More than 200 arrested in Kenya protests over proposed tax hikes

World Wednesday 19/June/2024 06:21 AM
More than 200 arrested in Kenya protests over proposed tax hikes

Nairobi: More than 200 protesters were arrested in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday, amid ongoing demonstrations against proposed tax hikes detailed in a finance bill slated for parliamentary debate, New York Times reported.

Protesters wearing black T-shirts and blowing whistles and vuvuzelas marched towards the Parliament, adding to an outpouring of online anger trumpeted through hashtags and videos on TikTok.

According to The New York Times, lawmakers have also been flooded with phone calls and text messages pressuring them to reject the bill.

Businesses in the central business district shut down their doors as police chased demonstrators and sirens echoed through the streets.

Amid the citywide protests, the government announced it would revoke some of the new taxes, including those on bread. Opposition lawmakers criticized this move as merely a "PR exercise."

The uproar over the revenue-raising legislation represents one of the most intense backlashes against President William Ruto's government. Ruto was elected in 2022 and campaigned on a platform of improving living standards for the poor, as per The New York Times.

The protests erupted just weeks after President Ruto returned from a state visit to the United States, where he signed several investment and development agreements with the Biden administration aimed at alleviating debt and fostering long-term growth.

The fury over the tax measures in Kenya speaks to the broader challenges facing African economies, where unemployment and increasing food and fuel prices have made life increasingly difficult for many people, particularly the young.

"The frustration has been building and now it's blowing up," said Hanifa Adan, a community worker who is among the organizers of the protests.

"We are calling and texting our lawmakers to tell them that your loyalty lies with us voters and we say no to this bill," she said. Adan said in a post on social media that the police had arrested her just before the protests began on Tuesday.

The bill, which was first presented in Parliament last month, introduces new taxes and levies that would increase the price of goods such as bread, diapers and cars.

It increases import duties for goods and raises taxes on telephone and internet data as well as money transfer fees charged by banks and other financial services. It also raises taxes for companies and operators of digital businesses such as ride-hailing and food-delivery services.

On Tuesday, Ruto's parliamentary alliance, holding a majority in the national assembly, announced that certain measures have been dropped, including the tax on bread and the excise duty on vegetable oil.
"We have listened to you," Kimani Ichung'wah, the majority leader in Parliament, said in a news conference. "We have heard you."

However, the reversal of some of the measures did not assuage protesters in the streets of Nairobi. "Down, down finance bill," they chanted, and "The people united can never be defeated."

Opposition members of Parliament said they would not support the bill. The debate on the proposal starts Wednesday.