In our correspondence with African journalists, Joseph Warungu, a lecturer in media and communication, sees why Kenyans are paying close attention to what they post on social media.
Think of it this way: You have a Christmas holiday in a beautiful setting outside. You go to a luxury restaurant and order a great meal. And because you have a loyal group of followers on social media, you have decided to take some great pictures of the food and share it with them.
How can people know that you have eaten foods that your village friends have never seen in their lives and that you cannot name?
And when you publish “share” – what happens instantly is: “Oooh, mmh, good! Look at you! Wow!” This is immediately followed by the positive comments of how they wish they had been.
But in Kenya there is now another hidden follower, who tracks every step you take, every photo you post, every meal you eat, every car you show, every house you show.
This faithful follower is a tax collector.
As you can see, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) has confirmed that it is using offline technology to enforce tax returns.
These include blockchain, creative intelligence, machine learning and mining technologies.
“The KRA has a dedicated team whose mission, apart from other risk-based analytics, is to assess the lives of taxpayers.
“This can sometimes be to watch the history of the people being monitored on TV,” a KRA spokesman admits to me.
“Doesn’t this violate people’s privacy?” I ask.
“No,” the officials said: “The KRA does not violate the right of every person to maintain confidentiality because his or her content may be viewed publicly and on television.”
I have decided to push the taxman.
How do the KRA go about reconciling human life – as they see it on television – with their pursuit of taxes? Other than that, the goods or materials that they display online may not be theirs.
Well, it seems that the taxpayer has a very helpful media management team that monitors the site to see if what we are showing violates the tax code.
“The KRA can check whether the declared sources of revenue and taxes are in line with the standards shown. Also note that the KRA is authorized to acquire and exchange information with other government agencies through the Multi-Agency Team framework.”
That sounds scary. Instead, the KRA chief said that government officials use expertise in tax analysis, his video spread and Kenyans went to bananas to declare their wealth.
Business or financial groups?
And the tax collector saw the change.
“There has been a steady increase in the number of taxpayers rushing to ensure that they are tax compliant. Recently, we had a 60% increase in the number of tax-issued licenses issued on the i-Tax platform.”
With the taxman’s initial surprise over, Kenyans sought relief by making their own funny videos to explain what the taxpayer was doing.
One of the most popular images was a picture of a bird looking out of an airplane window inside an airplane and telling a surprised person: “Yeah, I’m just looking to see if you have a business or your property.”
The message from the taxman or instead of the taxpayer is: “If you can afford a business class, you can advertise more in your tax books.”
What, then, prompted the KRA to devise such clever tactics in chasing tax collectors or those who were more cautious and truthful in the matter of tax evasion?
In short – tax objectives.
Since Kenya announced its first Covid-19 trial in March 2020, the country has increased its debt by 1.42 trillion Kenyans ($ 12.5bn, £ 9.3bn).
One of the factors linked to Kenya’s recent $ 2.34bn debt is that the country is raising taxes – which is why a taxpayer is harassing Kenyans online.
A well-known source tells me that the government’s message to the KRA was simple: “You have to raise a lot of money since two million new taxpayers.”
And, imagine where you can find these people – yes, you did – on TV!
The tax collector immediately went to work and exceeded his expectations. In a statement released in October, the KRA announced that it had exceeded its target of raising $ 132bn.
They admitted that they received little help online.
“Kenyans on Twitter (KoT) among other online developers who have made wise decisions in KRA discussions with taxpayers, are helping to identify tax compliance.”
So as I prepare to capture my big Christmas holiday moment on camera, rest assured I will be in a cheap T-shirt and jeans, my sturdy face connected to a battered bike.
I do not want to give an excuse for a tax collector to make a phone call.