15 July 2013 Written by  Yohannes Mesfin and Sisay Bogale

History of Taxation in Ethiopia

The history of taxes reveals that their coercive nature is of comparatively recent development. The original idea of a tax was that payment was not obligatory upon the subject, but consisted rather as a voluntary contribution toward the expenses of government, as appears from the Medieval Latin term donum, and the English "benevolence." This conception of the relation between the subject and government was gradually transformed; payment becoming more and more obligatory, until finally coercive taxation resulted. At the present time payment of taxes is obligatory in all civilized nations; where the rate or imposition is at all dependent upon the taxpayer, the tax takes the form of a fee or payment for contractual services.

Resources were allocated among the various sectors of the economy differently in the imperial and revolutionary periods. Under the emperor, the government dedicated about 36 percent of the annual budget to national defense and maintenance of internal order. Toward the end of the imperial period, the budgets of the various ministries increased steadily while tax yields stagnated. With a majority of the population living at a subsistence level, there was limited opportunity to increase taxes on personal or agricultural income. Consequently, the imperial government relied on indirect taxes (customs, excise, and sales) to generate revenues. For instance, in the early l970s taxes on foreign trade accounted for close to two fifths of the tax revenues and about one-third of all government revenues, excluding foreign grants. At the same time, direct taxes accounted for less than one-third of tax revenues.

The revolutionary government changed the tax structure in 1976, replacing taxes on agricultural income and rural land with a rural land-use fee and a new tax on income from agricultural activities. The government partially alleviated the tax collection problem that existed during the imperial period by delegating the responsibility for collecting the fee and tax on agriculture to peasant associations, which received a small percentage of revenues as payment. Whereas total revenue increased significantly, to about 24 percent of GDP in l988/89, tax revenues remained stagnant at around l5 percent of GDP. In l974/75, total revenue and tax revenue had been l3 and 11 percent of GDP, respectively. Despite the 1976 changes in the tax structure, the government believed that the agricultural income tax was being underpaid, largely because of under assessments by peasant associations.

The government levied taxes on exports and imports. In 1987 Addis Ababa taxed all exports at 2 percent and levied an additional export duty and a sur-tax on coffee. Import taxes included customs duties and a 19 percent general import transaction tax. Because of a policy of encouraging new capital investment, the government exempted capital goods from all import taxes. Among imports, intermediate goods were taxed on a scale ranging from 0 to 35 percent, consumer goods on a scale of 0 to l00 percent, and luxuries at a flat rate of 200 percent. High taxes on certain consumer goods and luxury items contributed to a flourishing underground economy in which the smuggling of some imports, particularly liquor and electronic goods, played an important part.

Although tax collection procedures proved somewhat ineffective, the government maintained close control of current and capital expenditures. The Ministry of Finance oversaw procurements and audited ministries to ensure that expenditures conformed to budget authorizations.

Current expenditures as a proportion of GDP grew from l3.2 percent in l974/75 to 26.1 percent in l987/88. This growth was largely the result of the increase in expenditures for defense and general services following the 1974 revolution. During the l977-78 Ogaden War, for example, when the Somali counteroffensive was under way, defense took close to 60 percent of the budget. That percentage declined after l979, although it remained relatively higher than the figure for the pre-revolutionary period. Between l974 and l988, about 40 to 50 percent of the budget was dedicated to defense and government services.

Economic and social services received less than 30 percent of government funds until l972/73, when a rise in educational outlays pushed them to around 40 percent. Under the Dergue regime, economic and social service expenditures remained at pre-revolutionary levels: agriculture's share was 2 percent, while education and health received an average of l4 and 4 percent, respectively.

The Ethiopian Tax Reform of 2002

Since 1992/93, the Government of Ethiopia has made a major economic policy shift from Central Planning to market oriented economic system. In line with this change, a series of tariff and tax reform measures have been taken. The reasons to these were: outdated tariff and tax laws; weak customs and tax administration; failure of the tariff and tax regime to attract investment, to facilitate trade and to generate adequate revenue to cover current and capital expenditure, and hence finance development and poverty reducing projects. 

The series of tariff and tax reform programs have helped to increase both Federal Government and national revenue. As per the reports of the Ministry of Revenue, the Federal Revenue has increased to Birr 6.7 billion in 2002/2003 from Birr 2.54 billion in 1993/94 as the result of which federal revenue as percentage of the GDP increased from 8.97% in 1993/94 to 11.87% in 2002/03. The increase in revenue mainly attributes to the modest increase in both direct and indirect taxes, mainly the foreign trade taxes. As well, National tax revenue as percentage of GDP has increased to 15.1% in 2002/03 from 10.9 in 1993/94. Despite, the series of reforms and increase in revenue, the overall budget deficit with and without grant has been increasing. For example, the overall budget deficit without grants as percent of GDP has increased from -5.2% in 1996/97 to -14.5% in 2002/03. This shows that performance of revenue collection in Ethiopia has been low compared to the rest of Sub-Saharan African countries which is over 23% of the GDP. 

Hence, coupled by a series of reduction in the import tariff, excise tax and income tax and widening of the budgetary deficit, introducing a neutral and efficient tax, i.e. the VAT with broad tax base was considered. Value Added Tax (VAT) has become a major tax instrument worldwide.  The global trend to introduce VAT in more countries is continuing.  VAT has also become an indispensable component of tax reforms in developing countries.  Ethiopia's tax reform program has introduced VAT since January, 2003. 

VAT revenue performance and its neutrality and efficiency are also the reasons for superiority of this tax in contrast to other common tax instruments such as the turnover tax.  The emerging conventional wisdom, based largely on practice and numerous country case studies, suggests that a single rate VAT (with the rate between 10 and 20%), with very few exemptions and, therefore, a broad base is superior to a VAT with multiple rates and many exemptions which reduce its base and complicate administrations.  Ethiopia's standard VAT rate of 15% and 10% equalization for services and 2% for goods have to be studied in the medium term whether or not they could broaden the tax base and register high revenue performance. The three major taxes and their respective Tax Reforms are explained below:

  1. Taxes on Income and Profits

Tax on employment income used to be guided by Income Tax Proclamation No. 173/1961. In the 1990s, this proclamation was amended with modifications to the legislation regulating income tax on employment: rural land and agricultural income tax; rental income tax; taxes on business and other profits; tax on income form mining activities; capital gains tax, and taxes on other sources of income such as chance wining (which carries a tax rate of 15 per cent), royalties (with a tax rate of 5 per cent) and tax on non-resident persons offering services in Ethiopia (which carries a tax rate of 10 per cent).

This reform resulted in a schedule for marginal tax rate which is currently being applied to income exceeding Birr 150, the assumed minimum wage rate. Compared to the marginal tax rate of 89 per cent during the military (Dergue) period; the current reform which reduced the maximum marginal tax rate to 35 per cent was quite radical. The 1978 income tax for rural land and agricultural activities was also amended in 1995 and 1997. For land use, farmers are now taxed Birr 10 for the first hectare and Birr 7.5 for each additional half hectare. Moreover, annual income exceeding Birr 1,200 is subject to a progressive tax rate (as outlined in Appendix Table 1). The land use fee for state farms is Birr 15 per hectare. A novel aspect of the latest tax policy concerning the agricultural sector is the fact that an agricultural investor is exempted from income tax for two consecutive five-year periods. A progressive marginal tax rate schedule was also enacted in 2002 for income derived from the rent of houses (including manufacturing plants).

  1. Taxes on Goods and Services

The reform in this category refers to Excise Tax Proclamation (No. 68/193, 77/1997, and No. 149/1999), and the applicable tax rate ranges from a low of 10 per cent on textiles and television sets to 100 per cent for alcohol, perfumes and automobiles. Sales tax on goods constitutes the second category and these ranges from 5 per cent (mainly for agricultural goods) to 15 per cent. Many basic goods are exempt from taxation. The reform also introduced a 5 per cent tax rate for work contracts and financial services, while a 15 per cent rate is applied to the sale of other services. Valued-added tax (VAT) was introduced in January 2003 and may mean a shift from Ethiopia’s dependence on foreign to domestic trade, but it is too early to evaluate its impact. It is not, however, difficult to see that its implementation is a challenge, owing to the predominance of small and informal operators in the country, its history of tax evasion and corruption, lack of standard recordkeeping systems as well as the lack of knowledge about VAT and a tax-base for its computation.

  1. Taxes on International Trade

The reform of taxes on international trade relates to levies on imports (customs duty, import excise tax, import sales tax) and tax on exports. The custom tariff reform that took place between 1993 and 2002 grouped imports into 97 categories based on the Harmonized System of Tariffs Classification Code. An ad valorem rate ranging from 0 to 35 per cent was introduced. The same rates were applied for import excise and sales taxes as those established for goods and services (see section above). An important development in the export sector was the abolition of all export taxes, with the exception of coffee. Similarly, to encourage exports, schemes for duty drawback and duty free imports were implemented (see Appendix Table 1 for details).

Other miscellaneous tax-related reforms have been carried out in the last decade. These include the amendment of stamp duties (Proclamation No. 110/1998); the introduction of a 3 per cent withholding tax (Proclamation No. 227/2001), a 2 per cent withholding tax on income (Proclamation No. 227/2001), as well as a 5 per cent withholding tax on interest income (Proclamation No. 227/2001).


Major Types of Taxes in Ethiopia

The major types of taxes that exist in Ethiopia, their meaning, rates and conditions, as provided by the Federal Inland Revenue Authority, are presented as follows:

1.   Value Added Tax (VAT)

This is a sales tax based on the increase in value or price of product at each stage in its manufacture and distribution. The cost of the tax is added to the final price and is eventually paid by the consumer.

The rate and impose of VAT:

  1. The rate of VAT is 15% of the value for every taxable transaction by a registered person, all imported goods other than an exempt import and an import of services;
  2. The export of taxable goods or services to the extent provided in regulations for zero tax rate are:
  3. The export of goods or services to the extent provided in the regulation;
  • The rendering of transportation or other services directly connected with international transport of goods or passengers, as well as the supply of lubricants and other consumable technical supplies taken on board for consumption during international flights;
  • The supply of gold to the National Bank of Ethiopia; and
  • A supply by a registered person to another registered person in a single transaction of substantially all of the assets of a taxable activity or an independent functioning part of a taxable activity as a going concern, provided a notice in writing, signed by the transferor and transferee, is furnished to the authority within 21 days after the supply takes place and such notice includes the details of the supply.  

2.   Excise Tax

This is imposed and payable on selected goods, such as, luxury goods and basic goods which are demand inelastic. In addition, it is believed that imposing the tax on goods that are hazardous to health and which are cause to social problems will reduce the consumption thereof. Excise tax shall be paid on goods mentioned under the schedule of 'Excise Tax Proclamation No. 307/2002'(a) when imported and (b) when produced locally at the rate prescribed in the schedule. Computation of excise tax is applied (a) in the case of goods produced locally, production cost and (b) in the case of imported goods, cost, insurance and freight /C.I.F./. Payment of excise tax for locally produced goods is by the producer and for imported goods by the importer. Time of payment of excise tax for imported goods is at the time of clearing the goods from the customs area, and for locally produced goods it is not later than 30 days from the date of production.

3.   Turnover Tax

This is an equalisation tax imposed on persons not registered for value-added tax to fulfil their obligations and also to enhance fairness in commercial relations and to complete the coverage of the tax system. Administrative feasibility considerations limit the registration of persons under the value-added tax to those with annual transactions to the total value exceeding 500,000 Birr.

Rate of turnover tax is 2% on goods sold locally and 10% on others; as provided by the 'Excise Tax Proclamation No. 307/2002'

 4.   Income Tax

Income taxable under the Ethiopian 'Income Tax Proclamation No. 286/2002' shall include, but not be limited to:

  • Income from employment;
  • Income from business activities;
  • Income derived by an entertainer, musician, or sports person from his personal activities;
  • Income from entrepreneurial activities carried  out by a non-resident through a permanent establishment in Ethiopia;
  • Income from movable property attributable to a permanent establishment in Ethiopia;
  • Income from immovable property and appurtenances thereto, income from livestock and inventory in agriculture and forestry, and income from usufruct and other rights deriving from immovable property that is situated in Ethiopia;
  • Income from the alienation of property referred to in (e);
  • Dividends distributed by a resident company;
  • Profit shares paid by a resident registered partnership;
  • Interest paid by the national, a regional or local Government or a resident of Ethiopia, or paid by a non-resident through a permanent establishment that he maintains in Ethiopia;
  • License fees including lease payments, and royalties paid by a resident or paid by a non-resident through a permanent establishment that he maintains in Ethiopia.  

5.   Business profit tax

Taxable business income of bodies is taxable at the rate of 30%

Taxable business income of other taxpayers shall be taxed in accordance
with the following expenses:


Sources of Ethiopian Tax Laws


Tax laws basically emanate from three sources; legislative, administrative and judicial sources. The major sources of Ethiopian tax laws are legislative sources. There are a number of laws that have been adopted by the legislature of the country to deal with the different types of taxes in the country and their administration. The first law that can be taken as a source is the FDRE Constitution which has numerous provisions dealing with the administration of taxes. Then after, there are a number of proclamations and regulations dealing with taxes in the country, the most prominent of which include Income Tax Proclamation No. 286/2002 (amended by (Pro.No. 608/2008) and (Pro.No. 693/2010)); Council of Ministers Income Tax Regulation No. 78/2002 (amended by (Reg. No. 164/2008)); Value Added Tax Proclamation No. 285/2002 (amended by (Pro.No. 609/2008)); Council of Ministers Value Added Tax Regulation No. 79/2002; Turnover Tax Proclamation No. 308/2002 (amended by (Pro.No. 611/2008)); and Excise Tax Proclamation No. 307/2002 (amended by (Pro.No. 570/2008) and (Pro.No. 610/2008)).

Last modified on Monday, 15 July 2013 11:21