Journal of Historical Political Economy > Vol 3 > Issue 4

Beyond the Personal Income Tax: Direct Taxation without Representation in Colonial Africa

Daisy Ward, Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin, USA,
Suggested Citation
Daisy Ward (2024), "Beyond the Personal Income Tax: Direct Taxation without Representation in Colonial Africa", Journal of Historical Political Economy: Vol. 3: No. 4, pp 555-575.

Publication Date: 26 Feb 2024
© 2024 D. Ward
Taxation,  International business,  Bureaucracy,  Comparative political economy,  Comparative politics,  Democracy,  Government,  International political economy,  Political history,  Public administration,  Representation,  War
Capitationcolonial administrationdirect taxationsub-Saharan Africa


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In this article:
Explaining Patterns of Taxation 
Direct Taxation without Representation 
Historical Setting: Africa before World War I 
Research Design 


Recent work has emphasized the rise of direct taxation after World War I as a phenomenon of Western Europe and the United States, mostly due to the establishment of the personal income tax. However, other forms of direct taxation have been more prevalent throughout history. I analyze the example of sub-Saharan African colonies during the early twentieth century. Colonial rule in Africa reached its peak in the interwar period, consolidating dramatically after World War I. I explain this consolidation through the rise of direct taxes. I develop a theory on the shift to direct taxation, mostly in the form of head and hut taxes, as a result of increasing revenue pressures due to World War I. The theory is informed by qualitative historical evidence from British and Portuguese colonies documenting the choice by colonial administrators to increase and establish new direct taxes. A synthetic control method expands the analysis. I propose that in the colonial context, a shift to direct taxation need not be redistributive at all.



Journal of Historical Political Economy, Volume 3, Issue 4 Special Issue: The Political Economy of the Interwar Period
See the other articles that are part of this special issue.