Controversy in Kenya regarding the tax harassment of tourists


An uproar has ensued over a tax imposed by Kenyan authorities on travellers for both new and used products imported into the country. Legislators and a government minister have both condemned the scheme.

AFP reports that despite the Kenya Revenue Authority’s denial that the directive is novel, it has caused concern and confusion, with some individuals alleging that customs agents at the airport harassed them.

Earlier this week, the KRA announced on X, formerly Twitter, that individuals are permitted to bring in domestic or personal items with a value of $500 or less.

It read, “Anything in excess of the specified amount shall be subject to tax.”

To replenish the depleted public coffers, the administration of President William Ruto has imposed a variety of new taxes. However, these measures have infuriated Kenyans, who are already contending with escalating prices and a depreciating local currency.

Tourism Minister Alfred Mutua cautioned that the East African nation’s wildlife parks and beaches on the Indian Ocean could potentially dissuade individuals from visiting. The country is a popular destination for tourists from around the globe.

“We harass our visitors at the airport when they enter this country, and we wonder why they don’t return,” he said in an online video that was published today by multiple media outlets.

“If you visit Rwanda, you will not be harassed… Visitors to South Africa are not subjected to harassment. They do not bother you in Dubai.”

“National Disgrace”

On X, Senate majority leader Aaron Cheruiyot referred to KRA passenger searches at the primary international airport in Nairobi as a “national disgrace” and advocated for greater precision in differentiating between personal and business belongings.

Nelson Koech, an additional senior lawmaker, remarked that the measures were implemented at a time when Kenya was still attempting to revive the tourism industry, a significant source of foreign exchange earnings that was severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Now is not the time to threaten individuals travelling to Kenya,” he was quoted as saying by local media.

The number of visitor arrivals increased to 1.54 million in 2018, according to data from the tourism ministry, but remained below pre-pandemic levels.

Francis Gichaba, chairman of the Kenya Tourism Board, expressed optimism on Wednesday that the number could surpass two million for the current fiscal year, surpassing the 1.9 million recorded in 2019.

Additionally, the board stated in a statement that it aimed for 5.5 million international visitor arrivals by June 2028 and a yearly contribution of one trillion shillings ($6.6 billion) from the sector.

This is in contrast to the over $2 billion recorded in 2022.

According to a government statement from May of last year, the contribution of tourism to Kenya’s gross domestic product was nearly 10 percent, prior to the global travel disruption caused by Covid-19.

Although no official measures have been announced, Ruto stated earlier this month at a conference in Congo-Brazzaville that “no African will be required to have a visa to enter Kenya” by the end of the year.

Additionally, Ruto stated in September at a climate summit in Nairobi that Kenya was contemplating eliminating visa requirements for all foreign nationals.

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