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How keyboard whiners turned into courageous street warriors

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

The tax revolt has gone countrywide and once again, young, fearless, stylish and agile protesters came out to raise their voices against the contentious Finance Bill 2024, the best way they know how.

It was a departure from the past. There was no stone-throwing and looting; just hundreds of young people, otherwise referred to as Generation Z, running on their own steam, armed only with technology and youthful energy, to drive their point home.

What started as anger over the Finance Bill on social media, particularly on TikTok, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, has turned into a new era of street protests and political activism in Kenya.

The young have fashioned powerful political tools out of the internet. Online, they have composed songs and performed skits that criticise the government’s economic and political policies.

To further their cause, the protestors have adapted the lyrics of legendary reggae musician Burning Spear as their protest anthem: “They told us things will be better, they told us things will be cheaper, they told us things will be easier.”

For Presidential Advisor on economic affairs David Ndii, the online protests against the contentious Finance Bill would just fizzle out like other past debates.

“Politics is a constant sport. Digital activism is just wanking,” Ndii wrote on Tuesday. The comment was met with fury online.

Anonymous warning

On Wednesday, however, he changed tune: “Well done. I challenged you and you rose to the occasion. We promised to change our political conversation from politics of personalities and tribes to politics of issues. Thank you for helping us deliver.”

And Kenya’s Gen Z have won admirers beyond our borders.

Anonymous, a decentralised international activist and hacktivist group, waded into the “Occupy Parliament” call and sent a message to President William Ruto and Parliament.

On its X account, which has over five million followers, Anonymous warned against passing the Bill.

“This is a warning message to Ruto, the Kenyan Government and all Members of Parliament from Anonymous. It has come to our attention that there are discussions in Parliament to pass the bill, which will unfairly tax the citizens of Kenya,” it says in the one minute, 17 seconds video.

Anonymous said it was wrong that Kenyans who were holding peaceful demonstrations were being harassed, arrested and shot at by the police.

 Demonstrators along Harambee Avenue participated in demonstrations opposing the Finance Bill 2024 on July 20, 2024. [Kanyiri Wahito, Standard]

“Fortunately, several phone numbers belonging to MPs are circulating online. Soon, there will be an uprising of hackers, many of who may reside in your home country. Your secrets may no longer be safe and there is a chance that all these secrets will be exposed to show how corrupt and unjust members of this Parliament are embezzling public funds for personal gain,” Anonymous added.

“We do not want you to amend the Finance Bill, we want you to reject it. Listen to the cries of your citizens or the people of the world will resist you every step of the way. Citizens of Kenya, do not worry, Tuko pamoja (we are together). We are Anonymous. We are Legion, expect us!”

Data Commissioner

The Office of Data Protection Commissioner (ODPC) has had to issue a cautionary statement on the sharing of personal information, including telephone numbers, belonging to a certain category of Kenyans through social media platforms.

The ODPC urged those whose privacy had been violated to file a complaint.

“The practice has been happening without the affected citizens’ consent, contrary to the provisions of Article 31 of the Constitution, the Data Protection Act 2019 and its attendant regulations. Given the foregoing, the office wishes to advise members of the public to refrain from further sharing of personal information, which infringes on individuals’ right to privacy,” ODPC said.

The protesters thumbed their nose at the statement by sharing what they say are Data Protection Commissioner Immaculate Kassait’s own phone numbers on social media and inviting Kenyans to “call and greet the ODPC”.

The contacts of International Monetary Fund (IMF) were also published on social media. IMF is seen as unfairly influencing Kenya’s economic policies, including tax measures.

Protestors also stormed President Ruto’s Facebook page where they expressed their displeasure with the Finance Bill.

Generation Z have dismissed claims that they have no idea what is in the Finance Bill, saying they are well-informed about government policies and politics.

Activist Anini Barasa said young people have realised the need to raise their voices before things get out of hand.

“We want to be heard. We have read the Finance Bill and we know what we are facing. They have amended, but how sure are we that they are not decoys?” she posed.

She added: “We do not want riots, we are peaceful. Let us be organized. I am very happy people are coming out from Nairobi, Nyeri to Nakuru and even Eldoret. Clearly, this is not a Government of the people. What is further motivating me is the support I am getting from my fans,” she said in an interview before the demonstrations on Thursday.

Not even the church was spared. Furious protestors lashed out at the Catholic Church’s Holy Family Basilica for barring them from seeking refuge in the premises after an encounter with the police.

The demonstrators insist they have not been organised by any political outfit or individual but are only banking on the power of the social media, which they say has been a success.

Dagoretti South MP John Kiarie met the wrath of the protestors over his claims that pictures of demonstrations in Nairobi on Tuesday were fake.

“Some of the photos we have seen on the streets, I can tell you as a graphics editor that they do not belong to this country. Photos were being taken off internet, edited and posed as Generation Z. I am a photo expert and I can point out that they were edited to look like they were on the streets on Nairobi but they were not,” Kiarie said in Parliament on Tuesday.

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