Wealthy Kenyans buy citizenship in Europe and in the Caribbean
By Dominic Omondi
| Feb 7th 2021 | 6 min read
Some people will say that there is no price for citizenship.
Citizenship, they explain, is a sacred, or even painful process that is often consummated when blood, sweat, and the earth mix.
But the militant capitalists — those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing — are increasingly redefining citizenship into a commodity with an exchange value.
And with Sh30 million, pocket change for some, wealthy Kenyans have been snapping up citizenships for Dominica, a tiny Caribbean Island with a population of 71,808.
It is not really the passport that they pay for, that is a rider to the shareholding they bought into a government-supported hospitality project.
The project they invested in is known as Anichi Resort and Spa, which is a Citizenship By Investment (CBI) project.
In return, these wealthy individuals and their families get a passport which allows them to travel to 130 countries visa-free.
This is a boon for the rich individuals, including CEOs, popular musicians, investors, politicians, who travel a lot for business and leisure.
With the Kenyan passport, they can only travel to some 72 countries, most of them in Africa, without a visa, according to the Henley’s Passport Index which ranks all the world’s passports according to the number of destinations a holder can access without a Visa.
Dominica is just one in a select few countries that are raising much-needed foreign direct investment for their economic projects by implementing Citizenship By Investment programmes, allowing wealthy individuals fast-track to second citizenship and passport in return for investment into real estate or a donation into a government fund.
CBI has also become a popular gateway for non-EU citizens to access Europe which has a number of jurisdictions with CBIs.
After all, the geographic richness of a country, the mountains, rivers, forests, wildlife that have been gifted to it freely by nature are not complete without the expensive roads, hospitals, stadia, and houses that require massive investment.
These cash-for-passport programmes provide an opportunity for individuals to purchase citizenship from them by investing in government funds, bonds, or approved real estate projects, said Micheal Lawrence, the chair of Anichi Development.
In return, the recipient country gets the much-needed foreign direct investment for its economic programmes.
Dominica, for example, has used the funds it has received through the schemes to rebuild after the twin disasters of Hurricane Maria and Tropical Storm Erika devastated the island’s infrastructure.
Lawrence is also the proprietor of Oriental Global Immigration Services, the sole agent of Anichi Resort operating in Kenya and Africa.
“Wealthy Kenyans interested in Dominican passport see the mobility aspect of it and the conveniences it brings in international travel as the main advantage,” said Lawrence.
Professional Wealth Management, a publication by the Financial Times, that maintains a CBI index, counted 13 jurisdictions that offered citizenship through investment by end of 2018.
Besides Dominica, other Caribbean countries that offered citizenship through investments included St Kitts and Nevis, Grenada, St Lucia, Antigua, and Barbuda.
In Europe, there is Cyprus, Jordan, Bulgaria, Austria and Turkey.
CBIs are also given by Cambodia and Vanuatu.
Global residence and citizenship advisory firm Henley and Partners in the latest report said that in the 12 months to November, Kenya saw growth in inquiries about CBIs of about 116 per cent.
A wealth report by Standard Bank showed that many high net worth individuals in Africa travel so much, generally educate their children abroad, and eventually seek to externalise their wealth, largely through a property in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Among Kenya’s wealthy individuals that were interviewed, 91 per cent, said they participated in travel by the time of the interview.
It was the second-highest after Nigeria where 94 per cent of the respondents said they were traveling.
In Ghana, 79 per cent said they were ‘currently’ traveling and Mauritius had 74 per cent.
The Consumer Price Index, or the cost of living index, created by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that only car, petrol and house cost more for them than international flights.
But the process of applying for a visa and then having to wait for weeks only for the application to be rejected can be frustrating.
A report by Knight Frank which tracks the world’s super-rich shows that there were 42 ultra-high net worth Kenyans (UHNWIs), those worth $30 million, in 2019. This was an increase from 16 in 2014.
High net worth individuals (HNWIs), those worth $1 million, were 2,900 having increased from 800 from five years earlier. This number is projected to increase to 3,369 in four years.
Doris Salama, the managing director for Oriental Global Immigration Services, said most Kenyans who have signed up so far for their CBIs cite the ease of mobility to Europe visa-free as their main attraction for the programme.
“Their children easily study in Europe as they do not require to apply for a visa from time to time,” says Salama.
Moreover, the fact that the citizenship will be passed from generation to generation has equally made it very attractive.
Then there are those in their 60s who were looking for a new life on a peaceful Caribbean Island.
The drive to have a second home that allows investment in the export-import business, hospitality industry and trade in the Caribbean as a normal citizen has also been a good reason for the sign-ups, Salama says.
Ethiopians, South Sudanese, and Eritreans have also signed up due to the need for a stable second home, and safe haven for their wealth.
With the Kenyan Constitution allowing dual citizenship, many rich Kenyans have jumped on this opportunity which allows them to seek better opportunities elsewhere without repudiating their ancestral home.
Kenyans might have been treated to the negative side of CBIs before they got to know about its positives.
Billionaire Humphrey Kariuki, the owner of Africa Spirits and Wines of the World, was found to hold citizenship from Cyprus.
That surprised authorities who were investigating Kariuki for tax evasion. He was acquitted in December after the Director of Public Prosecutions failed to provide witnesses.
CBIs have been criticised as opaque and fraught with the risk of money-laundering.
And then of course there is just that ‘romantic’ feeling over the idea of citizenship for sale.
Whatever its criticism, reports show that close to 5,000 people acquire citizenships this way every year.
Wealthy people from countries with political instability, such as Eritrea, said Ms Salama have also been attracted to CBIs.
“Having a second citizenship is ideal for individuals seeking greater visa-free access to the world, and better tax management facilities. They also safeguard individuals and their families against the potential political, social, or economic threats that may erupt in their homelands,” Lawrence said.
South Africans prefer Portugal, the US and Malta. Nigerians prefer Cyprus, which is the most expensive and has the best investment programme.
Malta, an island in southern Europe, has the leading citizenship programme.
Cyprus is attractive to rich Africans since a Cypriot passport enables one to do business throughout the European Union, since Cyrus is a member.
In 2013, Cyprus introduced a policy that granted a passport to anybody who invested at least $2.2 million in their economy.
CBIs differ from Residence by Investment Programmes such as the one in the United States.
With CBIs, they usually do not require applicants, or their dependents, to satisfy a residency allowance before achieving citizenship.
Moreover, obtaining a second citizenship through a CBI isn’t guaranteed.
Countries usually conduct extensive due diligence background checks on applicants and their dependents to assess their character before issuing the citizenship. A criminal record can disqualify a candidate.
Once citizenship is achieved, these economic citizens earn the rights and privileges of natural citizens, including the right to pass on citizenship to their future generations.
Within the EU, Bulgaria, Cyprus, and Malta are the only countries that grant investors citizenship without the obligation of physical residence.
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