Lawmakers' disregard of public views making Kenyans restless

An activist is detained by security officials after he attempted to grab the iconic briefcase that CS Njuguna Ndungu was carrying as he made his way to Parliament to read the Budget Statement. The activist was protesting some of the measures contained in the Finance Bill 2024. [John Muchucha, Standard]

Today, Kenyans from all walks of life plan to march to Parliament Buildings in Nairobi to protest the Finance Bill 2024.

The protest is the inevitable result of Kenyans feeling unseen and unheard by both their elected leaders and the government at large.

Many people remember both the happenings around the Finance Act of 2023 and the Housing Act of 2023 and how they expressed their sentiments politely but they were ignored. They are now ready to take to the streets to fight for their right to live.

Prior to the announcement that the demo would take place, the citizenry had taken countless measures to ensure that the Bill would not be passed.

Many took the time to read the Bill and educate one another, pointing out the detrimental clauses in it. Next, public participation was conducted and thousands of Kenyans presented their specific comments as well as general sentiments about the Bill, but there is little hope these views will be considered as Kenya does not have laws that require their implementation.

More recently, Kenyans have been writing to the Kenyan representative of the International Monetary Fund Haymanot Teferra demanding that she rethinks her tax proposals, and calling her a sellout for siding with Bretton Woods over her fellow Africans.

Last week, after the telephone numbers of MPs were posted online, Kenyans resorted to calling and texting their legislators to ask how they will vote once the Bill is put before Parliament.

Many of the MPs took this as a joke and went as far as replying with emojis that did little to assuage the anxious Kenyans, while others released official statements in which they proclaimed that they are not representatives of the people but representatives of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

According to them, when voting for their MPs, Kenyans did not vote for individuals but voted for political parties. Therefore, as representatives of UDA, the MPs would be voting along the lines of their leader President William Ruto. Many thanked the President for the opportunity to serve him under UDA and vowed not to let him down during the passing of the Finance Bill 2024.

This sentiment, that Kenyans vote for parties rather than representatives, is one in a long line of attempts to infantilise and pathologise the local voter. The statements that the MPs made show their derision for the people that they are elected to represent, as well as where their true allegiance lies.

Party politics seems to be where the real games are played, and securing a party nomination determines that you remain loyal to the party; going to the ground to get the votes that legitimise one’s place in the party appears to be a mere formality.

It would behove Kenyans to listen clearly to what their leaders are saying to them as such sentiments speak not only to our current woes about budgets and taxes, but shines a spotlight on our democracy as a whole.

There should be conversations on whether the electoral system is working, and whether rising at the crack of dawn to legitimise party sycophants is the way forward in ensuring that our needs as a people are met.

But back to today’s expected protests. Will this moment be seismic enough that our government chooses our livelihoods over the iron fist of the IMF and World Bank?

There are a few countries in Latin America that have stood up against the IMF and their World Bank, rejecting their loans and choosing to go their own way.

Is it time that Kenyans go that direction, a move that will ostracise us from the international community that uses Bretton Woods institutions to maintain Third World countries under their choke-hold? For this to happen, a lot would have to change from the top down, but the protest is an excellent first step for us to come together and organise against our current oppression.

Ms Gitahi is an international lawyer