In a display of defiance against the government’s new tax policies and rising prices, Kenyan protesters took to the streets despite a ban on opposition rallies. On Wednesday, the capital city of Nairobi was filled with a heavy police presence as shops remained closed, and tensions soared when tear gas was fired at demonstrators who resorted to throwing stones in the Mathare slum. Similar clashes between protesters and authorities occurred in the southern port city of Mombasa.
The head of the national police force had declared the opposition-led demonstrations illegal the day before, citing a lack of prior notification to the authorities. The ban on protests came after a wave of anti-government demonstrations last Friday, which had been initiated by opposition leader Raila Odinga.
Tragically, the aftermath of these demonstrations has seen a loss of life, with at least three casualties reported by hospitals and police sources. In light of these incidents, Kenya’s National Human Rights Commission has called for a comprehensive investigation into allegations of police brutality during the protests.
Adding to the tension, civil society representatives, including former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, were met with tear gas when they demanded the release of numerous individuals arrested during the protests.
The root cause of these protests stems from President William Ruto’s recent endorsement of a finance bill at the beginning of July. Despite facing criticism from both the opposition and a population grappling with high inflation, the bill introduces a series of new taxes. Of particular concern is the proposed hike in value-added tax (VAT) on fuel from 8% to 16%, as well as an unpopular levy on salaries intended to fund a low-cost housing program. Although the initial salary levy plan was set at 3%, it has been reduced to 1.5% in response to public outcry.
As the nation remains divided over the government’s fiscal decisions, the situation on the ground remains tense, with both sides entrenched in their positions. The coming days will likely determine the trajectory of these protests and the government’s response as Kenya grapples with the economic repercussions of these controversial tax policies.