Kenya’s President William Ruto withdraws his decision on tax hike after deadly protests

Kenya’s president on Wednesday withdrew a planned tax hike, bowing to pressure from protesters who had stormed parliament, launched demonstrations across the country and threatened more action this week.

William Ruto said he would not sign the finance bill, including the salary hike, a day after violent clashes between police and protesters broke out in the assembly and across the country that left at least 23 people dead and many injured, according to medics.

“Having carefully listened to the people of Kenya who have insisted that they want nothing to do with this Finance Bill 2024, I accept that. Therefore, I will not sign the Finance Bill 2024 and it will be withdrawn at a later date,” he said in a televised address.

Ruto said he would now begin talks with Kenyan youth, but did not go into detail, and would work on austerity measures – starting with cuts to the president’s budget – to fill the gap in the country’s finances.

The move will be seen as a major victory for a weeks-old protest movement that grew from online denunciations of tax hikes to mass rallies demanding political reform, plunging it into the most serious crisis of Ruto’s two-year presidency.

That may avert the immediate threat of further unrest, but still leaves Ruto caught between the competing demands of his distressed citizens and lenders such as the IMF – which are urging the government to cut the deficit to secure more financing.

On Tuesday, police opened fire on a crowd gathered around Parliament and later entered the assembly premises just minutes after lawmakers voted in favour of tax bills and sent them to the President.

The Nation newspaper has documented protests in at least 35 of Kenya’s 47 counties, from major cities to rural areas – even in Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret, a stronghold of his ethnic Kalenjin region.

At least 23 people were killed and 30 others were being treated for gunshot wounds in the east African country, the Kenya Medical Association said on Wednesday. Medical officials in Nairobi said several people were injured.

Protesters had earlier vowed to continue their demonstrations on social media using the hashtag #tupatananethursday, or “see you on Thursday” in Swahili and English.

Posts on social media urged people to occupy State House, the presidential office and residence on Thursday, and the local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday, though it was not immediately clear whether the calls came from individuals or a broader movement.

Heavily armed police patrolled the streets of the capital, Nairobi, which was quieter than usual on Wednesday.

The protests began as online outrage by young, tech-savvy Kenyans against proposed taxes on bread and diapers and evolved into a nationwide movement demanding the scrapping of the entire finance bill, including the taxes.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Nairobi and several other cities last week for two days of protests after the online movement gained momentum.

Protests in Kenya are usually called by political leaders who may be willing to negotiate a solution. But the current protests of young Kenyans have no official leader and are becoming increasingly bold in their demands.

Lawmakers on Tuesday removed some tax hikes from the final version of the finance bill, including increases on bread and cooking oil, but included others in an effort to avoid a budget gap.

published by:

Ashutosh Acharya

Published on:

June 26, 2024