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Kenya Protest: President Ruto Urged to Reconsider Finance Bill

Kenya Protest: President Ruto Urged to Reconsider Finance Bill 

Proposed tax hikes in Kenya have sparked widespread protests across the nation, which culminated in Tuesday’s “total shutdown” of the nation. The demonstrations rapidly descended into violence when police opened fire on demonstrators with live ammunition and tear gas. The controversial finance bill has sparked a movement of protesters calling for “7 Days of Rage.”

The Parliament introduced the “2024 Finance Bill” in May 2024, which would primarily change the tax system in order to reduce debt.

To lower the budget deficit and state borrowing, the Kenyan government plans to collect an additional $2.7 billion in taxes through the 2024–25 bill, hence the protest. Kenya’s public debt is currently 68% of GDP, which is more than the International Monetary Fund and World Bank’s suggested level of 55% of GDP.

The rally on Tuesday that saw the parliament storm and at least five people shot dead was branded by Kenyan President William Ruto as “treasonous,” but he made no mention of the growing rage against a controversial finance bill that was the trigger for the protests.

Ruto declared that the events of Tuesday posed a serious threat to “national security” and that the discussion surrounding the bill had been “hijacked by dangerous people” in a speech to the country following the collapse of parliament.

The president stated that crime and democratic expression must be kept apart, saying, “It is not in order, or even conceivable, that criminals posing as peaceful protesters can reign terror against the people, their elected representatives, and the institutions established under our Constitution and expect to go scot-free.” 

Human rights organisations and civil society organisations have criticised the police’s harsh response on Tuesday, and Kenya’s defence ministry has stated that the military has been sent in to assist the nation’s police services.

According to reports, during Tuesday’s protests, at least 5 people were shot dead and about 31 more were injured. Twelve of these were struck by live rounds, four by rubber bullets, and three by launcher canisters, as stated in a joint statement released by the Police Reforms Working Group Kenya, the Kenya Medical Association, Amnesty International Kenya, and the Law Society of Kenya.

Additionally, security personnel have been accused of kidnapping prominent Kenyans, especially those with sizable social media followers. Prior to the scheduled protests on Tuesday, Amnesty International Kenya reported that it was looking into the whereabouts of up to 12 people who were “abducted in the middle of the night.”

Amnesty Kenya executive director Irũngũ Houghton told CNN that the list consists of bloggers, content creators, human rights campaigners, doctors, and legislative staff members.

Some of the testimonies we have heard over the past 24 hours have appalled us. About 12 people are missing and have been picked up by both uniformed and non-uniformed individuals, according to Houghton. They have not received legal representation, and their relatives are unaware of their location.

Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, called for the government to “immediately stop the violence its agencies are committing against citizens.” In a statement on X, Odinga also called for the arrest of police officers who are alleged to have shot and killed protesters, as well as the immediate withdrawal of the country’s controversial finance bill.

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