Kenya: Concerns Over Unprecedented Nationwide Anti-Government Protests

Tune into this special audio discussion featuring Bhargav Reddy – Regional Director, Sitati Wasilwa – Manager, and Dr. Ramu C.M. – Geopolitical Analyst, as they delve into the ongoing countrywide, anti-government protests in Kenya, their causes, their impacts, and implications for businesses and governance in Kenya.

The key talking points include:

  • Unveiling the reasons behind the protests and public dissatisfaction
  • Analyzing the government’s response and its implications
  • Examining the potential impacts on businesses and investors in Kenya

This discussion is crucial for understanding the evolving landscape in Kenya and how it may affect investments and business operations.

Protests across Kenya over the controversial 2024 Finance Bill first broke out on June 18. The bill proposed new taxes which were unpopular with the public. The ruling coalition dropped some of the controversial tax proposals on June 18. The proposed taxes that were dropped include a 16% VAT on bread, VAT on financial services and forex transactions, a 2.5% motor vehicle tax, excise duty on vegetable oil, and VAT on sugar transportation. An eco levy on locally manufactured sanitary towels, diapers, motorcycles, tires, computers, and phones was also discarded. In addition, the ruling coalition put aside the proposed income tax on the Housing Tax and the Social Health Insurance. On June 26, President William Ruto announced his withdrawal of the bill due to public demand.

The protests have led to significant violence. At least 41 individuals have been confirmed dead and more than 400 others injured nationwide, with Nairobi experiencing the most casualties. Concerns over police brutality and extrajudicial killings have risen as protesters vandalized properties, including government offices such as the parliament and Supreme Court. In response, President Ruto announced heightened security measures and deployed the military in major cities, a move later ratified by the National Assembly. On June 30, President Ruto established the National Multi-Sectoral Forum (NMSF) to address grievances from the youth, including employment, tax policy, national debt, political representation, and anti-corruption. However, many youths have rejected the dialogue, claiming their issues are already well-known.

Police attempting to disperse anti-government protesters on Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi
Source: Reuters

The public’s grievances in Kenya extend beyond the controversial 2024 Finance Bill. They include inter alia issues of corruption, public finance mismanagement, and inflated lifestyles of ruling coalition leaders. There is widespread outcry over the creation of heavily funded, unconstitutional offices. Protesters demand a comprehensive audit of the national debt, suspecting wilful budget inflation for personal gains. They also criticize external economic influences, particularly the International Monetary Fund’s structural adjustment policies, which are linked to recent tax hikes. The ruling coalition’s dismissive attitude towards accountability, corruption, and unfulfilled campaign promises has exacerbated public frustration. Additionally, high unemployment and the escalating cost of living, with constant tax increases under President Ruto’s administration, remain significant concerns for the predominantly youthful protesters.

The unprecedented scale of anti-government protests signifies widespread public dissatisfaction with the ruling coalition. These spontaneous protests have not been organized by any group. They are instead a reflection of the collective psyche of the country’s disenfranchised youth who are eager for reforms. The fervor of the protest movement has been fueled largely by social media. Amidst calls for President Ruto’s resignation, the ruling coalition is perceived as having lost legitimacy, though Ruto is unlikely to resign. Protests are expected to continue, with potential violence stemming from both police crackdowns and state-hired militias. The protests could evolve into legal challenges, pressuring the government on key demands like reconstituting the electoral commission. Ongoing instability may impact Kenya’s investment climate and tourism sector, but could also lead to significant political reforms and increased accountability.