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E-Levy Hampers Africa Business: Industry Group

FILE: Kenyan housekeeper Brenda Vitute withdraws cash from an agent working for mobile money service M-pesa in Nairobi, Kenya on May 25, 2022.

Africa's mobile industry has become the norm for payments in many of the continent's nations. But the move by some African governments to tax electronic transactions, known as the e-levy, could impact both buyers and sellers.

Ghanaian grocery store owner Comfort Ankrah is now thinking how she is going to run her business after the government put a tax on mobile money transactions earlier this month.

Comfort relies on mobile transfers to run her shop in Accra's Darkuman suburb. Comfort and her other local businesswomen say that they feel safer using digital money instead of having to carry cash around.

"I can't afford to pay my farmers with mobile money now because the e-levy will reduce my profit," she says. "I now resort to giving money to drivers or relatives going to the village so they can pay the farmers. It's a risky, long process,"

Governments can afford to tax mobile phones as a common good and not a luxury according to a study by GSMA, an industry organization representing mobile network operators worldwide.

The study shows that by removing mobile-specific taxes, governments will see an incremental increase in tax receipts as millions more people will be able to afford to connect to mobile services.

Angela Wamola, GSMA's Sub-Saharan Africa representative, says that mobile-based banking and sales has been a great enabler, a means for financial inclusion by the poor, women, and rural communities across Africa.

"Any discouragement such as extra fees or taxes on mobile money services will take Africans backwards simply because there are no other alternatives for most people," she said.

Sub-Saharan Africa is home to more than half of the world's nearly 350 million active mobile money accounts. GSMA says almost $1 trillion last year was transacted globally thorough mobile money platforms, with nearly 70% coming from sub-Saharan Africa.

John Kumah, one of Ghana's deputy finance ministers, says that the "e-levy" is not regressive.

"The e-levy is not going to be a burden on the poor. It's a game-changer that will rather bring about development. We're going to use the taxes to build more schools, hospitals, roads. It will be used for job creation.”

The IMF warns that taxing digital money could be "fiscally inequitable" and hinder the current low level of financial inclusion.

"The poor and unbanked segments of the population, who often live in rural areas and face high transaction costs from the formal banking, have been found to be negatively affected by the measure," it warned.