Bloodshed leaves Kenya at a crossroads


Brave Kenyan youths force government to rescind their Finance Bill through massive protests

from MARIA MACHARIA in Nairobi, Kenya
Kenya Bureau
NAIROBI, (CAJ News) – BY withdrawing the controversial Finance Bill after days of deadly protests in Kenya, President William Ruto has spared his country more bloodshed.

However, Kenya is not out of the woods, with projections by security experts that it would remain unstable through at least early July.

Despite Ruto’s announcement, a heightened security presence persists.

It is especially tight in the capital Nairobi, around the State House, Parliament Building, government buildings and along major highways.

“Clashes between security forces and demonstrators are likely,” warned a security expert.

“Kenyan authorities are generally quick to use force in dispersing protests.”

That brutality was on show this week.

The skirmishes plunged Ruto’s administration into a crossroads. It faces a grueling effort to win back the trust of the population, particularly the youths that led the demonstrations and the worst impacted by the economic crisis.

Parents are also mourning the deaths of their children following the brutal response by uniformed forces to the protests led by the Generation Z movement.

This paints a portrait of a candidate who came to power on a pledge to side with the overburdened masses, but now leads a government that is allegedly overtaxing them.

Also, the demise of the bill is a major blow to Kenya fulfilling its debt obligations, as the bill had been anticipated to help the government generate more taxes to that regard.

In a dramatic week that saw Kenya hog international headlines for the wrong reasons, the response to the protests have sown divisions within Ruto’s Kenya Kwanza (Kenya First) alliance.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission reported more than 20 people had been killed in the protests that culminated in protesters attacking the Parliament on Tuesday.

The government has put the figure at six.

Ruto succumbed to pressure on Wednesday, a day after he had sent a stern warning to the protesters.

“I concede, and therefore I will not sign the 2024 Finance Bill and it shall subsequently be withdrawn. The people have spoken,” he said on Wednesday.

This is the sternest test to Ruto since he assumed power in 2020, after polls that his opponents claimed were rigged.

There have been intermittent protests over his elections but the demonstrations have lost steam amid fatigue by the aggrieved parties.

The recent fallout with the youth has been spectacular and inconceivable during Ruto’s campaign.

The self-dubbed “hustler-in-chief” had a campaign resonating with Kenya’s majority youth owing to his upbringing, particularly selling chickens at a roadside stall in the Rift Valley region.

Youth feel betrayed and critics argue he (Ruto) is overly pro-Western and capitalist.

The call for him to resign has been prevalent at the youth-led protests.

“I don’t think the youths of Kenya are relenting anytime soon,” said analyst Claude Onyango.

“From the ground, it seems like they want you (President Ruto) out of office and the whole jurisdiction dissolved,” Onyango said.

He was responding to a conciliatory stance by the president, who however reiterated criminals had “hijacked” the protests.

Ruto had pledged to engage the youth and other stakeholders as part of “a multi-sectoral effort to find solutions to issues of national concern.”

The rejection of the Finance Bill leaves Kenya in a debt quandary as the taxes that were to emanate from the bill when it was signed into law would have been key to raising revenue to service its debt.

Years of loans by East Africa’s largest economy, from multiple lenders, among them the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, have made its debt burden unsustainable.

The debt is estimated at US$80 billion.

The International Monetary Fund said it was “closely” monitoring the situation in Kenya, with the main goal being supporting the country to help it overcome the difficult economic challenges it faced and improve its economic prospects and the well-being of its people.

Kenyan youths fight back police as protests over Finance Bill gets momentum

“We are committed to working together with Kenya to chart a course towards robust, sustainable and inclusive growth,” Julie Kozack, IMF Director of Communications, stated.

It remains to be seen how justice will be served after violations from both sides of the conflict.

While state security was brutal, some protesters engaged in violence.

It is an ongoing crisis in the country of 56 million people. The worst is the 2007/08 elections when up to 1 500 people were killed following a disputed election result.

In 2016, the International Criminal Court (ICC) terminated the case against Ruto and ended his trial on alleged involvement in the crisis.

– CAJ News

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