MONDA: Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Bill highlights taxation without representation
The Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Bill is fast moving to become law
• It will reinforce the limiting irony of governments taxing constituents without providing political representation.
The seminal battle cry of many revolutions has borrowed from the American adage “no taxation without representation”.
The Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Bill is fast moving to become law, which will reinforce the limiting irony of governments taxing constituents without providing political representation.
Remittances are Kenya’s largest source of foreign exchange ahead of horticulture, tea, and tourism earnings. However, the three million Kenyans abroad that send these remittances feel disempowered. Their remittances are taxed yet they remain unrepresented.
Diasporans do not have representatives in the Kenyan Parliament nor in their county legislatures. The Kenyan government’s eagerness to increase the volume diaspora remittances to Kenya for increased tax generation — as seen in the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Bill — is not reciprocated with an equal eagerness from the state to create elective offices for diasporans in the national and county assemblies.
This is an irony that continues to plague the relationship between the state and its diaspora population. It hinders Kenya’s economic development.
Before Kenyans living abroad can meaningfully leverage their remittances to economic programmes beyond remittances to family for consumption, the Senate needs to embrace the diaspora meaningfully. This should go beyond the Senate’s eagerness to tax the $3 billion in annual remittances sent back to Kenya from the diaspora.
The government should institute constitutional reforms to create electoral seats in Parliament and county assemblies for diasporans as another tool to bring this key constituency to the centre of national development planning and law making.
Secondly, diaspora representatives in Parliament and county governments will provide input to legislators on the bills that will become law. It will strengthen the heretofore weak link between the legislators and civil society organisations in Kenya, on one hand, with academics and practitioners abroad. In addition, diasporans should be allowed to serve in diplomatic missions abroad irrespective of whether they have dual citizenship or not. The recent bill passed from the Committee on Defense and Foreign Relations of the National Assembly criminalized dual citizenship by discriminatingly applying it to relegate diasporans wanting to serve in the diplomatic corps abroad.
Section 23 of the new law states that heads of missions abroad or consul’s general cannot hold dual citizenship at the time of their appointment. It barred diasporans with dual citizenship the right to serve in Kenyan missions abroad. This is a gross disenfranchisement. The National Assembly’s action not only went against the spirit of the 2010 Constitution, but also goes against the African Union’s Constitutive Act. Ultimately, it is Kenya that loses when it does not allow diasporans to apply their range of skills, experience, and abilities to support economic development in their country of birth in Kenyan missions abroad or consular general.
Such bills are archaic, outdated and fail to appreciate the important role of the diaspora in a globalised world where nations enthusiastically complete with each other to attract the human resource talent pool present in the diaspora.
The Senate passing the Kenyan Citizenship and Immigration Amendment Bill needs to be fast tracked into law with complimentary legal and political frameworks to enfranchise the millions of Kenyans abroad.
Political representation of diasporans by diasporans is a critical step in cementing interests, political rights, and aspirations of Kenyan diaspora.
Prof Monda teaches political science, international relations, and American government at the City University of New York (York College), New York, USA. firstname.lastname@example.org @dmonda1