Anti-tax protests spread in Kenya as lawmakers debate Finance Bill

Kenyans protesting plans by the government to raise tax on certain commodities on Thursday took their protests beyond the capital Nairobi to more towns and cities of the country, including President William Ruto’s home town, Eldoret.

The protesters have clashed repeatedly with Kenyan police operatives struggling to stem the tide.

Anti-riot policemen fired tear gas at the angry crowds, but the crowds surged on, threatening to get out of hand.

Shops temporarily closed down in business districts around Nairobi and other major centres of the demonstrations for fear that some hoodlums may resort to looting.

The anger among Kenyans was spurred by a controversial Finance Bill that introduced unpopular tax proposals.

The bill is currently before the country’s parliament, which started debating it on Thursday, but the protests started in Nairobi on Tuesday, June 18, ahead of the parliamentary debate.

The fury with which the protest began forced the government on Wednesday to withdraw some particularly contentious provisions, namely a 16 per cent value-added tax on bread and an annual 2.5 per cent tax on vehicles, while a proposed tax on goods that degrade the environment was marked for an amendment to apply only to imported goods.

Unimpressed by this initial response by the executive arm of the government, the protesters marched on, asking the legislators to reject the Finance Bill in its entirety.

The revolution-like protest in Kenya is observed to be driven not by politicians but by young Kenyans who fear that the proposed taxes would compound nationwide inflation and make living more difficult for them.

The youths had before now carried out intense social media campaigns using the hashtags #OccupyParliament and #RejectFinanceBill2024, urging Kenyans to keep members of parliament in tune with the public mood as they debate the bill.

Some prominent politicians have, however, weighed in on the protests, including opposition leader Raila Odinga, who urged legislators to remove clauses in the Finance Bill that would burden the people.

The possibility of the protests continuing for a while was suggested by another opposition figure, Kalonzo Musyoka, who said that weekly demonstrations would run on if the parliament approved the bill as proposed.

Ruto has introduced many new taxes and raised old ones since he became president in August 2022.

This makes him unpopular with Kenyans, who started mockingly calling him ‘tax collector president’ by the time he marked his first anniversary in office last year.

Acknowledging that the taxes are painful while giving his Independence Day speech on December 12, 2023, Ruto said the sacrifices the people were being called to endure “would make our freedom fighters proud.”

He said higher taxation was necessary to reduce government borrowing and bring down the national debt, which had risen to 10 trillion shillings, or $65 billion, much of which he inherited from his predecessors.

“We have made the right choices, sometimes taking very difficult and painful decisions, to steer Kenya back from the edge of the catastrophic cliff of debt distress,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Kenyan parliament had, by the close of session on Thursday, voted for the controversial Finance Bill 2024 to enter the committee stage.

The majority of the members from the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition and a few from the opposition Azimio coalition, totaling 204, voted for the bill, approving the tax hikes proposed by the executive.

Most opposition members, numbering 115, voted against the controversial bill.

The bill now moves to the committee stage and then to a third reading, where the final decision at the level of parliament will be made


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here