Hip hop, the youth, and the fight against Illicit Financial Flows

Hip-hop once considered a passing phase of the 1970s is now the most popular genre of music in our culture.  With an audience that ranges from all countries and ages, hip-hop is undeniably one of the most powerful tools in television, radio, sports, and politics.  So, what does this have to do with your taxes and Africa’s resources? Why should you, as a consumer, be concerned about hip hop’s value outside of entertainment? In this blog, we will be unpacking the role of hip hop in our culture, policies, and Africa’s development.

Artists like Shakira, Whitney Houston, Tupac, and Lil Wayne are popular across the globe for their pop culture-defining albums.  Indeed, most have defined entire decades with their beat, dance moves, and fashion.  They hold a dear place in the hearts of their fans.  However, a lesser-known fact may be that these names are also associated with a history of tax evasion or avoidance.

Indeed, through a complex and loosely regulated tax system, rich celebrities actively seek to increase their profits by storing them offshore and avoiding paying taxes in their countries. According to the Panama papers leak, many artists and celebrities use legal tax avoidance methods to shift their profits into tax havens.  When rich individuals or multinational corporations dodge paying their taxes, the impact is devastating on African countries.

Corporate tax dodging costs developing countries at least $100 billion every year. $100 billion is enough money to provide an education for 124 million children and prevent the deaths of almost eight million mothers, babies, and children a year.  According to Oxfam, Africa alone loses $14 billion in tax revenues due to the super-rich using tax havens. $100 billion is enough money to pay for healthcare to save the lives of 4 million children and to employ enough teachers to get every African child into school.

The release of the Report of the High-Level Panel on Illicit Financial Flows from Africa commissioned by the Africa Union (AU) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) gave birth to the Stop the Bleeding Campaign, in 2015. Africa loses $50 billion annually to illicit financial flows, according to the report. Five years down the line, the continent is still bleeding, even more profusely. A recent report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) estimates $88.6 billion, which is about 3.7% of Africa’s GDP, is lost to illicit financial flows (IFFs). These billion should provide the needed capital to revamp domestic production and industrialization, creating jobs and opportunities for the youth on the continent.

The various initiatives undertaken by national governments, regional and global institutions, including the various leaks-Panama papers, Paradise Leaks, West Africa Leaks, Luxemburg Leaks, Luanda Leaks, to end IFFs have not provided the needed speed to stop the bleeding. It has also not galvanized the youth into action as could be expected. Despite the opportunities provided by the International Tax Justice Academy organized by the Tax Justice Network Africa, and activities organized by Youth for Tax Justice Network, we are yet to see the much-needed drive from the youth.

Perhaps, it is time to look at what has managed to bring young people into one space in their numbers. The music industry is the home of most of the youth on the continent. Hip hop sells products for companies, and policies for governments and institutions. We should look at this industry and tap into it’s potential to contribute to the Stop the bleeding campaign. With the advent of social media platforms, this strategy has become effective in shaping public opinion, especially of young people. An end to illicit financial flows should be a youth fight. It is about ending the hemorrhage to save the needed capital to invest in domestic productions; create jobs, and save the next generation from perpetual debt situations.

While the most powerful get away with paying little or nothing, ordinary citizens are left to foot the bill for government spending. We must call on world leaders to end the era of tax havens and put a stop to the secrecy that enables rich individuals and international companies to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.

Everyone must make it their business to fight poverty

This song produced by a group of young rappers and songwriters narrates the campaign from the context of young people. There couldn’t be any means closer to home to call for the end of IFFs without the technical jargon that scare a lot of people from the discussions. The ‘’Stop the bleeding’’ song is hip hop with a message and a story. It will make everyone come around and bounce to a beat and a message. Take a listen and share.