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Litmus test for Ruto as thousands of Kenyans stage anti-tax protests

 Protestors along Kimathi Street in Nairobi during the anti-Finance Bill 2024 demonstrations on June 20, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

President William Ruto’s grip on power and quest to push through his policies is facing an ultimate test as thousands of Kenyans took to the streets to protest against the Finance Bill, 2024.

It is a protest that took place in almost all towns and major urban centers across the country as defiant protestors intensified their pushback against new tax proposals.

While the protests were largely peaceful in some parts of the country, some protestors sustained injuries as police moved to disperse crowds.

In Kisumu, at least two people sustained gunshot wounds while scores sustained injuries as police engaged protestors in running battles.

In Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua’s Nyeri county and the Mount Kenya region, it was business unusual as the region witnessed its first major protest in several years.

The region which has not witnessed such protest since the pro-democracy era of Saba Saba in 1990, experienced an unexpected burst of lively protests as youth and residents took to the streets, chanting anti-government slogans and singing with no violence reported.

Business in Nyeri, Kerugoya, Nanyuki, Embu, and Meru towns came to a standstill for hours as demonstrators walked through the streets, singing chants of “Reject Finance Bill” and “Ruto Must Go.”

 Protestors along Kimathi Street in Nairobi during the anti-Finance Bill 2024 demonstrations on June 20, 2024. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The crowd carried banners and placards with messages condemning the proposed legislation and calling for political change.

In Nyeri town, youth gathered at the historical Whispers Park armed with banners and whistles and marched through the town, in the face of heavy police presence who kept a close eye on them.

David Kariuki, a youth leader said they are fed up and unwilling to accept the status quo any longer.

“It is high time the youth asserted themselves, they should wake up and take their place in shaping the future of this nation,” he said. 

In Kirinyaga County, youths joined the rest of the country in holding peaceful demonstrations against the contentious draft law.

Victor Munene, one of the youths said that they voted for the Kenya Kwanza administration due to the strong policies that it promised. However, he lamented that the Ruto administration has backtracked on all those promises.

“As voters, we have been disappointed by the lies that the President continues to tell for the last two years he has been in office and we have decided that enough is enough,” Munene said.

According to Martin Mutugi, their patience has now run out after realising that the current administration continues to ‘kill’ them through heavy taxation.

In Meru and Nanyuki towns, hundreds of protesters thronged the streets asking their MPs to reject the bill in totality vowing to vote out whoever votes for the bill in 2027.

In the Coastal towns of Mombasa, Voi and Kilifi, thousands of protestors staged protests to push back against the government’s excesses and taxation plans.

In Mombasa, in a rare show, police officers escorted youthful protesters as they marched through the streets. A demonstrator, Nespher Mwakisha, said they will push for the recall of MPs who support the bill.

Muslims for Human Rights Rapid Response Officer Francis Auma said Kenyans want the bill shelved and a new one made incorporating views of Kenyans.

“We don’t want an amendment to the Finance Bill. We reject the entire bill and we want a new one, which is more participatory. This country does not belong to MPs alone,” he said.

In the Rift Valley, protests rocked all major towns including Eldoret, Kericho and Nakuru.

The protestors organized the protest through social media to demand that the government shelve the entire Bill, saying it would hurt the people who were already reeling from the effects of inflation.

In Nakuru county, protestors paralyzed activities on Kenyatta Avenue and accused President Ruto of lying to them during the 2022 campaigns.

They claimed that he promised to reduce the cost of living and positioned himself as a “hustler” eager to wrest power from the dynasties.

However, there were no incidents of violence, looting, stone-throwing, or burning of tires, and even police kept off the protest that lasted for more than four hours.

Nakuru surgeon and activist Dr Magare Gikenyi said the bill only favours politicians noting that most of the provisions in the bill are bad for Kenyans.

 Demonstrators match along the streets of Nakuru City to protest the controversial Finance Bill 2024 on June 20, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard] 

“We want ‘Zakayo ashuke’ (Ruto to leave office) for Kenya to be great again and the Finance Bill to be mwananchi oriented,” he said.

In Nyanza and Western, business came to a standstill as thousands of protestors took to the streets of all major towns protesting over high taxes. Unlike past protests that were marked by burning tires, blocking roads with boulders and violence, yesterday’s protests were largely peaceful.

Hundreds of youths poured into the streets in Kakamega, Bungoma, Busia and Vihiga counties protesting against the proposed bill.

In Kakamega town, protestors gathered at Muliro Gardens as early as 9 am before staging peaceful demonstrations.

Demonstrators comprised mainly a youthful group dubbed Generation Z warned area MPs against supporting the contentious Bill.

In Busia County, residents led by William Onyango staged protests at the border town calling on the electorate to vote out leaders going against the will of the people in the 2027 general election.

“We thank our people for coming out in large numbers and maintaining peace but we want to tell our people to vote out this regime in 2027 because it has subjected Kenyans to suffering by imposing punitive taxes,” said Onyango.

In Bungoma county, hundreds of peaceful youth took to the streets in Bungoma town and called on their MPs to reject the draft law.

In Nyanza however, two people were injured as police dispersed crowds while in Migori, residents joined the protests against the proposed law.

[Report by Amos Kiarie, Timothy Kariuki, Edwin Gitonga, Lydiah Nyawira, Patrick Beja, Daniel Chege, Hilda Otieno, Olivia Odhiambo, Eric Abuga, Anne Atieno, Benard Lusigi and Mary Imenza]

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