Tax protests: The wolf in sheepskin bares his claws

Sunday June 23 2024

A police officer aims a gun loaded with a tear gas canister towards demonstrators along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi, Kenya on June 20,2024 during protests against the proposed Finance Bill 2024. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


On the Tuesday of June 18, young Kenyans poured into the streets of Nairobi in huge numbers to protest the high cost of living and punitive taxes imposed on various products and services.

The protests were not organised by politicians; the young people used their social media savvy to organise in similar fashion to the demonstrations that sparked the Arab Spring. And just like the Arab Spring demonstrations, young women in their numbers took part in and led the protesters.

If anyone ever needed proof that it is the police who inflict violence on peaceful demonstrators, it was all there, relayed on cell phones and broadcast by mainstream local and international media.

Despite being beaten up, arrested and teargased, the demonstrators did not resort to violence. They did not loot shops or vandalise cars.

The only weapons they carried were placards denouncing the Ruto-Gachagua regime.

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One young woman, after defying two burly policemen trying to arrest her, led the crowd in chanting, “People’s power! When we lose our fear, they lose their power!” The woman is small in stature, but her voice echoed far back in history. In her voice, we heard Mary Nyanjiru defying the colonial police order to disperse. In her voice, we also saw in our memory the hundreds of thousands who, on July 7, 1990, flocked to the streets to demand a return to democracy.

The colonial police opened fire, killing Nyanjiru and 20 other people. In similar fashion, the Nyayo police opened fire, killing hundreds of protesters.

Mary Nyanjiru and her group were protesting the arrest of Harry Thuku and other leaders who were incarcerated at the Central Police station.

On Saba Saba Day, hundreds were also arrested and locked up in various stations, including Central Police Station.

It is instructive in a deeply disturbing way that this is the same station where tens of those protesting the Ruto-Gachagua regime were locked up. The Central Police Station has been central in the drama of repression and defiance in Kenya’s history.

A footage circulating on social media shows a group of women seated on the cold cement floor of a jail cell at Central Police Station.

They are not broken by the harsh conditions of their captivity; they sing defiant songs denouncing the police and the wasteful and corrupt regime.

Some of the taxes proposed in the Finance Bill 2024 are just absurd. Instead of incentivising small businesses that suffered greatly during Covid, the regime proposed taxes that would impact them.

The proposed taxes on bread, sanitary pads and diapers, cooking oil and mobile transactions show a regime that is totally out of touch with reality. Perhaps if they stayed in the country long enough, instead of travelling abroad every other day, they would understand the horrendous conditions poor Kenyans live in.

The regime has since withdrawn some of the ridiculous taxes after weeks of chest thumping. But the wolf in sheep’s clothing has shown its claws.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator