Kenya has a positive investment climate that has made it attractive to international firms seeking a location for regional or pan-African operations. The novel coronavirus pandemic has affected the short-term economic outlook, but the country remains resilient in addressing the health and economic challenges. In July 2020 the U.S. and Kenya launched negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. In the World Bank’s 2020 Doing Business report Kenya improved 7 places, ranking 56 of 190 economies reviewed. In the last three years, it has moved up 54 places on this index. Year-on-year, Kenya continues to improve its regulatory framework and its attractiveness as a destination for foreign direct investment. Despite this progress in the ease of doing business rankings, U.S. businesses operating in Kenya still face aggressive tax collection attempts and significant bureaucratic processes and delays in issuing necessary business licenses. Corruption remains endemic and Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 Global Corruption Perception Index ranked Kenya 137 out of 198 countries, worsening by seven spots compared to 2018.
Kenya has strong telecommunications infrastructure, a robust financial sector, a developed logistics hub, and extensive aviation connections throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia. In 2018, Kenya Airways initiated direct flights to New York City in the United States. Mombasa Port is the gateway for most of the East African trade. Kenya’s membership in the East African Community (EAC), the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), and other regional trade blocs provides growing access to larger regional markets.
In 2017 and 2018 Kenya instituted broad reforms to improve its business environment, including passage of the Tax Laws (amended) Bill (2018) and the Finance Act (2018), establishing new procedures and provisions relating to taxes, simplifying registration procedures for small businesses, reducing the cost of construction permits, easing the payment of taxes through the iTax platform, and establishing a single window system to speed movement of goods across borders. But the Finance Act 2019 introduced taxes to non-resident ship owners, and the Finance Act 2020 enacted a 1.5 percent Digital Service Tax (DST), which will be implemented in January 2021. The oscillation between business reforms and conflicting taxation policies has raised uncertainty over the Government of Kenya’s (GOK) long term plans for improving the investment climate.
Kenya’s macroeconomic fundamentals remain among the strongest in Africa, with five to six percent GDP growth over the past five years, six to eight percent inflation, improving infrastructure, and strong consumer demand from a growing middle class. However, GDP growth is projected to slow to 1.5-2.0 percent in 2020 due to COVID-19. The GOK has responded by loosening fiscal policies like corporate income tax and other measures to cushion companies and individuals. There is relative political stability due to the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) and President Kenyatta has remained focused on his second term “Big Four” development agenda, seeking to provide universal healthcare coverage; establish national food security; build 500,000 affordable new homes; and increase employment by doubling the manufacturing sector’s share of the economy.
The World Bank’s annual Kenya Economic Update, released in April 2020, cites some short term economic risks to Kenya’s continued growth such as the locust invasion, COVID-19 pandemic, and flooding, but also noted positive developments including measures taken by the GOK and the Central Bank of Kenya to reduce the impacts of these risks. American companies continue to show strong interest to establish or expand their business presence and engagement in Kenya, especially following President Kenyatta’s August 2018 and February 2020 meetings with President Trump in Washington, D.C. Sectors offering the most opportunities for investors include: agro-processing, financial services, energy, extractives, transportation, infrastructure, retail, restaurants, technology, health care, and mobile banking.
|TI Corruption Perceptions Index||2019||137 of 198||http://www.transparency.org/
|World Bank’s Doing Business Report||2020||56 of 190||http://www.doingbusiness.org/en/rankings|
|Global Innovation Index||2019||77 of 126||https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/
|U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions)||2019||$353||http://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/|
|World Bank GNI per capita||2019||$1,750||http://data.worldbank.org/
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.
5. Protection of Property Rights
The 2010 Constitution prohibits foreigners or foreign owned firms from owning freehold interest in land in Kenya. However, unless classified as agricultural, there are no restrictions on foreign-owned companies leasing land or real estate. The cumbersome and opaque process to acquire land raises concerns about security of title, particularly given past abuses relating to the distribution and redistribution of public land. The Land (Extension and Renewal of Leases) Rules (2017) stopped the automatic renewal of leases and tied renewals to the economic output of the land that must be beneficial to the economy. If property legally purchased remains unoccupied, the property ownership can revert to other occupiers, including squatters. Privately-owned land comprised six percent of the total land area in 1990; government land was about 20 percent of the total and included national parks, forest land and alienated and un-alienated land. Trust land is the most extensive type of tenure, comprising 64 percent of the total land area in 1990.
The 2010 Constitution and subsequent land legislation created the National Land Commission, an independent government body mandated to review historical land injustices and provide oversight of government land policy and management. This had the unintended side effect of introducing coordination and jurisdictional confusion between the commission and the Ministry of Lands mainly fueled by land interests by the political class. In 2015, President Kenyatta commissioned the new National Titling Center with a promise to increase the 5.6 million title deeds issued since independence to 9 million. From 2013 to 2018, an additional 4.5 million title deeds have been issued, however 70 percent of land in Kenya remained untitled. Land grabbing resulting from double registration of titles remains prevalent. Property legally purchased but unoccupied can revert ownership to other parties.
Mortgages and liens exist in Kenya, but the recording system is not reliable – Kenya has only some 24,000 recorded mortgages in a country of 47.6 million people – and there are often complaints of property rights and interests not being enforced. The legal infrastructure around land ownership and registration has changed in recent years, and land issues have delayed several major infrastructure projects. Kenya’s 2010 Constitution required all land leases to convert from 999 years to 99 years, giving the state the power to review leasehold land at the expiry of the 99 years, deny lease renewal, and confiscate the land if it determines the land has not been used productively. The constitution also converted foreign-owned freehold interests into 99-year leases at a nominal “peppercorn rate” sufficient to satisfy the requirements for the creation of a legal contract. The GOK has not yet effectively implemented this provision. In July 2020, the Ministry of Lands and Physical planning released draft electronic land registration regulations (2020) to guide the e-transaction of land. The Ministry together with the National Land Commission agreed to commence the e-transaction on land matters pending resolution of outstanding issues.
Intellectual Property Rights
The major intellectual property enforcement issues in Kenya related to counterfeit products are corruption, lack of penalty enforcement, failure to impound imports of counterfeit goods at the ports of entry, and reluctance of brand owners to file a complaint with the Anti-Counterfeit Agency (ACA). The prevalence of “gray market” products – genuine products that enter the country illegally without paying import duties – also presents a challenge, especially in the mobile phone and computer sectors. Copyright piracy and the use of unlicensed software are also emerging challenges.
The Presidential Task Force on Parastatal Reforms (2013) proposed that the three intellectual property agencies, namely: the Kenya Industrial Property Institute (KIPI), the Kenya Copyright Board (KECOBO) and the Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA) be merged into one Government Owned Entity (GOE). A task force on the merger comprising staff from KIPI, ACA, KECOBO, the Ministry of Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development is drafting the instruments of the merger which has led to a draft GOE named Intellectual Property Office of Kenya (IPOK) and has also drafted Intellectual Property Office Bill, 2020 for establishing IPOK. In an attempt to combat the import of counterfeits, the Ministry of Industrialization and the Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS) decreed in 2009 that all locally-manufactured goods must have a KEBS standardization mark. Several categories of imported goods, specifically food products, electronics, and medicines, must have an import standardization mark (ISM). Under this program, U.S. consumer-ready products may enter the Kenyan market without altering the U.S. label but must also carry an ISM. Once the product qualifies for a Confirmation of Conformity, KEBS will issue the ISM free of charge. From time to time KEBS and the Anti-Counterfeit Agency conduct random seizures of counterfeit imports but there is no clear database of seizures kept.
Kenya is not included on the United States Trade Representative (USTR) Special 301 Report or the Notorious Markets List.
6. Financial Sector
Capital Markets and Portfolio Investment
Kenya developed the draft Financial Markets Conduct bill (2018) to consolidate and harmonize the financial sector in the country. Among the proposals in the draft bill is the establishment of the financial markets conduct authority to be the sole body to regulate providers of financial products and services to retail financial customers and to curb irresponsible financial market practices, a move that will create a conflict with the current financial markets regulators. Though relatively small by Western standards, Kenya’s capital markets are the deepest and most sophisticated in East Africa. The Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE) is the best ranked exchange in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of performance in the last decade. NSE operates under the jurisdiction of the Capital Markets Authority of Kenya. It is a full member of the World Federation of Exchange, a founder member of the African Securities Exchanges Association (ASEA) and the East African Securities Exchanges Association (EASEA). The NSE is a member of the Association of Futures Market and is a partner exchange in the United Nations-led SSE initiative. Foreign investor participation has always been high and a key determinant of the market performance in the NSE. The NSE in July 2019 launched the derivatives market that will facilitate trading in future contracts on the Kenyan market and will be regulated by the Capital Market Authority of Kenya. The bond market is underdeveloped and dominated by trading in government debt securities. The government domestic debt market, however, is deep and liquid. Long-term corporate bond issuances are uncommon, leading to a lack of long-term investment capital.
In November 2019, Kenya repealed the interest rate capping law passed in 2016 which had had the unintended consequence of slowing private sector credit growth. There are no restrictions for foreign investors to seek credit in the domestic financial market although it still struggles to fund big ticket projects. Legal, regulatory, and accounting systems are generally aligned with international norms. The Kenyan National Treasury has launched its mobile money platform government bond to retail investors locally dubbed M-Akiba purchased at USD 30 on their mobile phones. M-Akiba has generated over 500,000 accounts for the Central Depository and Settlement Corporation and The National Treasury has made initial pay-outs to bond holders. The GOK expects to issue USD 10 million over this platform in 2019 in an effort to deepen financial inclusion and financial literacy.
According to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association (AVCA) 2014-2019 report on venture capital performance in Africa, Kenya is assessed as having a well-developed venture capitalist ecosystem ranking second in sub-Saharan Africa and accounted for 18 percent of the deals between 2014-2019 in Africa. The report further states that over 20 percent of the deals in the period were for companies that were headquartered outside Africa which sought expansion into the region’s markets.
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) is working with regulators in EAC member states through the Capital Market Development Committee (CMDC) and East African Securities Regulatory Authorities (EASRA) on a regional integration initiative and has successfully introduced cross-listing of equity shares. The combined use of both the Central Depository and Settlement Corporation (CDSC) and an automated trading system has moved the Kenyan securities market to globally accepted standards. Kenya is a full (ordinary) member of the International Organization of Securities Commissions Money and Banking System.
Money and Banking System
The Kenyan banking sector in 2020 included 40 operating commercial banks, one mortgage finance company, 13 microfinance banks, nine representative offices of foreign banks, 70 foreign exchange bureaus, 15 money remittance providers, and three credit reference bureaus which are licensed and regulated by the Central Bank of Kenya. Kenya also has 12 deposit-taking microfinance institutions. There has been increased foreign interest in Kenya’s banking sector with foreign owned banks making up 15 of the 40 operating banks. Major international banks operating in Kenya include Citibank, Absa bank (formerly Barclays bank Africa), Bank of India, Standard Bank (South Africa), and Standard Chartered. Kenya’s banking sector has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the CBK, 32 out of 39 commercial banks restructured their loans to accommodate those affected. Non-performing loans (NPLs) rose to 13.1 percent in April 2020 fueled by the pandemic, however previous NPLs have averaged above 10 percent. The Banking sector has 12 listed banks in the Nairobi Securities Exchange which owned 89 percent of the banking assets in 2019.
In March 2017, CBK lifted its moratorium on licensing new banks, issued in November 2015 following the collapse of Imperial Bank and Dubai Bank. The CBK’s decision to restart licensing signaled a return of stability in the Kenyan banking sector. In 2018, Societé Generale (France) also set up a representative office in Nairobi. Foreign banks can apply for license to set up operations in Kenya and are guided by the CBK’s prudential guidelines 2013.
In November 2019, the Government of Kenya (GOK) enacted the Banking Amendment Act 2019, which effectively repealed the section within the Banking (Amendment) Act (2016) that capped the maximum interest rate banks can charge on commercial loans at four percent above Central Bank of Kenya’s (CBK) benchmark lending rate. This repeal effectively provides financial institutions flexibility with regards to pricing the risk of lending.
In the ongoing land registry digitization process, the Kenyan Government is working on a database, known as the single source of truth (SSOT), to eliminate fake title deeds in the Ministry of Lands. The SSOT database development plan is premised on blockchain technology – distributed ledger technology – as the primary reference for all land transactions. The SSOT database would help the land transaction process to be efficient, open, and transparent. The blockchain taskforce presented its 2019 report to the Ministry of Information, Communication Technology, Innovations and Youth Affairs on the viability and opportunities of the blockchain technology which is yet to be implemented.
The percentage of Kenya’s total population with access to financial services through conventional or mobile banking platforms is approximately 80 percent. According to the World Bank, M-Pesa, Kenya’s largest mobile banking platform, processes more transactions within Kenya each year than Western Union does globally. Data from the Communication Authority of Kenya shows that in the 3 months to December 2019, 30 million Kenyans had active mobile money subscriptions. The 2017 National ICT Masterplan envisages the sector contributing at least 10 percent of GDP, up from 4.7 percent in 2015. Several mobile money platforms have achieved international interoperability, allowing the Kenyan diaspora to conduct financial transactions in Kenya from abroad.
Foreign Exchange and Remittances
Foreign Exchange Policies
Kenya has no restrictions on converting or transferring funds associated with investment. Kenyan law requires the declaration to customs of amounts greater than KSH 1,000,000 (approximately USD 10,000) or the equivalent in foreign currencies for non-residents as a formal check against money laundering. Kenya is an open economy with a liberalized capital account and a floating exchange rate. The CBK engages in volatility controls aimed exclusively at smoothing temporary market fluctuations. Between June 2015 and June 2016, the Kenyan shilling declined 3.5 percent after a sharp decline of 15 percent during the same period in 2014/2015. In 2018, foreign exchange reserves remained relatively steady. The average inflation rate was 5.2 percent in 2019 and the average rate on 91-day treasury bills had fallen to 7.2 percent in 2019. According to CBK figures, the average exchange rate was KSH 101.99to USD 1.00 in 2019.
Kenya’s Foreign Investment Protection Act (FIPA) guarantees capital repatriation and remittance of dividends and interest to foreign investors, who are free to convert and repatriate profits including un-capitalized retained profits (proceeds of an investment after payment of the relevant taxes and the principal and interest associated with any loan).
Foreign currency is readily available from commercial banks and foreign exchange bureaus and can be freely bought and sold by local and foreign investors. The Central Bank of Kenya Act (2014), however, states that all foreign exchange dealers are required to obtain and retain appropriate documents for all transactions above the equivalent of KSH 1,000,000 (approximately USD 10,000). Kenya has 15 money remittance providers as at 2020 following the operationalization of money remittance regulations in April 2013.
Kenya is listed as a country of primary concern for money laundering and financial crime by the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement. Kenya was removed from the inter-governmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF) Watchlist in 2014 following progress in creating the legal and institutional framework to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.
Sovereign Wealth Funds
In 2019, the National Treasury published the Kenya Sovereign Wealth Fund policy (2019) and the Kenya Sovereign Wealth Fund Bill (2019) for stakeholders’ comments as a constitutional procedure. The fund would receive income from any future privatization proceeds, dividends from state corporations, oil and gas, and minerals revenues due to the national government, revenue from other natural resources, and funds from any other source. The Kenya Information and Communications Act (2009) provides for the establishment of a Universal Service Fund (USF). The purpose of the USF is to fund national projects that have significant impact on the availability and accessibility of ICT services in rural, remote, and poor urban areas. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the USF committee has partnered with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to digitize the education curriculum for online learning.
7. State-Owned Enterprises
In 2013, the Presidential Task Force on Parastatal Reforms (PTFPR) published a list of all state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and recommended proposals to reduce the number of State Corporations from 262 to 187 to eliminate redundant functions between parastatals; close or dispose of non-performing organizations; consolidate functions wherever possible; and reduce the workforce — however, progress is slow. The taskforce’s report can be found at ( ) SOEs’ boards are independently appointed and published in the Kenya Gazette notices by respective Cabinet Secretary. The State Corporations Advisory Committee is mandated by the State Corporations Act 2015 to advise on matters of SOEs. Financial operations of most SOEs are not readily available due to their opaque operating procedures despite being public entities, only those that are listed in the Nairobi Securities Exchange publish their financial positions as guided by the Capital Markets Authority guidelines. Corporate governance in SOEs is guided by the 2010 Constitution chapter 6 on integrity, Leadership and Integrity Act 2012 and the Public Officer Ethics Act 2003 which provide integrity and ethical requirements governing the conduct of State and public officers.
In general, competitive equality is the standard applied to private enterprises in competition with public enterprises. Certain parastatals, however, have enjoyed preferential access to markets. Examples include Kenya Reinsurance, which enjoys a guaranteed market share; Kenya Seed Company, which has fewer marketing barriers than its foreign competitors; and the National Oil Corporation of Kenya (NOCK), which benefits from retail market outlets developed with government funds. Some state corporations have also benefited from easier access to government guarantees, subsidies, or credit at favorable interest rates. In addition, “partial listings” on the Nairobi Securities Exchange offer parastatals the benefit of financing through equity and GOK loans (or guarantees) without being completely privatized.
In August 2020, the executive reorganized the management of SOEs in the cargo transportation sector and mandated the Industrial and Commercial Development Corporation (ICDC) to oversee rail, pipeline and port operations through a holding company called Kenya Transport and Logistics Network (KTLN). ICDC assumes a coordinating role over the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA), Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC). KTLN is aimed at lowering the cost of doing business in the country, which will be achieved through the provision of port, rail, and pipeline infrastructure in a cost effective and efficient manner.
SOE procurement from the private sector is guided by the Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Act 2015 and the published Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Regulations 2020 which introduced exemptions from the Act for procurement on bilateral/multilateral basis commonly referred to government to government procurement; introduced E-procurement procedures; and preferences and reservations which gives preferences to the “Buy Kenya Build Kenya” strategy ( ). The amendment reserves 30 percent government supply contracts for youth, women, and small and medium enterprises. Kenya is neither party to the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO) nor an Observer Government.
The Privatization Act 2003 establishes the Privatization Commission (PC) which is mandated to formulate, manage, and implement Kenya’s Privatization Program. GOK has been committed to implementing a comprehensive public enterprises reform program to increase private sector participation in the economy. The privatization commission ( ) is fully constituted with a board which is responsible for the privatization program. The PC has 26 approved privatization programs ( ). In 2020, GOK is implementing a sugar taskforce report that proposed privatization of some state-owned sugar firms to increase their efficiency and productivity. The process of privatization involves open bids by interested investors including foreign investors.
8. Responsible Business Conduct
The Environmental Management and Coordination Act (1999) establishes a legal and institutional framework for the management of the environment while the Factories Act (1951) safeguards labor rights in industries. The Mining Act 2016 provides for holders of mineral rights to develop a comprehensive community development agreement that secures socially responsible investment and provides for employment preference for those living in communities around mining operations. The legal system, however, has remained slow to prosecute corporate malfeasance in both areas.
The GOK is not an adherent to the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises on Responsible Business Conduct, and it is not yet an Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) implementing country or a Voluntary Principles Initiative signatory. Nonetheless, good examples of CSR abound as major foreign enterprises drive CSR efforts by applying international standards relating to human rights, business ethics, environmental policies, community development, and corporate governance.
Many businesses deem corruption to be pervasive and entrenched in Kenya. Transparency International’s (TI) 2019 Global Corruption Perception Index ranks Kenya 137 out of 198 countries, six places lower than in 2018 and Kenya’s score of 28 remains below the sub-Saharan Africa average of 32. Historical lack of political will, limited progress in prosecuting past corruption cases, and the slow pace of reform in key sectors were reasons cited for Kenya’s chronic low ranking. Corruption has been reported to be an impediment to FDI, with local media reporting allegations of high-level corruption related to health, energy, ICT, and infrastructure contracts. There are many reports that corruption often influences the outcomes of government tenders, and U.S. firms have had limited success bidding on public procurements. In 2018, President Kenyatta began a public campaign against corruption. The Anti-Corruption agencies mandated to fight corruption have been inconsistent in coordinating activities, especially in bringing cases against senior officials. However, there were cabinet level arrests in 2019 that signaled a commitment by the GOK to fight corruption. Despite these efforts, much still remains to be done in convicting high profile suspects.
In 2020, a high-level conviction was secured for a Member of Parliament setting a precedent for top officials’ convictions. Relevant legislation and regulations include the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act (2003), the Public Officers Ethics Act (2003), the Code of Ethics Act for Public Servants (2004), the Public Procurement and Disposal Act (2010), the Leadership and Integrity Act (2012), and the Bribery Act (2016). The Access to Information Act (2016) also provides mechanisms through which private citizens can obtain information on government activities; implementation of this act is ongoing. The Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) monitors and enforces compliance with the above legislation.
The Leadership and Integrity Act (2012) requires public officers to register potential conflicts of interest with the relevant commissions. The law identifies interests that public officials must register, including directorships in public or private companies, remunerated employment, securities holdings, and contracts for supply of goods or services, among others. The law requires candidates seeking appointment to non-elective public offices to declare their wealth, political affiliations, and relationships with other senior public officers. This requirement is in addition to background screening on education, tax compliance, leadership, and integrity.
The law requires that all public officers declare their income, assets, and liabilities every two years. Public officers must also include the income, assets, and liabilities of their spouses and dependent children under the age of 18. Information contained in these declarations is not publicly available, and requests to obtain and publish this information must be approved by the relevant commission. Any person who publishes or makes public information contained in public officer declarations without permission may be subject to fine or imprisonment.
On August 31, 2016, the president signed into law the Access to Information Act (2016) although the government has not yet issued regulations required to fully operationalize the act. The law allows citizens to request government information and requires government entities and private entities doing business with the government proactively to disclose certain information, such as government contracts. The act also provides a mechanism to request a review of the government’s failure to disclose requested information, along with penalties for failures to disclose. The act exempts certain information from disclosure on grounds of national security.
The private sector-supported Bribery Act (2016) stiffened penalties for corruption in public tendering and requires private firms participating in such tenders to sign a code of ethics and develop measures to prevent bribery. Both the Bill of Rights of the 2010 Constitution and the Access to Information Act (2016) provide protections to NGOs, investigative journalism, and individuals involved in investigating corruption. The Witness Protection Act (2006) calls for the protection of witnesses in criminal cases and created an independent Witness Protection Agency. A draft Whistleblowers Protection Bill (2016) is currently stalled in Parliament.
Kenya is a signatory to the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and in 2016 published the results of a peer review process on UNCAC compliance: ( ). Kenya is also a signatory to the UN Anticorruption Convention and the OECD Convention on Combatting Bribery, and a member of the Open Government Partnership. Kenya is not a signatory to the OECD Convention on Combating Bribery of Foreign Public Officials in International Business Transactions. Kenya is also a signatory to the East African Community’s Protocol on Preventing and Combating Corruption.
Resources to Report Corruption
Contact at government agency or agencies are responsible for combating corruption:
Rev. Eliud Wabukala (Ret.)
Chairperson and Commissioner
Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission
P.O. Box 61130 00200 Nairobi, Kenya
Phones: +254 (0)20-271-7318, (0)20-310-722, (0)729-888-881/2/3
Report corruption online:
Contact at “watchdog” organization:
10. Political and Security Environment
Political tensions over the protracted and contentious 2017 election cycle spilled well into 2018. In March 2018, however, President Kenyatta and opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga publicly shook hands and pledged to work together to heal the political, social, and economic divides revealed by the election. The 2017 electoral period had been marred by violence that claimed the lives of nearly 100 Kenyans, a contentious political atmosphere pitting the ruling Jubilee Party against NASA, and political interference and attacks by both sides on key institutions. In November 2017, the Kenyan Supreme Court unanimously upheld the October 2017 repeat presidential election results and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s win in an election boycotted by NASA leader Raila Odinga. The court’s ruling brought a close to Kenya’s protracted 2017 election cycle, a period that included the Supreme Court’s historic September 2017 annulment of the August 2017 presidential election and the unprecedented repeat election. In November 2019, the Building Bridges Initiative Advisory Taskforce, established by President Kenyatta in May 2018 as part of his pledge to work with Odinga, issued a report recommending reforms to address nine areas: lack of a national ethos, responsibilities and rights of citizenship; ethnic antagonism and competition; divisive elections; inclusivity; shared prosperity; corruption; devolution; and safety and security.
The United States’ Travel Advisory for Kenya advises U.S. citizens to exercise increased caution due to the threat of crime and terrorism, and not to travel to counties bordering Somalia and to certain coastal areas due to terrorism. Instability in Somalia has heightened security concerns and led to increased security measures aimed at businesses and public institutions around the country. Tensions flare occasionally within and between ethnic communities. Regional conflict, most notably in Ethiopia, Somalia, and South Sudan, sometimes have spill-over effects in Kenya. There could be an increase in refugees escaping drought and instability in neighboring countries, adding to the large refugee population already in Kenya from several countries. Security expenditures represent a substantial operating expense for businesses in Kenya.
Kenya and its neighbors are working together to mitigate the threats of terrorism and insecurity through African-led initiatives such as the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and the nascent Eastern African Standby Force (EASF). Despite attacks against Kenyan forces in Somalia, the GOK has maintained its commitment to promoting peace and stability in Somalia.
11. Labor Policies and Practices
Kenya has one of the highest literacy rates in the region at 90 percent. Investors have access to a large pool of highly qualified professionals in diverse sectors from a working population of over 47.5 percent out of a population of 47.6 million people. Expatriates are allowed to work in Kenya provided they have a work (entry) permit issued under the Kenya Citizenship and Immigration Act 2011. In December 2018, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government issued a directive that requires foreign nationals to apply for their work permits while in their country of origin and will have to prove that the skills they have are not available in the Kenya labor market. Work permits are usually granted to foreign enterprises approved to operate in Kenya as long as the applicants are key personnel. In 2015, the Directorate of Immigration Services made additions to the list of requirements for work permits and special pass applications. Issuance of a work permit now requires an assured income of at least USD 24,000 annually. Exemptions are available, however, for firms in agriculture, mining, manufacturing, or consulting sectors with a special permit. International companies have complained that the visa and work permit approval process is slow, and bribes are sometimes solicited to speed the process. A tightening of work permit issuances and enforcement begun in 2018 is now one of the largest complaints of multinational companies doing business in Kenya.
A company holding an investment certificate granted by registering with KenInvest and passing health, safety, and environmental inspections becomes automatically eligible for three class D work (entry) permits for management or technical staff and three class G, I, or J work permits for owners, shareholders, or partners. More information on permit classes can be found at .
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), in 2019 non-agricultural employment in the formal sector was at 18.1 million, with nominal average earnings of Ksh778,248 (USD 7,200) per person per annum. Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa. According to the 2019 census data, 5,341,182 or 38.9 percent of the 13,777,600 youths eligible to work are jobless. Employment in Kenya’s formal sector was 2.9 million in 2019 up from 2.8million in 2018. The government is the largest employer in the formal sector, with an estimated 865,200 government workers in 2019. In the private sector, agriculture, forestry, and fishing employed 296,700 workers while manufacturing employed 329,000 workers. However, Kenya’s large informal sector – consisting of approximately 80 percent of the labor force – makes accurate labor reporting difficult.
The GOK has instituted different programs to link and create employment opportunities for the youth, which include a website ( ). Other measures include the establishment of the National Employment Authority which hosts the National Employment Authority Integrated Management System website that provides public employment service by listing vacancies ( ). The Kenya Labour Market Information System (KLMIS) portal ( ), run by the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection in collaboration with the labor stakeholders, is a one-stop shop for labor information in the country. The site seeks to help address the challenge of inadequate supply of crucial employment statistics in Kenya by providing an interactive platform for prospective employers and job seekers. Both local and foreign employers are required to register with National Industrial Training Authority (NITA) within 30 days of operating. There are no known material compliance gaps in either law or practice with international labor standards that would be expected to pose a reputational risk to investors. The International Labor Organization has not identified any material gaps in Kenya’s labor law or practice with international labor standards. Kenya’s labor laws comply, for the most part, with internationally recognized standards and conventions, and the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is currently reviewing and ensuring that Kenya’s labor laws are consistent with the 2010 constitution. The Labor Relations Act (2007) provides that workers, including those in export processing zones, are free to form and join unions of their choice.
Collective bargaining is common in the formal sector but there is no data on the percentage of the economy covered by collective bargaining agreements (CBA). However, in 2019 263 CBAs were registered in the labor relations court with Wholesale and Retail trade sector recording the highest at 88. The law permits workers in collective bargaining disputes to strike but requires the exhaustion of formal conciliation procedures and seven days’ notice to both the government and the employer. Anti-union discrimination is prohibited, and the government does not have a history of retaliating against striking workers. The law provides for equal pay for equal work. Regulation of wages is part of the Labor Institutions Act (2014), and the government has established basic minimum wages by occupation and location.
The GOK has a growing trade relationship with the United States under the AGOA framework which requires labor standards to be upheld. The Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is reviewing its labor laws to align with international standards as labor is also a chapter in the Free Trade Agreement negotiations with the U.S. In 2019, the government continued efforts with dozens of partner agencies to implement a range of programs for the elimination of child and forced labor. However, low salaries, insufficient resources, and attrition from retirement of labor inspectors are significant challenges to effective enforcement. Employers in all sectors routinely bribe labor inspectors to prevent them from reporting infractions, especially in the area of child labor.
12. U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (DFC) and Other Investment Insurance Programs
In 2016, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation (formerly OPIC) established a regional office in Nairobi, but the office is not currently staffed. The agency is engaged in funding programs in Kenya with an active in-country portfolio of approximately USD 700 million, including projects in power generation, internet infrastructure, light manufacturing, and education infrastructure. 13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
13. Foreign Direct Investment and Foreign Portfolio Investment Statistics
|Direct Investment from/in Counterpart Economy Data|
|From Top Five Sources/To Top Five Destinations (US Dollars, Millions)|
|Inward Direct Investment||Outward Direct Investment|
|Total Inward||$3,885||100%||Total Outward||$803||100%|
|“0” reflects amounts rounded to +/- USD 500,000.|
Source: IMF Coordinated Direct Investment Survey (CDIS). Figures are from 2012 (latest available). IMF no longer publishes Kenya data as part of its CDIS.
|Portfolio Investment Assets|
|Top Five Partners (Millions, US Dollars)|
|Total||Equity Securities||Total Debt Securities|
|All Countries||$3,885||100%||All Countries||$2,817||100%||All Countries||$833||100%|
Source: IMF Coordinated Portfolio Investment Survey (CPIS). Figures are from 2012 (latest available). IMF no longer publishes Kenya data as part of its CPIS. 14. Contact for More Information
14. Contact for More Information
U.S. Embassy Economic Section
U.N. Avenue, Nairobi, Kenya
+254 (0)20 363 6050