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Kenyan president withdraws proposed budget that sparked deadly protests

Photo: Simon Maina Agence France-Presse A man tries to escape from a Kenyan police officer who is threatening him with a baton, during a demonstration held Tuesday in Nairobi.

Dylan Gamba – Libération and Rose Troup Buchanan – Agence France-Presse in Nairobi

Published yesterday at 12:55 p.m. Updated yesterday at 5:38 p.m.

  • Africa

Kenyan President William Ruto announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of the 2024-25 budget plan that included tax increases, which sparked a powerful protest in the country that descended into deadly violence on Tuesday.

The head of state called for national consultation with young people, in a speech the day after a third day of mobilization in eight days against this text, which left 22 dead according to the official human rights body (KNHRC).

“The people have spoken […] Having listened carefully to the people of Kenya, who have said loud and clear that they want nothing to do with this 2024 Finance Bill, I bow my head and will not sign the draft finance law 2024, which will therefore be withdrawn”, declared William Ruto.

“A communication operation”, immediately reacted on X one of the figures of the protest, Hanifa Adan.

“The bill is withdrawn but will you restore the life of all those who died ??”, said also wrote this journalist and activist, who earlier in the day called for a “peaceful” white march in memory of the victims on Thursday.

“Don’t forget. Don’t forgive,” she added.

Nelly, 26, told AFP she would go to the march on Thursday. “We will march tomorrow for a better future in Kenya,” she said.

The right to protest “must be respected” by the Kenyan authorities, a White House spokesperson responded on Wednesday.

The spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres demanded that responsibilities be “clearly” established after the deaths of protesters.

In Nairobi, the announcement of the vote on the text on Tuesday by Parliament, where the presidential party Kenya Kwanza has the majority, had sparked anger among protesters gathered nearby.

The crowd stormed the complex housing the National Assembly and the Senate, ransacking and setting fire to some buildings, in an unprecedented attack in the history of the country, which has been independent since 1963. According to several NGOs, the police fired live ammunition at the crowd.

Nairobi and several towns were also the scene of looting. Buildings were burned in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley, stronghold of President William Ruto.

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“Conversation”

The scenes of chaos had alarmed the United States and more than a dozen countries on Tuesday European countries, as well as the UN and the African Union, which declared themselves “deeply concerned” and called for calm.

The Azimio opposition coalition had called on the president on Wednesday not to promulgate the text, the day after “a day which will remain marked with infamy”, repeating in a press release the formula of President Roosevelt after Pearl Harbor.

“Since we have gotten rid of the 2024 Finance Bill, it is necessary to have a conversation as a nation going forward. […] How to manage our debt situation together ? […] I will propose an engagement with the young people of our nation, our sons and our daughters,” announced Mr. Ruto.

For the government, these fiscal measures were necessary to restore room for maneuver to the country, heavily in debt (public debt represents around 70% of GDP), and finance its ambitious 2024-25 budget counting on 4000 billion shillings ($42 billion CAD) in spending, a record.

But he was taken by surprise by the scale taken by this protest called “Occupy Parliament”, born on social networks after the presentation of the budget to Parliament on June 13 and which found a powerful echo within “Generation Z” (young people born after 1997).

Passe-passe

The government announced on June 18, after an initial demonstration in Nairobi, that it was abandoning most of the planned tax measures, including a 16% value added tax (VAT) on bread and a tax annual rate of 2.5% on motor vehicles.

The demonstrators denounced a sleight of hand consisting of compensating for the withdrawal of these measures by others, notably a 50% increase in fuel taxes.

The mobilizations, which took an anti-government tone with cries of “Ruto must go”. ), have spread throughout the country.

The draft budget catalyzed latent discontent against President Ruto, elected in August 2022 by promising to defend the poorest but who then increased the fiscal pressure on the population.

Last year, the government had already increased income tax and health contributions and doubled VAT on gasoline.

For the government is now faced with the challenge of finding alternative sources of revenue.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116