After the 1994 genocide that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, Rwanda’s tax collection collapsed to $132 million in 1996 from $225 million in 1990. Aside from its desperate need for money to pay for reconstruction, the new unity government, led by Paul Kagame’s Rwandan Patriotic Front, was also determined to break its dependence on foreign donors by becoming entirely self-funding. To do that, Kagame’s government had to convince a traumatized and distrustful public to pay its fair share of taxes. In 1998, the government replaced the existing tax and customs departments with the Rwanda Revenue Authority (RRA), a semiautonomous tax agency. The RRA overhauled tax collection procedures, increased staff capacity, improved information management, and launched a massive and sustained public education campaign in an effort to build a new social contract. As a result, in 2017 Rwanda collected in three weeks the same amount of tax it had collected annually a dozen years earlier. From 1998 to 2017, Rwanda’s tax-to-GDP ratio improved from 10.8% to 16.7%, and total tax revenues collected grew more than 10-fold to $1.3 billion. Moreover, from 2007 to 2017 alone, the number of registered taxpayers grew 13-fold—from 26,526 to 355,128—though Rwanda was one of the world’s poorest countries and most of its labor force of 6.3 million still had incomes below the threshold that made them tax eligible. By 2017, the government financed 62% of its annual budget from domestic tax revenues, up from just 39% in 2000. The country was on its way to ending donor dependence.
Leon Schreiber drafted this case study based on interviews conducted in Kigali, Rwanda in March 2018. Case published May 2018.