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There is no perfect tax system, merely a sub-optimal system that reflects the compromised agreements between the state and society. A tax system, however should ideally follow the canons of Ibn Khaldun and Adam Smith: equality or equity; certainty; convenience; economy; and justice. Additional canons added on by other scholars like David Ricardo include: productivity, buoyancy, flexibility, simplicity and diversity.

African countries and Kenya are no exception ad they too in order to have a compliant population should try to achieve as many of these as possible and to the greatest extent possible. In Kenya taxation before colonialism was rudimentary, simple and operated at a very small scale and was mainly in kind. The Arabs settled along the East African coastline in the 7th century and formed themselves into Sultanates as city states resulting in the creation of the Sultanates of Zanzibar, Mombasa, Malindi, Pate, Pemba, Mafia, Kilwa and Witu. These city states under the Sultanate applied the Islamic law based taxes of zakat, jizya, sadaqa and khums in addition to customs levy, capitation tax as well as harbour fees and in return defence as well as development of an education and sewer system was implemented When the Portuguese came in the 14th century they continued to apply the trade taxes however only maintained defence of the seas.

Taxation under the British, was individual or homestead based and included the hut and poll tax, land tax, graduated tax, income tax and customs and excise duty. These taxes were not used to develop much apart from building the railway and roads. They deliberately ignored the cardinal principles of taxation. This was due to the fact that the British colonial policy rested on the policy of conversion of a territory into a viable economic entity. Other drivers of the British taxation system are also highlighted and they include, among others, to supplement the cost of administration, to establish control, to convert a subsistence economy into a capitalist one and enforced labour was part of this philosophy.

Kenya had developed an extensive taxation system that unfortunately maintains a reflection of the colonial policy and this resulted in a tax system, highly dependent (both formally and informally) on customs and import duties that today is spawning more problems in a globalizing world that is looking to open borders and reduce tariffs.

See generally: Waris: Tax and Development Law Africa (2013) http://www.lawafrica.com/item_view.php?itemid=91