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Africa

What’s next after Kenya’s deadly protests?

todayJune 26, 2024 9

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Protesters try to advance towards the police during a demonstration in Nairobi, on June 25, 2024. Kenyan police fired tear gas at crowds of young protesters in the capital Nairobi on Tuesday, as demonstrators rallied across the country against the government’s proposed tax increases. The demonstrations, led mainly by Generation Z, which began last week, took President William Ruto’s government by surprise, and he said over the weekend that he was ready to talk to the protesters, according to AFP reporters. (Photo by SIMON MAINA / AFP) (Photo by SIMON MAINA/AFP via Getty Images)

 

 

 

 

By Rose TROUP BUCHANAN, Simon VALMARY

 

 

After an unprecedented day of chaos and deadly violence, Kenya finds itself plunged into uncertainty on Wednesday, with lawmakers due to vote this week on deeply unpopular tax hikes that have sparked widespread protests.

How did East Africa’s economic powerhouse get to this point and what happens now?

Tuesday’s national strike against proposed tax hikes began peacefully, with mostly young demonstrators marching across the country, as they did last week.

But tensions later spiralled in the capital Nairobi as officers opened fire, shooting into crowds marching towards parliament, where lawmakers have been debating the finance bill containing the tax proposals.

Demonstrators then broke through police barricades, entering the parliamentary complex and vandalising it.

At least 13 people were killed in the protests on Tuesday, the president of the Kenya Medical Association said.

An official at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi said Wednesday that it was treating “160 people… some of them with soft tissue injuries, some of them with bullet wounds”.

Looting also took place in Nairobi and other counties, while buildings were set on fire in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, a stronghold of President William Ruto.

Many Kenyans are deeply frustrated with the government as they struggle with a cost-of-living crisis — which the protesters say the hikes will only exacerbate.

The government’s initial proposal to tax bread purchases and car ownership sparked an outcry among young, Gen-Z Kenyans, who launched a movement dubbed “Occupy Parliament” last week.

Their protests — organised and livestreamed on TikTok, X and Instagram — remained largely peaceful as they drew more and more people, including older Kenyans, some of whom showed up to Thursday’s rally with their children.

The government withdrew some of the tax increases but still intends to impose some hikes.

But protesters say they will settle for nothing less than a full withdrawal of the bill.

Andrew Smith, Senior Africa Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said Ruto had “seriously misjudged the amount of anger among the population over the tax hikes and the underlying socioeconomic conditions”.

“Many protesters are also seriously disappointed in Ruto, who came into power in 2022 pledging to reduce living costs and has done exactly the opposite.”

Ruto’s government says the increases are necessary to cut reliance on foreign debt — which stands at roughly 10 trillion shillings — around 70 percent of GDP.

Kenya is under pressure from the IMF to slash its debt and boost revenues.

It is unclear what Ruto’s next move might be. Or if the protesters will call off demonstrations planned for Thursday.

After a limited rollback of some hikes last week, Ruto is not offering more concessions.

Addressing a late-night briefing on Tuesday, he likened some of the demonstrators to “criminals”, warning that he would crack down on “violence and anarchy”.

The authorities have deployed the military to tackle what they describe as “security emergency”.

Africa Analyst Smith said the deployment “could reduce protests, or we could see even higher levels of violence and protests expanding to other parts of the country.”

Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza coalition enjoys a majority in parliament, with lawmakers due to vote on the bill by Sunday.

“Ruto still has a way out of the situation by refusing to sign the bill and sending it back to parliament,” Smith said.

But a new bill will likely take many months to formulate, he added.

With the tax measures due to take effect on July 1, the start of Kenya’s financial year, time is not on Ruto’s side.

ho-rbu-sva/amu/jm

AFP

(NAMPA / AFP)

 

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