Police fire teargas as Kenya tax protesters demonstrate nationwide

Tuesday June 25 2024

Organisers have called for a general strike against the finance bill, which aims to raise an additional $2.7 billion in taxes.



Kenyan police fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the capital Nairobi on Tuesday as a nationwide demonstration against proposed tax hikes got underway.

Organisers have also called for a general strike against the finance bill, which aims to raise an additional $2.7 billion in taxes as part of an effort to tame public debt that ballooned over the past decade.

President William Ruto won an election almost two years ago on a platform of championing Kenya's working poor.

He now says a heavy debt load, where interest payments alone consume 37 percent of annual revenue, has curbed his ability to fulfil some of his promises.

Read: Anti-tax demos spread across Kenya cities, towns

He has been caught between the competing demands of lenders like the International Monetary Fund, which is urging the government to cut deficits, and a population reeling from cost-of-living increases brought on by inflation and steep tax rises enacted in last year's finance bill.

Thousands took to the streets of the capital Nairobi and more than a half-dozen other cities during two days of protests last week.

Read: Kenya Gen Z protests: Gamechanger for region’s future politics?

Although the protesters in Nairobi were almost entirely peaceful, according to Reuters reporters and human rights organisations, police repeatedly fired tear gas and water cannon. One person was killed, in what the police oversight board said was "allegedly as a result of police shooting".

A police spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. In remarks on Sunday, Ruto praised the protesters, saying they had been peaceful, and that the government would engage with them on the way forward.


While protesters initially focused on the finance bill, their demands have broadened, with many chanting on Thursday: "Ruto must go!"

Organic movement

Political analysts say the protests represent a particular challenge for Ruto because, unlike previous demonstrations led by political parties, they lack an official leader who can be mollified through private negotiation and inducements.

Last week's demonstrations appeared to be an organic movement organised online by a young cohort of Kenyans.

The government has already made some concessions, promising in amendments to the bill to scrap proposed new taxes on bread, cooking oil, car ownership and financial transactions. But that has not been enough to satisfy protesters, who want the entire bill scrapped.

Read: MPs drop punitive taxes as protests rock Nairobi

On Tuesday afternoon, lawmakers will debate the amendments, which the finance ministry says would blow a Ksh200 billion-shilling ($1.56 billion) hole in the 2024/25 budget and compel the government to make spending cuts or raise taxes elsewhere.

"Ruto's alternative is to place greater emphasis on reducing government profligacy - but holding together a political coalition makes this option less appealing," said Fergus Kell, a political analyst at the London-based think tank Chatham House.

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