Kenyan Police Clash With Protesters After President Withdraws Tax Bill

June 28, 2024 by No Comments

Kenyan police used tear gas to disperse dozens of protesters in Nairobi on Thursday and blocked access to the presidential palace. Protests continued across the country, despite the president’s decision to withdraw a controversial tax increase bill.

In the capital, Mombasa, Kisumu and other cities, crowds called for President William Ruto to resign, though the turnout was significantly lower than the massive rallies seen in the past week.

Ruto withdrew the legislation, which included new taxes and tax increases, on Wednesday, a day after at least 23 people died in clashes related to the protests. Parliament was also briefly stormed and set ablaze.

Ruto is facing the most serious crisis of his two-year presidency as the youth-led protest movement has rapidly escalated from online criticism of the tax hikes to widespread demands for political change.

The withdrawal of the bill has also disrupted plans to reduce the budget deficit and borrowing, as demanded by lenders including the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Citizen TV reported that seven people were taken to hospital with gunshot wounds in the town of Homa Bay in western Kenya on Thursday. Police commander Hassan Barua said he had dispatched officers to investigate the report.

In Nairobi, police and soldiers patrolled the streets and blocked access to State House. Police dispersed several dozen people who had gathered in the city center using tear gas.

Medics for Kenya, a group of volunteer doctors, reported that its staff at the Jamia Mosque/Crescent hospital were affected by tear gas. The group condemned “in the strongest terms possible violence meted out on our volunteer medical teams”.

Reuters reporters observed army vehicles on the streets after the government deployed them to assist police.

Local television footage showed that hundreds of protesters gathered in the port city of Mombasa and the western city of Kisumu. These gatherings appeared peaceful.

“We are only coming here so that our voice can be heard, us as Gen Z, us as Kenyans, we are one,” said Berryl Nelima in Mombasa. “So the police should stop killing us, we are just peaceful protesters, we are unarmed.”

The protest movement lacks a formal leadership structure and has largely responded to messages, banners, and slogans on social media. Thursday’s posts suggested that protest supporters were divided on the extent of the demonstrations.

“Let’s not be foolish as we fight for a better Kenya,” Boniface Mwangi, a prominent social justice activist, said in an Instagram post.

While he voiced support for Thursday’s demonstrations, he opposed calls to invade State House, the president’s official offices and residence, arguing that it could lead to further violence and be used to justify a crackdown.

While some protest supporters said they would not demonstrate on Thursday since the finance bill was scrapped, others vowed to continue, stating that only Ruto’s resignation would satisfy them.

“Right now is not about just the finance bill but about #RutoMustGo,” political activist and protester Davis Tafari told Reuters in a text message. “We have to make sure that Ruto and his MPs have resigned and fresh elections are held … We occupy State House for dignity and justice.”

Eli Owuor, 34, from Kibera, an informal settlement and a traditional hotbed of protests, also said he was prepared to join a push toward State House.

“We may just need to visit Zakayo today in his house to prove that after parliament we can occupy State House,” he said, referring to Ruto by a nickname protesters have given him, referencing a biblical tax collector viewed as corrupt.

In a speech on Wednesday, Ruto defended his push to raise taxes on items such as bread, cooking oil, and diapers, arguing that it was necessary to reduce Kenya’s high debt, which has made borrowing difficult and weakened the currency.

However, he acknowledged that the public had overwhelmingly rejected the finance bill. He announced that he would now engage in dialogue with Kenyan youth and work on austerity measures, starting with budget cuts for the presidency.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has been urging Kenya to reduce its deficit to obtain more funding, said it was closely monitoring the situation in Kenya.

“We are deeply concerned about the tragic events in Kenya in recent days,” the IMF said in a statement. “Our main goal in supporting Kenya is to help it overcome the difficult economic challenges it faces and improve its economic prospects and the well-being of its people.”

Moody’s, a ratings agency, said the shift in focus to cutting spending rather than increasing revenue would complicate the disbursement of future IMF funding and slow the pace of fiscal consolidation.

Analysts at JPMorgan stated that they had maintained their forecasts for a deficit of 4.5% of GDP in FY2024/2025, but acknowledged that the government and IMF targets could be revised in light of recent events.

They said the Central Bank of Kenya was unlikely to begin cutting rates until the final quarter of this year.