Kenya’s President Ruto Dismisses Almost Entire Cabinet After Deadly Protests

Kenyan President William Ruto announced on Thursday the removal of practically his entire cabinet and talks to build a “broad-based government” as he sought to manage the impact from deadly protests against his administration.

The East African country was left reeling after peaceful protests last month against heavy tax increases became violent, with police firing at protesters who stormed parliament, setting it on fire.

The protests, organized online and spearheaded mostly by young, Gen-Z Kenyans, pushed Ruto’s administration into the most serious crisis of his presidency, forcing him to reject the finance package including the tax increases.

In the most recent effort to ease tensions, Ruto stated that his decision would apply “with immediate effect” to all ministers, including the attorney-general, but excluded prime cabinet secretary and foreign minister Musalia Mudavadi and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

The president stated that he made the dismissals “after careful consideration, listening intently to what the people of Kenya have said, and after a comprehensive evaluation of the performance of my cabinet and its achievements and challenges.”

Prominent Gen-Z protester Hanifa Adan welcomed the announcement, writing on X: “THE PRESIDENT OF KENYA HAS DISSOLVED THE CABINET!!! THE POWER LIES WITH THE PEOPLE ALWAYS!!!!!”

The rallies have widened into a broader campaign against Ruto and his government, with some demonstrations degenerating into violence that has left 39 dead, according to rights groups.

While large street protests have subsided, anger against the government has not, and hundreds of Kenyans attended a memorial concert in Nairobi Sunday, chanting “Ruto must go”.

Analysts said Ruto’s decision to sack allies including former interior minister Kithure Kindiki offered the possibility of a fresh start, but warned of further risks.

“The challenge that Ruto now faces is forming a new cabinet that includes various vested interests, whilst simultaneously calming popular anger in the face of an explicitly leaderless movement,” Gabrielle Lynch, professor of comparative politics at the University of Warwick, told AFP.

Declan Galvin, managing director of Exigent Risk Advisory, told AFP that “a clean slate will be good for him… There is no crisis without opportunity so maybe Ruto can get this right the second time.”

Debt rating downgraded

Last Monday, Kenya’s leader proposed significant cuts to government spending, including travel and renovation costs.

Ruto’s numerous high-profile excursions overseas, as well as reports that the deputy president’s office spent more than $70,000 on curtains, have enraged ordinary voters facing a rising cost of living crisis.

Ruto stated that borrowing would have to increase to pay for some services, despite Kenya’s large foreign debt, which amounts to nearly 70% of its GDP.

He stated that the fiscal deficit would increase from 3.3% to 4.6%.

The situation prompted US-based Moody’s to cut Kenya’s debt rating deeper into junk territory, warning of a bleak prognosis that will make borrowing even more expensive for the cash-strapped government.

The ratings agency said it was downgrading Kenyan government debt to Caa1 — regarded to have “very high credit risk” — citing Ruto’s “significantly diminished capacity” to generate taxes and eliminate debt.

‘Radical programmes’ pledged

The businessman-turned-politician, who won elections in 2022 on the promise of improving the average man’s fortunes, was taken aback by the level of popular outrage over the proposed tax hikes, which followed a previous set of increases last year.

Ruto stated that he would “immediately engage in extensive consultations across different sectors and political formations, with the aim of setting up a broad-based government” .

This government, he claimed, will assist him in developing “radical programmes” to address the country’s massive debt burden, expand job possibilities, remove government waste, and “slay the dragon of corruption”.

Ruto attempted to engage with some of the demonstrators by having an event on X with young Kenyans last week.

However, this has not appeased some activists, who are clamoring for his resignation under the hashtag #RutoMustGo and holding smaller rallies across Kenyan cities.

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