Thousands Of Young Kenyans Protest Tax Hikes

Thousands of primarily young demonstrators flocked to the streets across Kenya on Thursday to protest tax hikes, blowing whistles and screaming slogans in a visceral display of anti-government sentiment among Generation Z protesters.

Police in Nairobi fired tear gas and water cannons at protestors near parliament, but aside from a few scuffles early in the day, the “Occupy Parliament” movement was generally peaceful.

The demonstrations, led primarily by young Kenyans, began in Nairobi on Tuesday and extended throughout the country by Thursday.

They have sparked considerable resentment with President William Ruto’s economic policies in a country already facing a cost-of-living problem.

Hours after Tuesday’s rallies, in which hundreds of youth clashed with police, the cash-strapped government agreed to make concessions, pulling back several of the tax increases outlined in a new bill.

However, the administration expects to proceed with some tax increases and has justified the proposed levies as necessary to replenish its coffers and reduce reliance on foreign borrowing.

Protesters carry placards during demonstrations against tax hikes, as Members of Parliament continue to debate the Finance Bill 2024, in Kisumu, western Kenya on June 20, 2024. (Photo by Brian ONGORO / AFP)

 

Protests were conducted across Kenya on Thursday, with hundreds gathering in Nairobi, Mombasa, the Rift Valley city of Nakuru, and the opposition stronghold of Kisumu, according to AFP reporters and television footage.

Isolated clashes erupted in Nairobi between protesters and police, who fired tear gas and water cannons when demonstrators gathered near parliament, which began debating the bill on Wednesday.

Despite a substantial police presence and barriers along many highways leading to parliament, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in groups, blowing whistles and vuvuzelas, brandishing banners, and chanting “Ruto must go”.

Ivy, a 26-year-old job seeker wearing in a T-shirt and leggings, told AFP that she was inspired to demonstrate for the first time on Thursday because she was “scared” about her future.

“This bill can’t pass. This law will be the last straw for us. “We don’t have jobs, we can’t start businesses, we can’t do anything in this country,” she stated.

Bella, another first-time demonstrator, stated that she came “to make sure the finance bill is rejected.”

The 22-year-old university graduate told AFP that she was “not impressed” by the government’s concessions earlier this week.

‘Lying to us’

The presidency on Tuesday announced the removal of proposed levies on bread purchases, car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, prompting a warning from the treasury of a 200-billion-shilling shortfall as a result of the budget cuts.

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already battling high inflation.

“They are just trying to lie to us, the taxes that they have removed on bread they have added somewhere else,” Bella said, describing it as a tactic to “blindfold” citizens.

A parliament source told AFP that a vote on the proposals was expected on June 27, three days before the deadline for passing the bill.

The taxes were projected to raise 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion), equivalent to 1.9 percent of GDP, and reduce the budget deficit from 5.7 percent to 3.3 percent of GDP.

High inflation

The protest in Nairobi on Tuesday saw black-clad protesters forced into cat-and-mouse chases with police who fired volleys of teargas.

At least 335 people were arrested, according to a consortium of lobby groups including the human rights commission, KNCHR, and Amnesty Kenya.

“We have changed tack. Today we will be in colourful and defiant clothing to avoid a repeat of them arresting everyone in black,” said an organiser of the march, who requested anonymity due to fear of reprisals.

Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty.

Overall inflation has remained stubbornly high, at an annual rate of 5.1 percent in May, while food and fuel inflation stood at 6.2 percent and 7.8 percent respectively, according to central bank data.

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