Youth take to the streets and social media to revolt against tax regime


A police officer pleading with youth along Harambee Avenue as they staged protests against punitive taxes in the Finance Bill 2024 on July 20, 2024. [Kanyiri Wahito, Standard]

When times and seasons call a generation into action, no amount of lies or conspiracy theories can alter the course of history. Instead of the methods of past generations, Gen-Z and Millennials have chosen spoken word, music, poetry, and comedy to breathe life into the sacred words, “We the People of Kenya,” from the Constitution’s preamble.

If anyone doubted who holds power in this country, the events of the past four days have made it clear. The lies and bravado of the Kenya Kwanza leadership have run their course. History now favours a fresh, authentic, and sincere leader to rescue the nation from its economic and social woes.

Contrary to popular belief, the youth uprising does not automatically benefit the opposition leaders. Those in power and their opponents are cut from the same cloth; neither possesses the leadership needed to guide the nation into its next phase of growth.

I may be wrong, but the unique mobilisation and organisation of the ongoing protest against the Finance Bill 2024 suggest that a new leader will emerge to lead the economic liberation struggle.

Poor governance

Two weeks ago, I warned that the strong opposition to the government’s tax measures could evolve into a public audit of their poor governance and eventually crystallise into an opposition movement at the ballot. This is exactly the path the opposition to the punitive taxes by Kenya Kwanza, lacking corresponding benefits and accountability, has taken.

Two key questions arise from recent events: Who will lead these young people towards true economic liberation? What makes the current economic struggle unique compared to past political struggles?

The answers to these questions will hugely impact the political landscape leading into 2027 and beyond. For now, however, I will focus on the behavioural aspects of the ongoing protests to understand the current situation.

From my perspective, five issues should deeply concern the President and his team.

First, unlike previous protests driven by political grievances, these young people are taking to the streets due to economic issues. Their energy and unity suggest they have no faith in the President’s ‘finya computer, pata dollar’ nonsense or promises of non-existent jobs ‘majuu’.

Economic grievances touch on the basic needs of human existence and cannot be confined to tribal groups or social classes often used in political mobilisation. The natural laws of justice prioritise self-preservation in the face of economic deprivation, which may explain the unity and resilience among these protesters, even without a specific leader.

Second, the protesters have demonstrated remarkable self-organisation, self-sufficiency, and discipline. Unlike previous generations, they have conducted themselves with utmost decorum, respecting the rights and freedoms of those not engaged in the protests, including security officers who have sometimes responded with uncalled-for violence.

Professionals among the protesters have volunteered their skills, offering legal services, medical aid, and using their tech savviness to mobilise, set rules of engagement, share crucial information, and collect unimpeachable evidence of every event during the protests. This has kept the protesters ahead of the game, leaving the government scrambling for information and an effective response strategy. The absence of dominant leaders within the protesting groups complicates matters further for a government that has yet to demonstrate competence nearly two years into office.

Mainstream media

Third, the use of social media, influencers, and mainstream media has played a crucial role in the struggle. Unlike in previous protests, the specifics of the Finance Bill 2024, along with its implications and impacts, have been thoroughly discussed across various forums and talk shows on TV and radio. This means that those joining the protests are well-informed about what is at stake and how it affects their lives. This awareness has been evident in interviews with journalists and calls into live shows on mainstream media.

For example, the ability to dissect key aspects of the Bill through spoken word, music, poetry, and comedy indicates a deep understanding of its contents. On Wednesday evening, I spent considerable time on X (formerly Twitter) monitoring the mobilisation efforts. While it is difficult to pinpoint a specific leader of the movement, the level of organisation, the information shared, the expected conduct of the protesters, and the guidance on how to respond to various scenarios were all clearly communicated across social media platforms.

Fourth is the emerging role of Generation X and the formal working class. Although they may not be physically present on the streets like the Gen-Zs and Millennials, those in the formal sector have borne the brunt of the punitive tax measures and are deeply engaged in the struggle. They are the parents of the protesters, allowing the young ones to express themselves without interference. Additionally, protesters have reported receiving financial support via social media to buy first aid kits and other necessities. Who is sending this money?

One unintended outcome of these protests is the diminishing role of political godfathers as sources of finance and leadership in agitating for change in our communities. This shift could have significant implications for the 2027 General Election. In the 2022 campaigns, Kenya Kwanza’s deep pockets were instrumental in attracting many protesting youths under the ‘hustlers’ banner. The tides have now definitively turned against them.

Finally, the growing voice of the religious community against the administration is noteworthy. Many have wondered where KK leaders find the courage to lie while holding Bibles and speaking from pulpits. However, the Church is increasingly vocal, reminiscent of its stance in the 1980s and 90s. This week, several messages trending on social media have cited scriptures about rejected kings and oppressive taxes. Notably, the poetic words of Prof Kithure Kindiki on August 20, 2020, and the warnings from retired President Uhuru Kenyatta about the excesses of power and the risks of a disillusioned youth have resonated deeply.

With the KK brigade passing the Bill with 204 votes against 115 opposing voices, the stage is set for the battles ahead. Only time will tell, but it seems lady luck is slipping away from KK’s supreme leader.