In Kenya, clothes cheaper than books

Kenya’s Finance Minister, in his 2012/13 Budget Speech, reduced taxes on second hand clothes, mitumba, “so that Kenyans can dress smartly cheaply.” It is not on record that any person or groups of people lobbied government for the generous tax break, which will most obviously benefit only the well-connected clique of mitumba importers.

On the same breath, the Minister tabled the VAT Bill that proposes to impose tax on books. If the bill is passed in to law, the cost of books, the basic tools for learning, will shoot up, yet, the government is currently straining to finance the Free Primary Education and the Subsidised Secondary Education. This will aggravate an already grim situation in schools further reducing the quality of learning.

General readers too will not be spared, and for a country that doesn’t have a strong reading culture, and where a majority of people live below the poverty line, the Minister’s proposal, if passed by Parliament, will make books even more inaccessible. For a country that aspires to become a middle-income economy in less than 20 years, this is a depressing step backward.

In contrast, a country like Singapore invests heavily in the education of its nationals, strongly linking education to the workplace to ensure relevance. Ironically, Singapore attained independence at almost the same time as Kenya, however it immediately embarked on building a strong knowledge-based society, making education a central pillar of its agenda for development.  Now, it is one of Asia’s economic giants despite the population being less than five million. And while Singapore’s per capita income is $60,000 Kenya’s is a paltry $1,700. Perhaps why we need mitumba.

WordAlive Publishers, conscious of the role books play in learning and developing a nation’s human capital, and aware that the future Kenyan workforce will be knowledge-based, is steadfast in its commitment to add value by providing books with strong content for lifelong learning. Our alternative vision to the mitumba nation, is a new, progressive, prosperous nation whose workforce will be able to compete in the global economy.

Will the proposed VAT Bill stand in the way?