This page shares some highlights from my field research in Benin, which totaled about 9 months from 2014 to 2016. I first got the idea for my dissertation project during my frequent visits to local markets. Noticing the tax collectors who roam the stalls collecting market fees, I was surprised to learn that taxation was such a central activity of municipal governments in Benin. On average, Benin's 77 municipalities, or communes, receive 30 percent of their budget from tax revenue. To learn more about the tax process, I visited 12 Southern municipalities and interviewed administrative chiefs of staff, bureaucratic heads of the financial departments, tax collectors, and low-level bureaucrats.
I cultivated relationships with bureaucratic officials in a handful of municipalities, who allowed me to shadow their activities and understand how tax data is collected across arrondissements, or municipal districts. In the pictures above, I observed the training session for enumerators who were preparing to conduct property tax appraisals for the city hall of Porto-Novo, the administrative capital of Benin. These shadow visits, along with several focus groups with bureaucrats and tax collectors, gave me a better understanding of state capacity challenges to local tax collection in Benin.
To get a fuller understanding of the role politics plays in local taxation, I also interviewed several local politicians. Above, left, is a meeting of elected councilors in Porto-Novo as they discuss tax policy in their municipality. On the right is the office of a chef d'arrondissement, or district head, whom I interviewed in November 2016.
Finally, I conducted a qualitative and an experimental survey of urban residents in southern Benin to understand citizen attitudes towards taxation and their elected officials. The surveys featured a mix of ordinary citizens and informal entrepreneurs like the shopkeeper (left) and the mechanic (right) pictured above. Many of the respondents were happy for the opportunity to have their voices heard via the survey. Pictured are two of the 25 enumerators that I trained to implement a survey experiment across five urban municipalities in the south.
I was based at the Institut de Recherche Empirique en Economie Politique (IREEP) in Abomey-Calavi, the research institute that coordinates francophone West Africa's Afrobarometer surveys. I am grateful to the researchers and staff there who helped make my fieldwork possible.