Kenya content creators foment opposition to ‘tax bill’

Saturday June 03 2023

A group of protesters led by Comedian Eric Omondi (red hair) block Parliament road in Nairobi, Kenya protesting high cost of living on February 21, 2023. PHOTO | LUCY WANJIRU | NMG


In a short video clip circulated on social media platforms much of Thursday, popular Kenyan comedian Eric Omondi, flanked by a group of youth with their mouths taped, launches a salvo of terse messages to President William Ruto.

“Mr Ruto, don’t attempt to tax the youth, don’t tax content creators… You don’t support them, you don’t know their struggles,” says Mr Omondi.

The comedian, who has lately taken to political activism with regular demonstration stunts featuring shirtless body builders, is among many social media influencers and content creators who have taken to digital platforms TikTok, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter to voice their frustrations with a proposal in the Finance Bill 2023 that will see them pay 15 percent tax on their income.

The Bill, which also proposes taxes on fuel, airtime, mobile money transactions, beauty products and insurance compensation, is unpopular among many Kenyans anxious about the prospects of a further rise in the cost of living.

President Ruto’s critics have also been keen to point out the fact that he has backtracked on his populist campaign promises not to raise taxes and uplift the underprivileged or ‘hustlers’.

Read: Ruto’s ‘Hustler Budget’ is not very popular


On Monday, trade unions representing doctors and clinicians in public hospitals and public university lecturers staged demonstrations in the Nairobi streets to protest a proposed housing levy to be deducted from’ salaries.

In the National Assembly where the formal public hearing on the Bill has been going on in the past two weeks, the vast majority of the more than 1,000 petitions presented to the budget committee by trade associations, labour unions and civil society groups opposed the tax proposals.

The committee has since retreated to write a report to present to the House on June 15 to either approve or reject the Bill.
The Bill will almost certainly get parliamentary approval, with President Ruto having in recent days continued to defend the tax proposals in his public statements and his Kenya Kwanza coalition enjoying a healthy majority in the Assembly.

That will most likely shift the political battle over the Ruto taxes to the streets after opposition leader Raila Odinga issued an ultimatum to the President to withdraw the Bill by next Monday or face a resumption of the mass protests that caused economic shutdowns in Nairobi and a number of towns in western Kenya in March.

A number of civil society groups and politicians, including a senator, have also threatened legal action to try to stop the taxes.

Away from the streets and the courts, President Ruto also has the grievances of a young and restless social media crowd and the growing influence of ‘TikTok activists’ to reckon with.

Read: Joblessness a threat to Ruto’s taxation plan

The findings of a survey on media consumption habits by Aga Khan University’s Media Innovation Centre show that a majority of the Kenyan millennials and Gen-Zs rely on social media platforms for news and entertainment.

Unlike past Kenyan presidents, he and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta have had to govern during a more advanced stage of the digital age where technology has significantly expanded the democratic space for free expression.

Kenya tops African countries in mobile penetration and has a considerable proportion of its youthful population owning smartphones.

Compared with her neighbour Uganda where President Yoweri Museveni shut down the Internet ahead of the elections in 2021, Kenyan authorities have been more restrained in their policing of the digital space owing to the country’s relatively stronger accountability institutions and democratic tradition.