3. Legal Regime
Transparency of the Regulatory System
Kenya’s regulatory system is relatively transparent and continues to improve. Proposed laws and regulations pertaining to business and investment are published in draft form for public input and stakeholder deliberation before their passage into law ( and ). Kenya’s business registration and licensing systems are fully digitized and transparent while computerization of other government processes to increase transparency and close avenues for corrupt behavior is ongoing.
The 2010 Kenyan Constitution requires government to incorporate public participation before officials and agencies make certain decisions. The draft Public Participation Bill (2016) would provide the general framework for such public participation. The Ministry of Devolution has produced a guide for counties on how to carry out public participation; many counties have enacted their own laws on public participation. The Environmental Management and Coordination Act (1999) incorporates the principles of sustainable development, including public participation in environmental management. The Public Finance Management Act mandates public participation in the budget cycle. The Land Act, Water Act, and Fair Administrative Action Act (2015) also include provisions providing for public participation in agency actions.
Kenya has regulations to promote inclusion and fair competition when applying for tenders. Executive Order No. 2 of 2018 emphasizes publication of all procurement information including tender notices, contracts awarded, name of suppliers and their directors. The information is published on the Public Procurement Information Portal enhances transparency and accountability (https://www.tenders.go.ke/website). However, the directive is yet to be fully implemented.
Many GOK laws grant significant discretionary and approval powers to government agency administrators, which can create uncertainty among investors. While some government agencies have amended laws or published clear guidelines for decision-making criteria, others have lagged in making their transactions transparent. Work permit processing remains a problem, with overlapping and sometimes contradictory regulations. American companies have complained about delays and non-issuance of permits that appear compliant with known regulations.
International Regulatory Considerations
Kenya is a member state of the East African Community (EAC), and generally applies EAC policies to trade and investment. Kenya operates under the EAC Custom Union Act (2004) and decisions on the tariffs to levy on imports from countries outside the EAC zone are made at the EAC Secretariat level. The U.S. government engages with Kenya on trade and investment issues bilaterally and through the U.S.-EAC Trade and Investment Partnership. Kenya also is a member of COMESA and the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
According to the Africa Regional Integration Index Report 2019, Kenya is the second best integrated country in Africa and a leader in regional integration policies within the EAC and COMESA regional blocs, with strong performance on regional infrastructure, productive integration, free movement of people, and financial and macro-economic integration. The GOK maintains a Department of East African Community Integration within the Ministry of East Africa and Regional Development. Kenya generally adheres to international regulatory standards. The country is a member of the WTO and provides notification of draft technical regulations to the Committee on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Kenya maintains a TBT National Enquiry Point at . Additional information on Kenya’s WTO participation can be found at .
Accounting, legal, and regulatory procedures are transparent and consistent with international norms. Publicly listed companies adhere to International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS) that have been developed and issued in the public interest by the International Accounting Standards Board. The board is an independent, private sector, not-for-profit organization that is the standard-setting body of the IFRS Foundation. Kenya is a member of UNCTAD’s international network of transparent investment procedures.
Legal System and Judicial Independence
The legal system is based on English Common Law, and the 2010 constitution establishes an independent judiciary with a Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, Constitutional Court, and High Court. Subordinate courts include: Magistrates, Khadis (Muslim succession and inheritance), Courts Martial, the Employment and Labor Relations Court (formerly the Industrial Court), and the Milimani Commercial Courts – the latter two of which both have jurisdiction over economic and commercial matters. In 2016, Kenya’s judiciary instituted specialized courts focused on corruption and economic crimes. There is no systematic executive or other interference in the court system that affects foreign investors, however, the courts face allegations of corruption, as well as political manipulation in the form of unjustified budget cuts which significantly impact the ability of the judiciary to deliver on its mandate and delayed confirmation of nominated Judges by the President resulting in an understaffed judiciary and long delays in rendering judgments.
Laws and Regulations on Foreign Direct Investment
The Foreign Judgments (Reciprocal Enforcement) Act (2012) provides for the enforcement of judgments given in other countries that accord reciprocal treatment to judgments given in Kenya. Kenya has entered into reciprocal enforcement agreements with Australia, the United Kingdom, Malawi, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Seychelles. Outside of such an agreement, a foreign judgment is not enforceable in the Kenyan courts except by filing a suit on the judgment. Foreign advocates may practice as an advocate in Kenya for the purposes of a specified suit or matter if appointed to do so by the Attorney General. However, foreign advocates are not entitled to practice in Kenya unless they have paid to the Registrar of the High Court of Kenya the prescribed admission fee. Additionally, they are not entitled to practice unless a Kenyan advocate instructs and accompanies them to court. The regulations or enforcement actions are appealable and are adjudicated in the national court system.
Competition and Anti-Trust Laws
Kenya does not have a competition or Anti-Trust policy, however the Competition Act (2010) created the Competition Authority of Kenya (CAK) which covers restrictive trade practices, mergers and takeovers, unwarranted concentrations, and price control. All mergers and acquisitions require the CAK’s authorization before they are finalized, and the CAK regulates abuse of dominant position and other competition and consumer-welfare related issues in Kenya. In 2014, CAK imposed a filing fee for mergers and acquisitions set at one million Kenyan shillings (KSH) (approximately USD 10,000) for mergers involving turnover of between one and KSH 50 billion (up to approximately USD 500 million). KSH two million (approximately USD 20,000) will be charged for larger mergers. Company takeovers are possible if the share buy-out is more than 90 percent, although such takeovers are rarely seen in practice.
Expropriation and Compensation
The 2010 constitution guarantees protection from expropriation, except in cases of eminent domain or security concerns, and all cases are subject to the payment of prompt and fair compensation. The Land Acquisition Act (2010) governs due process and compensation in land acquisition, although land rights remain contentious and can cause significant project delays. However, there are cases where government measures could be deemed indirect expropriation that may impact foreign investment. Companies report an emerging trend in land lease renewal where foreign investors face uncertainty in lease renewals by county governments in instances where the county wants to confiscate some or all of the foreign investor’s project property.
ICSID Convention and New York Convention
Kenya is a member of the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes, also known as the ICSID Convention or the Washington Convention, and the 1958 New York Convention on the Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards. International companies may opt to seek international well-established dispute resolution at the ICSID. Regarding the arbitration of property issues, the Foreign Investments Protection Act (2014) cites Article 75 of the Kenyan Constitution, which provides that “[e]very person having an interest or right in or over property which is compulsorily taken possession of or whose interest in or right over any property is compulsorily acquired shall have a right of direct access to the High Court.” Kenya in 2020 prevailed in an ICSID international arbitration case against WalAm Energy Inc, a U.S./Canadian geothermal company in a geothermal exploration license revocation dispute.
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
There have been very few investment disputes involving U.S. and international companies. Commercial disputes, including those involving government tenders, are more common. There are different bodies established to settle investment disputes. The National Land Commission (NLC) settles land related disputes; the Public Procurement Administrative Review Board settles procurement and tender related disputes, and the Tax Appeals Tribunal settles tax disputes. However, the private sector cites weak institutional capacity, inadequate transparency, and inordinate delays in dispute resolution in lower courts. The resources and time involved in settling a dispute through the Kenyan courts often render them ineffective as a form of dispute resolution.
International Commercial Arbitration and Foreign Courts
The government does accept binding international arbitration of investment disputes with foreign investors. The Kenyan Arbitration Act (1995) as amended in 2010 is anchored entirely on the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) Model Law. Legislation introduced in 2013 established the Nairobi Centre for International Arbitration (NCIA), which seeks to serve as an independent, not-for-profit international organization for commercial arbitration, and may offer a quicker alternative to the court system. In 2014, the Kenya Revenue Authority launched an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanism aiming to provide taxpayers with an alternative, fast-track avenue for resolving tax disputes.
Transcription of Court Proceedings in the Commercial and Tax Division
The Kenyan Judiciary reported in its 2018-2019 State of the Judiciary and Administration Report that it had commenced its court recording and transcription project with the installation of recording equipment in six courtrooms in the Commercial and Tax Division in Nairobi. The project will significantly speed up the hearing of cases as judges will no longer be required to record proceedings by hand.
Court Annexed Mediation and Small Claims Courts
The National Council on the Administration of Justice spearheaded legislative reforms to accommodate mediation in the formal court process as well as introduce small claims courts to expedite resolution of commercial cases. The Judiciary reported in its State of the Judiciary Address (2018-2019), that the Mediation Accreditation Committee accredited 645 mediators that were handling a total of 411 commercial matters during the reporting period. Additionally, the Judiciary reported that disputes with a total value of over three billion Kenyan shillings (KSH) (approximately USD 30,000,000) had been resolved through Court Annexed Mediation during the reporting period. Court Annexed Mediation serves as an effective case resolution mechanism that will significantly reduce pressure on the justice system and eventually result in expeditious determination of commercial cases.
The Insolvency Act (2015) modernized the legal framework for bankruptcies. Its provisions generally correspond to those of the United Nations’ Model Law on Cross Border Insolvency. The act promotes fair and efficient administration of cross-border insolvencies to protect the interests of all creditors and other interested persons, including the debtor. The act repeals the Bankruptcy Act (2012) and updates the legal structure relating to insolvency of natural persons and incorporated and unincorporated bodies. Section 720 of the Insolvency Act (2015) grants the force of law to the UNCITRAL Model Law.
Creditors’ rights are comparable to those in other common law countries, and monetary judgments typically are made in Kenyan shillings. The Insolvency Act (2015) increased the rights of borrowers and prioritizes the revival of distressed firms. The law states that a debtor will automatically be discharged from debt after three years. Bankruptcy is not criminalized in Kenya. Kenya moved up 6 ranks in the World Bank Group’s Doing Business 2020 report, moving to 50 of 190 countries in the “resolving insolvency” category.
4. Industrial Policies
Kenya provides both fiscal and non-fiscal incentives to foreign investors ( ). The minimum foreign investment to qualify for GOK investment incentives is USD 100,000, a potential deterrent to foreign small and medium enterprise investment, especially in the services sector. Investment Certificate benefits, including entry permits for expatriates, are outlined in the Investment Promotion Act (2004).
The government allows all locally-financed materials and equipment for use in construction or refurbishment of tourist hotels to be zero-rated for purposes of VAT calculation – excluding motor vehicles and goods for regular repair and maintenance. The National Treasury principal secretary, however, must approve such purchases. In a measure to boost the tourism industry, one-week employee vacations paid by employers are a tax-deductible expense. The 2015 amendments to Kenya’s VAT rules clarified some items that are VAT exempt. In 2018, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) exempted from VAT certain facilities and machinery used in the manufacturing of goods under Section 84 of the East African Community Common External Tariff Handbook. VAT refund claims must be submitted within 12 months of purchase.
The government’s Manufacturing Under Bond (MUB) program encourages manufacturing for export. The program provides a 100 percent tax deduction on plant machinery and equipment and raw materials imported for production of goods for export. The program is also open to Kenyan companies producing goods that can be imported duty-free or goods for supply to the armed forces or to an approved aid-funded project. Investors in metal manufacturing and products and the hospitality services sectors are able to deduct from their taxes a large portion of the cost of buildings and capital machinery.
The Finance Act (2014) amended the Income Tax Act (1974) to reintroduce capital gains tax on transfer of property located in Kenya. Under this provision, gains derived on the sale or transfer of property by an individual or company are subject to tax at rates of at least five percent. Sales and transfer of property related to the oil and gas industry are taxed up to 37.5 percent. The Finance Act (2014) also reintroduced the withholding VAT system by government ministries, departments, and agencies. The system excludes the Railway Development Levy (RDL) imports for persons, goods, and projects; the implementation of an official aid-funded project; diplomatic missions and institutions or organizations gazetted under the Privileges and Immunities Act (2014); and the United Nations or its agencies.
Foreign Trade Zones/Free Ports/Trade Facilitation
Kenya’s Export Processing Zones (EPZ) and Special Economic Zones (SEZ) offer special incentives for firms operating within their boundaries. By the end of 2019, Kenya had 74 designated EPZs, with 137 companies and 60,383 workers contributing KSH 77.1 billion (about USD 713 million) to the Kenyan economy. Companies operating within an EPZ benefit from the following tax benefits: a 10-year corporate-tax holiday and a 25 percent tax thereafter; a 10-year withholding tax holiday; stamp duty exemption; 100 percent tax deduction on initial investment applied over 20 years; and VAT exemption on industrial inputs.
About 54 percent of EPZ products are exported to the United States under AGOA. The majority of the exports are textiles – Kenya’s third largest export behind tea and horticulture – and more recently handicrafts. Eighty percent of Kenya’s textiles and apparel originate from EPZ-based firms. Approximately 50 percent of all firms in the zones are fully-owned by foreigners – mainly from India – while the rest are locally owned or joint ventures with foreigners.
While EPZs are focused on encouraging production for export, SEZs are designed to boost local economies by offering benefits for goods that are consumed both internally and externally. SEZs will allow for a wider range of commercial ventures, including primary activities such as farming, fishing, and forestry. The 2016 Special Economic Zones Regulations state that the Special Economic Zone Authority (SEZA) must maintain an open investment environment to facilitate and encourage business by the establishment of simple, flexible, and transparent procedures for investor registration. In 2019 Kenya developed the revised draft SEZ regulations with simplified and improved incentives structure. The 2019 draft regulations include customs duty exemptions to goods and services in the SEZ and no trade related restrictions including quantitative ones in import of goods and services into the SEZ. The rules also empower county governments to set aside public land for establishment of industrial zones.
Companies operating in the SEZs will receive the following benefits: all SEZ supplies of goods and services to companies and developers will be exempted from VAT; the corporate tax rate for enterprises, developers, and operators will be reduced from 30 percent to 10 percent for the first 10 years and 15 percent for the next 10 years; exemption from taxes and duties payable under the Customs and Excise Act (2014), the Income Tax Act (1974), the EAC Customs Management Act (2004), and stamp duty; and exemption from county-level advertisement and license fees. There are currently SEZs in Mombasa (2,000 sq. km), Lamu (700 sq. km), and Kisumu (700 sq. km), Naivasha, Machakos (100 acres) and private developments designated as SEZ include Tatu City in Kiambu. The Third Medium Term Plan of Kenya’s Vision 2030 economic development agenda calls for a study for an SEZ at Dongo Kundu, and an SEZ was also under consideration at a location near the Olkaria geothermal power plant.
Performance and Data Localization Requirements
The GOK mandates local employment in the category of unskilled labor. The Kenyan government regularly issues permits for key senior managers and personnel with special skills not available locally. For other skilled labor, any enterprise whether local or foreign may recruit from outside if the skills are not available in Kenya. Firms seeking to hire expatriates must demonstrate that the requisite skills are not available locally through an exhaustive search. The Ministry of EAC and Regional Development, however, has noted plans to replace this requirement with an official inventory of skills that are not available in Kenya. A work permit can cost up to KSH 400,000 (approximately USD 4,000).
The Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act (2015) offers preferences to firms owned by Kenyan citizens and to products manufactured or mined in Kenya in a GOK strategy called “Buy Kenya Build Kenya” which mandates 40 percent of GOK procurement be locally produced goods and services. Tenders funded entirely by the government with a value of less than KSH 50 million (approximately USD 500,000), are reserved for Kenyan firms and goods. If the procuring entity seeks to contract with non-Kenyan firms or procure foreign goods, the act requires a report detailing evidence of an inability to procure locally. The act also calls for at least 30 percent of government procurement contracts to go to firms owned by women, youth, and persons with disabilities. The act further reserves 20 percent of county procurement tenders to residents of that county.
The Finance Act (2017) amends the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act (2015) to introduce Specially Permitted Procurement as an alternative method of acquiring public goods and services. The new method permits state agencies to bypass existing public procurement laws under certain circumstances. Procuring entities will be allowed to use this method where market conditions or behavior do not allow effective application of the 10 methods outlined in the Public Procurement and Disposal Act. The act gives the National Treasury Cabinet Secretary the authority to prescribe the procedure for carrying out specially permitted procurement.
Kenya passed the Data Protection Act (2019) which imposes restrictions on the transfer of data in and out of Kenya without consent of the Data Protection Commissioner and the subject, functionally requiring data localization. The Act is similar to the European General Data Protection Regulation requirements on data processing.