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Of rule not revenue: South Sudan’s revenue complex from colonial, rebel, to independent rule, 1899 to 2023

Benson, Matthew ORCID: 0000-0003-4789-9458 (2024) Of rule not revenue: South Sudan’s revenue complex from colonial, rebel, to independent rule, 1899 to 2023. Comparative Studies in Society and History. ISSN 0010-4175

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Identification Number: 10.1017/S0010417524000045


This article analyses taxation practices in colonial, post-colonial rebel-led, and independent South Sudan and argues that the ethos of taxation in the region has been and remains primarily oriented around predatory and coercive strategies of rule. This overarching pattern endures because the fundamental structure and rationale of revenue-raising practices, which collectively constitute South Sudan’s revenue complex, have not changed since at least Anglo-Egyptian occupation of the region in 1899. The paper explains how tax collecting as predation began when the first colonial administration deployed taxes to acquire loyalty from customary authorities such as chiefs and sheikhs, who personally benefitted from their taxation powers. From the early 1960s to 2005, armed groups in the region periodically fought against Khartoum-led rule, and rebels extorted taxes from the population to help fuel their war efforts. Taxes in today’s South Sudan, which acquired independence in 2011, are not collected to raise revenue except to pay off the individuals collecting them, and they continue to generate predation. The rise of international aid and windfalls from oil revenues have further diminished taxation’s financial significance for the national government and have altered local authorities’ coercive demands for payment. The portrait that emerges from the practices of South Sudan’s successive war-makers and state-makers is one of taxation wielded as a technology of rule, one of coercion and often extortion, to fulfil the self-interests of tax collectors. The article is based on archival research in Sudanese and South Sudanese national archives, British colonial archives, and 205 interviews conducted in South Sudan.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2024 The Author
Divisions: Conflict and Civil Society
Subjects: D History General and Old World
D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HJ Public Finance
Date Deposited: 06 Feb 2024 15:39
Last Modified: 12 Apr 2024 13:57

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