Colonial Administration, Public Accounts and Fiscal Extraction: Policies and Revenues in Portuguese Africa (1900-1960)1

By Havik, Philip J. | African Economic History, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Colonial Administration, Public Accounts and Fiscal Extraction: Policies and Revenues in Portuguese Africa (1900-1960)1


Havik, Philip J., African Economic History


Introduction

The economic and political history of former Portuguese colonies in Africa still needs to be written, above all for the last century of imperial rule.2 This chapter intends to fill a number of lacunae with regard to the economic and financial developments that shaped colonial Angola, Mozambique and Guinea from the late 1800s to the 1950s, with a particular focus on fiscal policies and their impact. The analysis of these developments presented here takes into account not only the ongoing debate on the economic aspects on Portuguese colonial administration, but also takes its cue from studies on British and French colonialism in sub- Saharan Africa for the same period. Over the years, fiscal issues have come to form an essential part of this discussion, given the centrality of taxation for the imperial project. The distinction between indirect and direct taxation is given particular relevance here, given the implications for the question of the exercise of sovereignty over African subjects as tax payers. It raises key issues such as registration, collection and accounting, the important distinction between the gatekeeper state and the sovereign, extractive state, and the nature of citizenship which were to shape the perceptions of the vast majority of African populations that were expected to directly contribute to the colonial project. The question of direct taxation which began to form a major source of colonial revenue in most African colonies between the early 1900s and the 1920s includes a broad gamut of issues, from the question of internal revenue generation, its organization and efficiency, associated with the notion of mise en valeur, to that of the social and political aims of administration, often likened to social engineering, generally summarized by the concept of the civilizing mission. In between, a less visible spectrum of policies and practices associated with colonial governance and the impact of its quest for revenue on African populations and the latter's reactions come into view. The questions raised here intend to go beyond much debated questions such as (compulsory) labor recruitment and crop production, to the no less important fiscal aspects of empire, which have been largely neglected in the Portuguese case. A fresh look at public accounts and colonial economies is warranted, not in the least in view of recent research on taxation in former British, French and Belgian Africa.3

In the Portuguese context, the case of Portuguese Guinea (currently Guinea Bissau) has already been studied in some detail for part of the period under consideration,4 as have certain aspects of taxation in Mozambique for the early 1900s,5 while Angola continues to largely remain a neglected region despite its importance for empire.6 A recent attempt to put the relevance of fiscal policy, into perspective for former Portuguese Africa - above all with regard to direct "native" taxation - looked at the changes that occurred in Portuguese West Africa during the 1930s against the background of the global economic crisis.7 The emergence of the Estado Novo regime in Portugal which curbed colonial autonomy and imposed measures to balance colonial budgets while reducing debts to the metropolis, led to increased pressures on administrations and tax payers in order to increase internally generated revenue by all possible means. In addition, the question of colonial administration and fiscal revenue was approached from the angle of empire in order to assert to what extent Portuguese colonial administration Angola, Mozambique and Guinea in the twentieth century merits reassessment.8 The debate on the issue of economic development in Portugal's former African colonies from the 1960s onwards, involved a number of scholars such as Castro,9 Hammond,10 Henriksen,11 Clarence-Smith,12 Alexandre,13 Pedreira,14 Lains15 and Ferreira.16 Although they put the economic relations between Portugal and its colonies on the map, their contributions to the debate tend to bypass or make scant reference to the generation of public revenue through direct taxation on "native" African populations in these regions, which represented a crucial source of colonial income for most of the colonial period during the 1900s. …

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