Kenya: President withdraws draft budget that sparked deadly protests

Kenya: President withdraws draft budget that sparked deadly protests

Kenyan President William Ruto announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of the 2024-25 draft budget providing for tax increases, at the origin of a powerful protest in the country which descended into deadly violence on Tuesday.

The Head of State called for a national consultation with youth, in a speech the day after a third day of mobilization in eight days against this text, which left 22 dead according to the official body for the protection of human rights (KNHRC).

“The people have spoken (…) After listening carefully to the people of Kenya, who have said loud and clear that they want nothing to do with this 2024 finance bill, I bow and will not promulgate the 2024 finance bill, which will therefore be withdrawn”said William Ruto.

“A communications operation,” one of the protest figures, Hanifa Adan, immediately reacted on X.

“The bill is withdrawn but are you going to restore the lives of all those who died?? “, also wrote this journalist and activist, who earlier in the day called for a white march “peaceful” in memory of the victims on Thursday.

” Do not forget. Don’t forgive”, she added.

The right to demonstrate “must be respected” by the Kenyan authorities, a White House spokesperson reacted on Wednesday.

In Nairobi, the announcement of the vote on the text on Tuesday by Parliament, where the presidential party Kenya Kwanza is in the majority, had triggered the anger of the demonstrators gathered nearby.

The crowd stormed the complex housing the National Assembly and the Senate, ransacking and setting fire to certain buildings, in an attack unprecedented in the history of the independent country since 1963. According to several NGOs, the police fired live ammunition at the crowd.

Nairobi and several towns were also the scene of looting. Buildings were burned in Eldoret, in the Rift Valley, stronghold of President William Ruto.

” Conversation “

The scenes of chaos had alarmed the United States and more than a dozen European countries on Tuesday, as well as the UN and the African Union, which declared themselves “strongly concerned” and called for calm.

The Azimio opposition coalition called on the president on Wednesday not to promulgate the text, the day after“a day that will remain marked with infamy”, repeating in a press release President Roosevelt’s formula after Pearl Harbor.

“Since we got rid of the 2024 Finance Bill, there is a need to have a conversation as a nation going forward. (…) How can we manage our debt situation together? (…) I will propose a commitment with the young people of our nation, our sons and our daughters”, Mr Ruto announced.

For the government, these fiscal measures were necessary to restore room for maneuver to the country, heavily in debt (public debt represents around 70% of GDP), and finance its ambitious 2024-25 budget counting on 4,000 billion shillings (29 billion ‘euros) of spending, a record.

But he was taken by surprise by the scale taken by this protest called “Occupy Parliament”, born on social networks after the presentation of the budget to Parliament on June 13 and which found a powerful echo within “Generation Z” (young people born after 1997).

Sleight of hand

The government announced on June 18, after a first demonstration in Nairobi, that it was abandoning most of the tax measures envisaged, including a 16% VAT on bread and an annual tax of 2.5% on motor vehicles.

The demonstrators denounced a sleight of hand consisting of compensating for the withdrawal of these measures by others, in particular a 50% increase in fuel taxes.

The mobilizations, which took an anti-government tone to cries of “Ruto must go” (“Ruto must go”), spread across the country.

The budget bill has catalyzed simmering discontent against President Ruto, who was elected in August 2022 on a promise to defend the poorest but then increased tax pressure on the population.

Last year, the government had already increased income tax and health contributions and doubled VAT on gasoline.

The government now faces the challenge of finding alternative sources of revenue.

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