By Charlie Kimber
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2911

Tax and price rises detonate mass protests in Kenya

'Kenya is not the IMF’s lab rat,' read a placard on the Nairobi demonstration.
Issue 2911
Group of young people in Kenya smiling and looking defiant. They have raised fists.

Protesters in Kenya are defiant and determined despite repression (Picture: @Honeyfarsafi on Twitter)

Protests exploded onto the streets of Kenya in east Africa this week against tax increases and the rule of Western-backed president William Ruto.

Anti-riot police, some on horseback, fired volleys of tear gas and then bullets at protesters in the capital, Nairobi. Protesters, mainly young people, also came out in other cities and major towns including Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu and Nyeri.

Deep anger over repression is accelerating the demonstrations. On Thursday police killed 29-year-old protester Rex Kanyike Masai in the centre of Nairobi. He died of gunshot wounds.

“He was shot in the upper middle part of the thigh. It appears he bled to death before being brought to our facility,” a doctor told Kenya’s Nation news website.

MPs have now passed a tax bill that will hit the poor. But it still must pass further stages—and protesters plan more actions. Activists called for a national shutdown on Tuesday 25 June and for occupations and road blocks on Thursday 27 June.

Earlier revolts this week forced the government to drop a proposed 16 percent tax on bread and an annual 2.5 percent tax on vehicles. But protesters say this is not enough.

Pressure to keep squeezing workers and the poor comes from bankers and international finance institutions.

Ruto has spent his first two years as president ramming through a slew of unpopular taxes on everything from gasoline to wheelchair tyres to sanitary pads. He triggered mass protests last year. 

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the stock exchange think he’s a model ruler. Ordinary people don’t.

The IMF says, “the authorities have taken decisive steps towards fiscal consolidation”. But “Kenya is not the IMF’s lab rat,” read a placard on the Nairobi demonstration.

When he won elections in August 2022, Ruto promised “bottom-up” economics. He boasted that he would stand for the “hustlers”—the poor majority— against the “dynasties”—the wealthy and politically influential elite that have ruled since independence 60 years ago.

Kenya’s rulers are the loyal servants of US imperialism. They have offered police to quell the opposition in Haiti in the Caribbean and stop refugees heading to North America.

As a reward, United States president Joe Biden dubbed Kenya a major non-Nato ally, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. This will allow its military to buy US weapons and anti-riot technology.

The demonstrations have seen a new generation of protesters on the streets in a country of 56 million people.

“We are the Gen Zs, we were able to mobilise ourselves. We use TikTok as a space to be able to not only have young people come to protest but to educate them on the why,” protester Zaha Indimuli told journalists.

Many of them were demonstrating for the first time.

Mutuma Mathiu, a veteran journalist, said this week’s events had shifted the dynamics of Kenyan politics. “Protest politics found a new fulcrum and a new and different generation of Kenyans found their rather loud voice.”

Dr Willy Mutunga, a former chief justice, said young people across the world had a common enemy in “their respective ruling classes”. He added, “The uprising is on the horizon.”

Many believe he is right. “We are not scared and this is only the beginning of the revolution,” said Indimuli.

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