Kenya grinds to a halt as Gen Z protesters make good their threat

A section of Parliament on fire during anti-tax demos in Nairobi on June 25, 2024.  [Collins Oduor, Standard]

June 25, 2024. There were abductions. The masses protested. The Finance Bill, 2024, sailed through the next stage. Parliament fell.

There were bodies, too, as police officers indiscriminately unleashed terror on anti-tax protesters. More than 100 are feared to have suffered gunshot wounds, with scores of others feared dead.

And there were cowardly threats of media shutdown, such as the one issued by the State to KTN News.

In the face of it all, the defiance of the young Kenyans participating in the nationwide revolt did not wane. They chanted anti-President William Ruto slogans even when they carted away the bodies of their comrades.

If they had promised to shut down Kenya like witnessed on Tuesday, the young Kenyans from Generation Y (Millennials) and Z did not disappoint.

They marched all day, not only protesting tax hikes proposed in the Finance Bill, but also corruption and cronyism that they said had taken root within the Kenya Kwanza administration. On their placards, the protesters said they opposed a broken system that they lamented was making those in power wealthier at their expense. They also protested the apparent Executive’s capture of Parliament, which they said had made lawmakers indifferent to their plight.

All they had wanted, the protesters said: ‘‘was a listening ear. President William Ruto had said he would engage to identify our issues.’’ But as one of them said, ‘‘the President had not backed his words with actions on withdrawing the controversial bill’’.

The day started with reports of State-sanctioned abductions in the wee hours of the morning, a continuation of a trend that has lasted since the first protests broke out last week.

Among those abducted include newspaper columnist and Parliament staffer Gabriel Oguda and bloggers Shadrack Kiprono, Drey Mwangi, Kevin Monari and Frank Githaka, among others.

Such reports mirrored events of the independence and second liberation struggles, which, similarly, featured abductions of freedom fighters and dissidents.

All those who have been kidnapped and held incommunicado were vocal against the Finance Bill on social media, promising to participate in paralysing the nation.

The plan by protesters was to occupy Parliament. Heeding this call, thousands of Kenyans made their way to the Nairobi’s Central Business District.

Armed with placards, they were met by live bullets, teargas and batons. For hours, they attempted to breach police barricades before eventually overwhelming the security officers when the peaceful protests had degenerated into running battles.

Then there were the senseless killings that reeked of an era long gone as police rained bullets on protesters who had breached Parliament buildings.

The indiscriminate attacks on everyone in sight, including medical personnel and journalists, completed the trip back to the dark days of Kenya’s history, days many had thought were over with the passing of the Constitution in 2010.

On Tuesday, Red Cross personnel at the Holy Family Basilica pleaded with officers against tear-gassing them to no avail.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki had Monday warned that the demonstrations could take the ugly turn they did.

But there were firsts. Never before has an uprising spread to all corners of the country. As a Kenyan on X observed, echoes of “Ruto must go” reverberated across the country.

As Nairobi struggled to pick up pace, Mombasa was a sea of protesters, who hit the streets early morning. Nakuru joined in, and it would seem the two were competing for numbers.

That was until images from Eldoret started streaming in. Never before have Kenyans marched to the streets for a political cause like they did yesterday.

At least not in Nakuru or Eldoret, Ruto’s home county.
It was much the same in Kericho, Embu and Nyeri.