PRETORIA – Sitting in a hotel room in Kenya, Nairobi, ATAF Women In Tax Network (AWITN)’s Vice President, Chenai Mukumba wholeheartedly talks to us about representation in the tax industry, her career and lessons she’s learning along the way.
The AWITN is an association which encourages the participation of African women working in taxation in government, private sector, civil society and academia.
1. Tell us about yourself…
“Chenai is a Zimbabwean, born and raised. My parents were living in Botswana when I was born, so I spent the first 10 years in Gaborone. Then finished high school in Zimbabwe. Then I studied, I have a Masters in International Relations at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Then I moved to Geneva. I spent a couple of years at the World Trade Organisation. Then I decided to do something a little uncharacteristic. I got offered a job in India. My parents were completely appalled and didn’t think this was the direction I should take with my career. But I thought to myself ‘I know I want to work in Africa but what I want first is to see what the developing countries context is’. So, I moved to India and lived there for three years. I had the best experience and in so many ways. The work was amazing but just the environment and the people, the language and the culture was so enriching.”
2. What the AWITN mean to you?
“What the ATAF Women In Tax Network does is try to address – since the beginning of time – what has been such a male dominated industry. There has been inherent gender blindness that has had significant negative effects on women. The AWITN is trying to achieve two things; see the extent to which we can identify the systemic issues within the entire spectrum of tax policy making, identify them and propose solutions. What I love about this network is that it’s intentional in trying to build individuals. There’s a mentorship programme in the network which I think is so necessary. I’ve already benefitted from mentorship from women who have been in the space much longer than I. I’m super excited about it and it will shake up the space in a way that has needed to be in a very long time.”
3. Why did you join the AWITN?
“I think we need more African women speaking in these spaces so that they can represent and reflect the context in which we live. That was my first reason. Secondly, I come from TJNA and it’s a civil society organisation. I feel there’s a need for a variety of different actors that are part of this conversation because each an every single one of us are contributing to the tax policy discussion and tax policy narrative. So, I saw both of things as important and the reason I wanted to be part of this.”
4. Why do you think it’s important to have female tax practitioners in top positions?
“It’s so important to have women [in top positions] because it’s not just about women who are in tax administrations institutions because that way you start counting the secretaries and the clerks and it needs to be more than that. You need to have them at the decision-making tables.”
5. What advice do you have for a young woman entering the tax industry?
“Take that opportunity that you might feel unqualified for because let me tell you something, the men are applying for those positions! I would advise women who are entering this space to take the leap! You can absolutely do it.”
6. What inspires you?
“I’m incredibly religious so my faith is something that inspires me. I recently relocated to Nairobi, I remember I was here a couple of months ago to do some work and as I was driving around Nairobi, I felt the sense that ‘I need you here’. I thought about it and prayed about it and felt I made the right decision. It was a hard decision because I had lived in Zambia for so long. It’s that leap of faith, leap into uncertainty. That’s what inspires me when taking personal decisions. But also, the people who have gone before us and have paved the way. When I think of people like Doris Akol, Attiya Waris and Irene Ovonji-Odida – I’m in awe of those women and wanna be just like them! That’s why the mentorship is so important because they show you what is possible in this male dominated space.”
7. How would you describe the AWITN?
“Historic. I would describe it as ground-breaking. I feel like it’s so much needed. Part of the reasons for this network was the contribution to the SDG5 [Sustainable Development Goals] which is promoting women in leadership to achieve an equal future in a post-COVID19 world. This is definitely a step in the right direction and I’m excited to see it grow.”
Launched in March 2021, the AWITN is a unique platform that represents and connects African women with furthering discussions on the effect of tax policy on gender equality and empowering women in tax.
WATCH Ms Mukumba’s full interview here.