By Ebi Kesiena
President William Ruto’s government has imposed a range of new taxes to try to replenish the depleted public purse, but the measures have triggered anger among Kenyans as they also battle rising prices and a plunging local currency.
One of it is the tax on travelers with new or used goods brought into the country, causing outrage among lawmakers and even a government minister.
Although the Kenya Revenue Authority says the directive is not new, some have complained of harassment at the airport by customs agents.
The KRA said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, that individuals are allowed to bring in personal or household items worth $500 or below.
“Anything above the amount shall be subjected to tax,” it said.
Also, Tourism Minister Alfred Mutua has warned that people could be deterred from coming to the East African nation, which attracts visitors from across the world to its wildlife parks and Indian Ocean beaches.
In a video posted online by several media outlets on Wednesday, he said “We harass our visitors when they come to this country, at the airport, and we wonder why they don’t come back.
“You go to Rwanda, they don’t harass you, when you go to South Africa they don’t harass you. In Dubai, they don’t harass you.”
Furthermore, Senate majority leader Aaron Cheruiyot said on X that KRA searches of passengers at the main international airport in Nairobi were a “national shame” and called for clarity to distinguish between personal and commercial items.
Another senior lawmaker, Nelson Koech, said the measures came at a time when Kenya was still trying to boost the tourism sector, a key generator of foreign currency earnings that was hit hard by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is not the time to be threatening those coming to Kenya,” he was quoted by local media as saying.
However, according to the tourism ministry figures, the number of tourist arrivals last year rose to 1.54 million although remained below pre-pandemic levels.
While the government said in May last year that tourism earnings made up almost 10 percent of Kenya’s gross domestic product before Covid-19 devastated international travel.