Kenyan President Ruto Backs Down on Tax Hikes Amid Nationwide Protests

Kenyan President Ruto Backs Down on Tax Hikes Amid Nationwide Protests

Kenyan President William Ruto withdraws proposed tax hikes after mass protests and violence. Youth-led movement demands political overhaul, with further rallies planned.

Nairobi, Bollywood Fever: Kenyan President William Ruto on Wednesday withdrew planned tax hikes, bowing to pressure from protesters who had stormed parliament, launched demonstrations across the country, and threatened more action this week.

This move marks a significant victory for the week-old, youth-led protest movement that evolved from online condemnations of tax hikes into mass rallies demanding a political overhaul. Despite Ruto’s concession, some demonstrators announced on social media that they would proceed with a rally planned for Thursday, reiterating calls for his resignation.

Ruto announced he would not sign the finance bill that included the tax increases. This decision came a day after clashes between police and protesters at the assembly and nationwide left at least 23 people dead and scores wounded, according to medics.

“Listening keenly to the people of Kenya who have said loudly that they want nothing to do with this finance bill 2024, I concede. And therefore, I will not sign the 2024 finance bill, and it shall subsequently be withdrawn,” Ruto said in a televised address, with lawmakers, some clapping, seated behind him.

Vice President Rigathi Gachagua urged young people to call off the protests to avoid further loss of life and property damage, blaming the intelligence services for poor advice.

“There would have been no mayhem, but they slept on the job,” Gachagua said, calling on the head of the National Intelligence Service to resign.

Kenyan President Ruto Backs Down on Tax Hikes Amid Nationwide Protests

Protesters remained defiant, repeating calls for Ruto to step down and vowing further action. Boniface Mwangi, a prominent social justice activist, called for a “1-million-people march.”

“The arrogance is gone, but the lies are still there,” he said on social media platform X. “Yesterday they unleashed goons and police to kill peaceful protesters. That will not stop us.”

Other members of the protest movement continued to post on social media using the hashtag #tupatanethursday, or “see you on Thursday” in a mix of Swahili and English.

Kalonzo Musyoka, a senior opposition leader and former vice president, wrote on X that pulling the bill did not go far enough and he called on Ruto to quit. “Many Kenyans died. Many Kenyans suffered serious injuries. It is currently beyond the Finance Bill, 2024,” Musyoka said.

The International Monetary Fund said it was closely monitoring the situation and was deeply concerned about the unrest.

“Our main goal in supporting Kenya is to help it overcome the difficult economic challenges it faces and improve its economic prospects and the well-being of its people,” the IMF said in a statement.

The bill will return to parliament with the recommendation that all its clauses be deleted, Ruto wrote in a document addressed to the speaker of the national assembly.

Ruto said he would now start a dialogue with Kenyan youth, without going into details, and work on austerity measures – beginning with cuts to the budget of the presidency – to help tackle the fiscal deficit. He described the loss of life on Tuesday as “very unfortunate.” Kenyan police have not responded to requests for comment about the violence.

Competing Demands

Even if Ruto’s concession manages to quell the immediate threat of more unrest, it leaves him caught between the competing demands of his hard-pressed citizens and lenders like the IMF, which is urging the government to cut deficits to secure more financing.

Kenya’s sovereign dollar bonds were trading largely flat despite Ruto’s rejection of the finance bill. Its bonds were trading between 74.6 and 95 cents on the dollar, Tradeweb data showed, with the longer-dated 2034 maturity at the lowest price.

On Tuesday, police opened fire on crowds who massed around parliament and later broke into the senate chamber and national assembly, minutes after lawmakers had voted through the tax measures and sent them to the president.

The Nation newspaper documented protests in at least 35 of Kenya’s 47 counties, from big cities to rural areas, including Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret in his ethnic Kalenjin heartland. At least 23 people were killed across the country, and another 30 were being treated for bullet wounds, the Kenya Medical Association said. Medical officials in Nairobi reported scores of injuries.

Posts on social media had urged people to occupy State House, the president’s office and residence on Thursday, and the local offices of the World Bank and the IMF on Friday, though it was unclear whether the calls came from individuals or a broader movement.

Heavily armed police patrolled the streets of Nairobi, which were quieter than usual on Wednesday. The protests began as an online outpouring of anger by young, tech-savvy Kenyans at proposed taxes on bread and diapers and evolved into a nationwide movement calling for the scrapping of the entire finance bill, including the taxes.

Thousands took to the streets of Nairobi and several other cities during two days of protests last week as the online movement gathered momentum.

While the young Kenyans in the current demonstrations have no official leader and have loudly urged the political opposition figures that have typically organized protests to stay away, some of Ruto’s main rivals could not hide their delight with the president’s climbdown.

“Self-preservation has kicked in,” an opposition senator, Edwin Sifuna, posted on X.

Lawmakers had already removed some tax hikes from the final version of the finance bill on Tuesday, including ones on bread and cooking oil, but inserted others in an effort to avoid a budget gap.

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