Kenya protests resume as President William Ruto’s tax hike concession fails to quell anger


Johannesburg — Protesters took to the streets again in Kenya Thursday morning, two days after human rights groups said more than 20 people were killed as demonstrators clashed with security forces. The protests on Thursday did not draw the same huge numbers as Tuesday’s chaos, which prompted the country’s president to back down and say on Wednesday that he would not sign a controversial finance bill, with major tax hikes, that has caused the unrest.

A heavy police and military presence kept protesters fairly quiet for most of Thursday morning.

The streets outside of the buildings of Kenyan Parliament in Nairobi, parts of which were torched by protesters who stormed the compound on Tuesday, were quiet as the largely young protesters shifted their focus to the State House, the official residence of President William Ruto.

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Kenyan anti riot police detain a young man during a planned demonstration called after nationwide protests against a controversial, now-withdrawn tax bill left over 20 people dead, in downtown Nairobi, June 27, 2024. 

SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty


Police started lobbing tear gas cannisters in downtown Nairobi to disperse crowds again Thursday, but there were no immediate reports of the security forces using live ammunition again, which human rights groups said had killed at least 22 people and left some 300 wounded on Tuesday.

Still, organizers took to social media to urge those on the streets not to approach the heavily guarded State House.

“March to Honor those who lost their lives,” protest organizer Nasra Nanda said in a social media post. “March to honor the Constitution. March to demand accountability… But please as you do so, avoid statehouse. Please.”

The organizers appeared to take a more cautious tone on Thursday, pleading with protesters for a more peaceful day, clearly fearing further bloodshed after Tuesday’s violence.

Kenyan President Deploys Army to Halt 'Treasonous' Protests
Street cleaners tend to property damaged amid anti-government protests in the Central Business District of Nairobi, Kenya, June 26, 2024.

Kang-Chun Cheng/Bloomberg via Getty


In a video shared on social media, Martin Luther King III, the eldest son of American civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., also issued an appeal for peaceful protest.

“Kenyans and security forces, the world is watching,” said King, who was in Kenya as the chaos unfolded earlier in the week. “Rise not in anger but in a harmonious call for justice. Dad said at the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.”

Ruto introduced the finance bill in parliament in May, saying it was needed to draw an additional $2.3 billion in national revenue as the country faces a soaring debt bill. Interest payments on that debt currently eat up more than 25% of the national revenue. 

Critics of the proposals immediately called foul, saying consumers were already struggling with the high cost of living and that the new bill, with higher taxes on basic food supplies such as cooking oil and bread, as well as cars, was unacceptable. A public outcry saw the government alter the bill even before it was voted on by lawmakers on Tuesday, dropping the proposed tax hikes on essential goods and adding taxes on imported items and internet usage.

The revised bill was approved by parliament on Tuesday amid the chaotic protests, but the day after, Ruto, citing the huge public anger, said he would not sign it. He sent it back to the lawmakers for changes and called for a public dialogue on how to resolve Kenya’s national economic woes.

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

SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty


Ruto was elected on a campaign of economic empowerment and boosting the standard of living in a country plagued by high unemployment, huge debt and lingering costs from the COVID pandemic.  

It was mainly younger Kenyans, in their 20s and 30s, who pushed back and mobilized on social media to take to the streets, and young people were largely the casualties in Tuesday’s violence.

Many voiced their outrage online that had Ruto only backed down after blood was spilled.

In public remarks right after the Tuesday protests, Ruto blamed “treasonous” individuals for the violence, but he took a more measured tone on Wednesday afternoon when he announced that he was conceding and would not sign the bill.

Not long after Ruto introduced the controversial finance bill he travelled to Washington and was the first African president to be hosted at the White House by President Biden, who designated Kenya a Major Non-NATO ally the following day. Kenya is the first African country to hold that distinction. 

During Ruto’s visit, the Biden administration also pledged a shipment of helicopters and armored vehicles for Kenya’s military, as well as plans to upgrade the Manda Bay airfield in the north of the country.



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