempt to effectively monitor and tax international trade. At the Collaborative Research Centre, he examines the reconfiguration of economic and political spaces in Central Africa during and after the “Scramble for Africa”.