Kenya police fire tear gas as youth protests kick-off

AFP , Tuesday 25 Jun 2024

Kenyan police fired tear gas at crowds of young protesters in the capital Nairobi on Tuesday, AFP reporters saw, as demonstrators rallied across the country against the government's proposed tax hikes.

Protesters march while chanting anti-government slogans during a demonstration against tax hikes as
Protesters march while chanting anti-government slogans during a demonstration against tax hikes as members of the Parliament vote the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, on June 20, 2024. AFP

 

The mainly Gen-Z-led rallies, which began last week, have taken President William Ruto's government by surprise, with the Kenyan leader saying over the weekend that he was ready to speak to the protesters.

There was a heavy police presence early Tuesday in Nairobi's business district with officers in full riot gear blocking access to parliament, where lawmakers are debating the controversial finance bill containing the tax proposals.

Many shops in the area -- the epicentre of previous demonstrations -- were also closed, with officers firing tear gas at protesters, according to AFP reporters.

Elsewhere in the country, crowds were marching in the port city of Mombasa, in the opposition bastion of Kisumu, and Ruto's stronghold of Eldoret, images on Kenyan TV channels showed.

The protests have been mostly peaceful, as Ruto noted Sunday in his first public comments on the demonstrations. But the Independent Policing Oversight Authority watchdog and rights groups said that two people had died following Thursday's rallies in Nairobi.

Discontent over the cost-of-living crisis spiralled into nationwide rallies last week, with demonstrators calling for the finance bill to be scrapped. Parliament must vote on the legislation by June 30.

"We're past the talking stage and won't be silenced. We demand an end to police violence, respect for our constitutional rights, and the freedom to speak up without fear of arrest or harm," Hanifa Adan told AFP Sunday.

Several organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were wounded in last week's protests in Nairobi.

 

'At a crossroads'

 

"The country stands at a crossroads," Amnesty's Kenya chapter said in a statement Monday.

"Despite mass arrests and injuries, the protests have continued to grow, emphasising the public's widespread discontent," it said, warning that "the escalation of force could lead to more fatalities and legal repercussions."

Rights watchdogs have accused the authorities of abducting protesters in violation of the law.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said the abductions had mostly occurred at night and were "conducted by police officers in civilian clothes and unmarked cars", calling for the "unconditional release of all abductees."

The police have not responded to requests from AFP for comment on the allegations.

The protesters have also deployed unconventional tactics, including asking bars to stop playing music at midnight on the weekend as partygoers burst into chants saying: "Ruto must go" and "Reject finance bill."

Their demonstrations have drawn support from some Anglican and Catholic church leaders.

 

Debt mountain
 

The cash-strapped government agreed last week to roll back several tax increases.

But it still intends to raise some taxes, saying they are necessary for filling the state coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

Kenya has a huge debt mountain whose servicing costs have ballooned because of a fall in the value of the local currency over the last two years, making interest payments on foreign-currency loans more expensive.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with well-paid jobs remaining out of reach for many young people.

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership and financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings ($1.56 billion).

The government now intends to target an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country already saddled with high inflation.

Kenya has one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 52 million people live in poverty.

Search Keywords:
Short link: