How underground tunnel saved MPs from rioters after Finance Bill vote

Police engaged youth along Uhuru Highway next to Parliament as they protested against the Finance Bill on June 20, 2024. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

When the fear is gone, the clouds gather and freedom is reclaimed. For the better part of this week, Members of Parliament have been confronted by the nightmare of public outrage and backlash from Kenyans determined to occupy Parliament over the controversial Finance Bill, 2024.

Spurred on by their disdain for the tax-raising measures in the Bill, Kenyans have since Tuesday mobilised, organised and executed protests with the aim of getting their voice against the Bill heard at a time the controversial document is being considered on the floor of the House.

On Thursday, President William Ruto-allied legislators outvoted their Azimio Coalition counterparts by 204 to 115 to see the Finance Bill sail through to the Committee of the Whole House stage, but were soon after confronted by the reality of disgruntled Kenyans.

Citizens who had been calling for the rejection of the Bill in its entirety, and were disappointed by the voting outcome, camped outside Parliament demanding an audience with their representatives.

Without fear, they engaged horse-riding police officers, who had cordoned off Parliament and soon enough, the sounds of teargas canisters going off rented the air as the ‘smell’ of a democratic awakening became more apparent.

Inside Parliament, legislators, particularly those who were deemed to have betrayed Kenyans by voting in favour of the Bill, squirmed in their seats, offices and in hallways clinging onto the hope that the crowd would not make their way into the parliamentary precincts.

At some point, they panicked after police officers accidentally tear-gassed Parliament.

And when it dawned on them that the crowds were unrelenting thanks to the hours-long confrontation with the police, a section took to the members’ lounge to down a few pints as they waited out the ‘storm’.

Others decided to sample the culinary services of the parliamentary café while some sneaked out of the premises through the underground tunnel connecting Parliament Buildings to the newly constructed Bunge Towers.

The Sh150 million and five-meter-wide tunnel that lies beneath a section of Nairobi’s Harambee Avenue provided an escape route for the MPs. However, a large number of the MPs had to wait until nightfall to leave the precincts with the hope that the crowds, hungry and tired, had retreated.

At some point, the crowds made a tactical retreat into the Central Business District where they sang and chanted in protest until the unwarranted shooting of a protestor rocked the movement.

Earlier, Azimio MPs welcomed the protests by Kenyans, noting that it was a way of piling pressure on the government to do away with the proposed punitive taxes and castigated the cordoning off of Parliament by the police.

National Assembly Leader of the Minority Opiyo Wandayi called for the withdrawal of the officers claiming the move was intimidating legislators. He held that cordoning off Parliament was causing unnecessary tension in the country.

Protesters make signs with their arms in front of Kenya police officers during a demonstration against tax hikes in Nairobi, on June 18, 2024. [AFP]

“I am not concerned with whatever else is happening for now. But my concern is that Parliament has actually been put under siege and this is causing unnecessary tension in the country. I said in the morning that we are not under a state of emergency and this country is not a police state,” said Wandayi.

He added: “This is the highest organ of our democracy.  Could we get a report on what is actually happening and an assurance that this House remains independent and free to transact its business as mandated by the Constitution. Otherwise, we shall be acting now under some kind of duress because the MPs will now be acting under coercion.”

Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo concurred with Wandayi saying MPs did not need to be shielded from Kenyans.

“There is no reason to blockade Parliament. I know that we will vote, those who choose to vote the way they choose to vote, will be seen by Kenyans. Let this House be accessible,” said Amollo.

Leader of Majority Kimani Ichung’wah, however, defended the heavy police presence saying that it was necessary for police to ring-fence Parliament Buildings to protect legislators debating the contentious draft law.

Ichung’wah claimed that he had spoken to Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome who averred that organised groups were planning to invade Parliament and harm MPs.

“The Inspector General of Police confirmed to me mid-morning that there were organized groups who had planned to take siege of Parliament and criminal elements who also intended to use the ongoing peaceful demonstrations to access Parliament and cause harm to MPs,” he told the House.

The Finance Bill is now in the Committee of the Whole House stage where amendments to the text of the Bill are proposed and independent clauses of the Bill are voted on and any new additions made.

The House will on Tuesday consider the amendments including those introduced by the Finance and Planning Committee and also others to be introduced by members.

Meanwhile, protestors have laid out a seven-day action plan from yesterday to 27th June which involves deplatforming of politicians in church, making “courtesy calls” to MPs that voted for the Bill at their constitutional offices and ultimately attempting to occupy the State House to witness President Ruto assent to the Finance Bill, should it said through.

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