This working paper adopts an urban lens on property tax. It focuses specifically on how property tax operates in two African secondary cities, Kisumu (Kenya) and M’Bour (Senegal).
The paper identifies three factors shaping the low levels of property tax collection in the two case cities. These are the misalignment between the spatial scale of property tax collection and the utilisation of funds; constrained resources and capacity for collection; and tax administrators’ own perceptions of the legitimacy of property taxation. These factors have tangible effects on the everyday workings of property taxation. The cases also demonstrate that tax administrators make sustained efforts to improve taxation.
While the same types of challenges are evident in the cities of Kisumu and M’Bour, how administrators respond reflects the unique and particular context of each place and the perspective of the administrators who work there. This finding confirms that local tax administrators are not simply the recipients of tax policy, but are active agents in shaping how policies operate in practice. Overall, improving property taxation requires interventions to address alignment, capacity, and legitimacy. However, rather than attempting top-down reform, this research suggests that building on the perceptions and practices of tax administrators will offer a more effective pathway to incrementally improving property tax in Africa’s smaller urban centres.