Deadly protests over Kenya finance bill prompt President William Ruto to drop support for tax hikes

Johannesburg — At least 22 protesters were killed and scores more wounded on the streets of Kenya Tuesday as they clashed with police in chaotic demonstrations over a contentious finance bill laden with tax hikes that was passed by the country’s parliament, according to human rights groups. With the deaths and injuries still being counted, the protesters’ message appeared to have convinced Kenya’s president to back down, and he said Wednesday that he would not sign the legislation.

Protesters in the capital city of Nairobi broke into the parliament building and set part of it on fire Tuesday just after lawmakers voted to pass the controversial finance bill. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said at least 22 people were killed in the clashes, and other organizations cited similar death tolls. 

On Wednesday afternoon, in his second televised remarks in just 24 hours, President William Ruto said: “I concede and will not sign the bill.”

President of Kenya William Ruto addresses journalists during a press conference at the State House in Nairobi, June 26, 2024.


The deeply unpopular tax increases were intended to raise almost $2.3 billion to help address Kenya’s dire finances. The national debt has spiraled out of control for years, bringing pressure on the government from foreign financial institutions and forcing it to hand over a massive proportion of its annual revenue in interest payments.

Ruto said Wednesday that, as he was sending the finance bill back to parliament for changes, there should be a national dialogue to figure out how to remedy the economic crisis.

He called for “a conversation as a nation, as to how we manage the affairs of the nation together, the debt, the budget, together.” 

Members of the protest movement, led largely by younger Kenyans, vowed in social media posts before Ruto’s Wednesday remarks to return to the streets on Thursday for another day of demonstrations.  

“You cannot kill all of us,” activist Hanifa Adan said in one post. “Tomorrow we march peacefully again as we wear white, for all our fallen people. You will not be forgotten!”

It was not immediately clear whether the protests planned for Thursday would go ahead given Ruto’s decision not to sign the finance bill.

President of Kenya William Ruto addresses journalists during a press conference at the State House in Nairobi, June 26, 2024.


The protests started last week, initially against proposed sharp tax increases on staples including bread, cooking oil and diapers. Those most controversial measures were abandoned even before the vote in parliament on Tuesday.

The demonstrations have been organized primarily by younger Kenyans, Gen Z’s who have used social media to draw large numbers to the events. 

The rallies began peacefully but grew more acrimonious until they exploded in violence on Tuesday, with police firing teargas, water cannon and live ammunition as they tried to control the raucous crowds.

The protesters who broke into the parliament vandalized the interior of the building and set parts of the complex on fire, shocking lawmakers as they burst through the doors to the chamber and sending some fleeing for shelter in basement corridors.

The parliament’s ceremonial mace, symbolizing the legislature’s authority, was stolen and seen in the hands of protesters as they walked down a road outside.

In an address Tuesday evening, Ruto said all means would be deployed to “thwart any attempts by dangerous criminals to undermine the security and stability of our country,” and he later deployed Kenyan military forces to help quell the protests.

Medics and hospital administrators reported close to 300 people injured nationally in the clashes on Tuesday.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was “deeply saddened” by the reports of deaths and injuries, “including those of journalists and medical personnel, connected to protests and street demonstrations in Kenya.”

He urged Kenyan authorities to “exercise restraint,” and called for peaceful demonstrations.

In a statement on Wednesday, the rights advocacy group Amnesty International said the responsibility for the deaths on Tuesday, “lies squarely with President Ruto, even though he was not present on the street. He cannot escape accountability.”

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