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‘Shaken to the core’: Kenya shocked as protests turn deadly

todayJune 26, 2024 8

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NAIROBI, KENYA – JUNE 25: Kenyan police officers intervene in people during a protest against the tax hikes in planned ‘Finance Bill 2024’ as they march to the parliament building in Nairobi, Kenya on June 25, 2024. (Photo by Gerald Anderson/Anadolu via Getty Images)









Kenya was in a state of shock Wednesday following unprecedented scenes that left parts of parliament ablaze and gutted, as protests over proposed tax hikes turned deadly, prompting President William Ruto’s government to deploy the military.

“Deaths, mayhem”, read the front-page headline on the Standard newspaper, while the Daily Nation described the situation as “Pandemonium”, saying: “The foundations of the country have been shaken to the core.”

The mainly youth-led rallies began mostly peacefully last week, with thousands of demonstrators marching in the capital Nairobi and across the country against the tax increases.

But tensions flared sharply on Tuesday afternoon, as police officers fired live rounds on crowds that later ransacked the parliament complex, with rights groups saying the violence had left five dead and more than 30 injured.

Hours later, Defence Minister Aden Bare Duale announced that the government had deployed the army to support the police in tackling “the security emergency” in the country.

In a late-night press briefing, Ruto warned that his government would take a tough line against “violence and anarchy”, likening some of the demonstrators to “criminals”.

“It is not in order or even conceivable that criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters can reign terror against the people, their elected representatives and the institutions established under our constitution and expect to go scot-free,” he said.

The government has been taken by surprise by the intensity of opposition to its tax proposals — mostly led by young, Gen-Z Kenyans — which culminated in the shocking scenes at parliament that played out live on TV.

Images shared on local TV stations after crowds broke through the barricades showed the building ransacked, with burnt furniture and smashed windows.

As police fired at the angry crowds, leaving several bodies strewn on the ground, protest organisers urged people to walk home together and “stay safe”.

A heavy police presence was deployed around parliament on Wednesday morning, according to an AFP reporter, the smell of tear gas still in the air.

A policeman standing in front of the broken barricades to the complex told AFP he had watched the distressing scenes unfold on TV.

“It was madness, we hope it will be calm today,” he said.

Earlier on Tuesday, the rallies in various Kenyan cities had been largely peaceful.

However, tensions escalated in Nairobi in the afternoon, with some protesters hurling stones at police, who deployed tear gas and water cannon before firing live bullets.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission said at least one protester had been shot by police, with AFP journalists seeing three people bleeding heavily and lying motionless on the ground near parliament.

A joint statement by rights groups including Amnesty International’s Kenya chapter said police had shot dead five people.

As dusk fell, internet services crashed, with global web monitor NetBlocks reporting that Kenya had suffered a “major disruption” before access returned overnight.

The unrest has alarmed the international community, with the White House appealing for calm and more than 10 Western nations — including Canada, Germany and Britain — saying they were “especially shocked by the scenes witnessed outside the Kenyan Parliament”.

The head of the African Union commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, expressed “deep concern” over the loss of life, urging “all stakeholders to exercise calm and refrain from further violence”.

Veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga, who heads the Azimio coalition, accused the government of unleashing “brute force on our country’s children”.

“Kenya cannot afford to kill its children just because the children are asking for food, jobs and a listening ear,” he said.

Rights watchdogs have also accused the authorities of abducting protesters.

The police have not responded to any requests for comment from AFP.

Long-running grievances over the rising cost of living spiralled last week as lawmakers began debating proposed tax hikes in the 2024 finance bill.

The cash-strapped government says the increases are needed to service the country’s massive debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), equal to roughly 70 percent of Kenya’s GDP.

After rolling back some of the more controversial proposals — which would have affected bread purchases, car ownership, and financial and mobile services — the government now intends to increase fuel prices and export duties.

Kenya’s treasury has warned of a gaping budget shortfall of 200 billion shillings, following Ruto’s decision to roll back some of the tax hikes.

While Kenya is among East Africa’s most dynamic economies, a third of its 52 million population live in poverty.




Written by: Dilia Mazula

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