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Gen Z redefines protest dynamics with 'Occupy parliament' movement

Nairobi
 

Police officers arrest an activist protesting along Parliament Road over the Finance Bill 2024 on June 18, 2024. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

‘Occupy parliament’ protests held on Tuesday, June 18, seemingly heralded a new era in the history of anti-government protests.

The strategies used to rally support and manage protesters differed sharply from tradition. Yesterday’s mass action was led by young, tech-savvy, and informed Kenyans, contrasting with past protests associated with opposition leader Raila Odinga.

Participants remained peaceful and refrained from destroying property, which led to criticism over the conduct of police officers who still reacted with force.

The conveners developed a code of conduct for the protest, sensitized protesters on how to interact with law enforcement officers, and issued a helpline for those in need.

 An Mpesa account was set up to cover bail costs for those arrested, and advocates assisted with bail processing at various police stations.

Many protesters showed defiance in the face of police excesses, singing and chanting behind bars and in police trucks

Among those arrested were conveners and leading voices of the protest, including activist Boniface Mwangi, HAKI Africa Executive Director Hussein Khalid, Hanifa Farsafi, Njeri Migwi, and Wanjiru Njira, who is known for saying, “When we lose our fear, they lose their power.”

Mobilization and coordination for the protest were done on social media, defying the doubts of observers such as President Ruto’s Economic Advisor David Ndii, who downplayed the potency of digital activism.

Kenya’s Gen Zs, often accused of political detachment, leveraged platforms like X (formerly Twitter) and TikTok to spur engagement and push trends such as #OccupyParliament and #RejectFinanceBill2024 to raise awareness of their opposition to over taxation.

Some used funny skits, satirical songs, and poetry to convey their message.

A woman identified as Kanini shared a video asking opposition leader Raila Odinga to keep off the protests, saying, “We saw your efforts. We miss you but don’t come out. We will be out on your behalf.”

Raila replied to the video, which has garnered over one million views on TikTok, saying, “I’m a very proud father today! Hongera sana to the young lady and all those who bravely stood up for their rights!”

“Thou shall never take Gen-Z for granted. Does the pressure increase or decrease?” asked renowned activist and Busia Senator, Okiya Omtatah.

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