Comedian Eric Omondi arrested as he protested against the controversial Finance Bill outside Parliament,Nairobi . June 21th,2024 [Elvis Ogina,Standard]

On Thursday, as thousands of young people across the country took to the streets to protest against passage of the Finance Bill, 2024, Rex Kanyike Masai life was cut short by a trigger happy police officer.

Kanyike was running for his dear life after police officers fired a teargas canister to disperse the protesters. As he sought refuge around the National Archives labyrinth, he was shot in the thigh. He later succumbed while receiving treatment in hospital.

As photos of his lifeless body went viral, the rage that had gripped the youthful population erupted. Historians would liken this moment to the 1970 Kent State Shooting in the US. Young men in their thousands in cities and towns across the country vented their frustrations born out of the government’s silence to their cries against passage of the proposed bill.

Rallying under the #RejectFinanceBill2024, they started their push on Tuesday and the concessions made by the National Assembly Finance Committee only emboldened their resolve to go on with the protests. 

Police officers deployed across the streets found it hard to deal with this new type of protesters. This was unlike Kenya’s usual stone wielding protester. This time, the protester was a peace chanting individual armed only with a smart phone and a well-crafted message on a placard.Their national anthem was Juliani’s Utawala and a dazzle of trending arbantone songs.

Clad in her orange coverall, with sanitary pads stuck on her shoulders like epaulettes, Letisha Adhiambo, 22, held a high placard with a message “SASA TUSINYESHE (Should we not have our days?). She was agitated by a proposal in the bill to increase the cost of sanitary pads.

“Why is the government taxing pads? The ones I have here are low quality and that is what they want us to use just because they are being made in Kenya. Mostwomen use imported ones because they are the best quality.” said Letisha adding most pads used to cost Sh50 but the prices have shot up since last year, now they want to hike the price again? she posed. She said that was unfair to most girls especially those in rural areas and informal settlements.

“This bill is affecting most of us who have invested the little money we have in mobile phones to become content creators and now they are after that money too. That’s not fair,” she added.

Emmanuel Kainga is a boda boda operator in Nairobi’s CBD and lives in Huruma estate. He took the day off to join his fellow youth to protest against what he described as a draconian bill.

“I operate a boda boda here in town and things are not good for us who decided to take this line of work. We could not get employment anywhere else. Now they have proposed to increase taxes on fuel,” said Kainga.

“We get these motorbikes on loan and you must pay the loan daily. If you are married, you have to find other means of fending for your family because what we get is not enough. This Finance Bill complicates life for everyone and that is why I am here,” Kainga told The Sunday Standard on Moi Avenue.

“When we started this, we wanted to exercise our democratic right, we are met with violence. They want us to be quiet. They are used to that from our parents, but we are not. They are used to beating our parents into submission through threats of violence but we are young and different. We are energetic, we have time and we will fight for what is ours. We are fighting for our future,” says popular actor Jack Shira.

“I am happy to be part of this as a Creative and for the first time, we have countrywide demonstrations that are not being led by politicians, and the Kenyan youth are angry and the government should wake up and smell the coffee,” he states.

Along Wabera Street, two sisters Sharon and Sasha Musundi are taking part in the protests. Amidst the deafening noise by a pack of bikers who are here to make sure that their voices are heard, popular singer Charisma, who has been part of the protests, is riding in one.

“This government is implementing an order from IMF at the expense of already burdened Kenyans. We are the future of Kenya, we are the ones who are going to face the consequences of this government’s decisions,” said Sasha.

Sasha faulted government move to cut funding for school feeding saying that was a slap in the face. “Education is a basic right and these people are slashing funds meant for that for their own use,” she stated. 

Her elder sister Sharon is equally incensed for a number of reasons. From taxing pads which she thinks should be free to what she considers ignorant MPs passing a draconian bill.

“They need to come off their high horses and put themselves in mwananchi shoes. They are living a different lifestyle and they do not relate with what we are going through. Even if they want to do development and pay debts, they have to do it in a considerable manner, not shoving things down our throats,” said Sasha.

As the protests continued, online was even better with international audiences following the happenings in the country. The football fraternity led with personalities and influencers that have a huge following posting messages in support of the protests, which rattled across the world netizens, especially on X.

Anthony Bhoke popularly known as Pipi on X said the youth are angry because of lack of opportunities and the high cost of living. “The Finance Bill has very punitive measures with no way back. For us online creators, these taxes will add a strain on the meagre earnings we get from online work,” he said.

Lawrence Saitoti from Loitokitok, Narok said the anger of the youth is justifiable and backed by substantial data.

“High unemployment rates, increased cost of living, exacerbated economic inequality, and political marginalization all contribute to a sense of disillusionment and frustration.” Saitoti said.

“Addressing these issues require more than just policy changes; it demands meaningful engagement with the youth and consideration of their unique challenges and contribution to the economy.” He added.

Previously, when push came to shove, there was someone at the end of the table ready to engage for talks. This time, the government finds itself in uncharted waters because there is none to engage.h