Kenyan protesters call for national strike on June 25

AP , AFP , Friday 21 Jun 2024

Kenyan protesters called Friday for a national strike on June 25 to oppose proposed tax hikes, following this week's mass demonstrations led by mostly young people across the country.

A protester throws back a tear gas canister at Kenyan anti-riot police officers during a demonstration against tax hikes as Members of the Parliament continue to debate the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi on June, 2024. AFP


"Tuesday 25th June: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A national strike," read a poster shared widely online by protesters, adding that "Gen Z are granting all hard working Kenyans a day off. Parents keep your children at home in solidarity."

Thousands of mostly young people demonstrated Thursday in Kenya’s capital and across the country against new tax proposals by the administration of President William Ruto in its annual budget legislation.

The protests brought Nairobi’s central business district to a standstill as horse-riding riot police threw tear-gas cannisters and opened water cannons on demonstrators who advanced towards parliament buildings, where lawmakers debated the finance bill.

The protesters, who began their demonstrations in a first round on Tuesday, are demanding that lawmakers vote against the legislation, which is expected to be burdensome for salaried Kenyans, entrepreneurs and consumers. They say Ruto has gone back on his pledge to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living.

The new taxes would include a 2.75% levy on income for the national medical insurance plan, as well as increased taxes on vegetable oil and fuel, which would increase the cost of production and trickle down to the consumer.

Proposals to introduce a 16% value-added tax on bread and a new annual tax on motor vehicles were removed from the legislation Tuesday after a meeting between Ruto and ruling party members.

But those who demonstrated Thursday said the amendments did not go far enough and that they want legislators to totally reject the budget legislation.

“Our parents have been taxed dry, yet there’s no development to show for it. We reject any additional taxes and will stay on the streets for as long as it takes,” Ashley Mwai said.

The 19-year-old who has never voted said the new taxes have made her get involved in politics for the first time for the sake of her parents who do not have the energy to join protests.

“As much as I’m not earning an income yet, additional taxes will increase the prices of food and transport, making life unbearable for us young people,” Mwai said.

Businessman Walter Mwangi, 34, said he’s struggling to earn a living because taxes are already crippling his consultancy business. "We are sick and tired,” Mwangi said.

Lawmakers were debating and voting Thursday on the legislation in its second reading. It is due for its third and final reading next week. Meanwhile, demonstrators tried to breach a security cordon to access parliament buildings, carrying anti-government placards and chanting against Ruto.

The president was attending a university event in the southeastern town of Garissa where anti-government protesters lined the street leading to the event venue.

Ruto said earlier in the week that the protests were a constitutional right, but that government institutions must carry out their mandate.

“We are a democratic country. Those who want to demonstrate it is their right, no problem. But decisions have to be made by institutions," Ruto said Wednesday.


Probe into police conduct

An investigation began Friday in Kenya into police conduct during protests, according to the country's police watchdog.

The chairperson of Kenya's Independent Policing Oversight Authority, Anne Makori, lauded protesters for demonstrating peacefully and urged police to exercise restraint while noting the killing of a protester and injuries sustained by demonstrators and police officers.

The mother of the young man who was shot and killed during the protests told journalists her son was coming from work when tear gas was hurled in his direction and police fired at fleeing protesters.

Gillian Munyao said her 29-year-old son, Rex, was with some friends when he fell after being hit in his left leg.

“His friend noticed he had fallen and went to check on him only to find him bleeding heavily. He asked a passerby to help them and police who were walking towards them declined to help them,” she told journalists outside City Mortuary, where her son’s body is lying.

The Kenya Red Cross Society said Thursday that 39 people were injured, 8 of them being in critical condition.

A joint statement by the Law Society of Kenya, Kenya Medical Association, Defenders Coalition, Independent Medical Legal Unit and Amnesty International said that at least 200 people were injured during the protests.

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