At Least Five Killed as Protests Erupt Over New Tax Proposal in Kenya’s Capital


At least five people were killed during street protests over a new tax proposal Tuesday in Kenya’s capital as police fired on protesters after thousands stormed into Kenya’s Parliament and set part of it on fire, according to human rights groups.

In a post on X, Amnesty Kenya said 31 people were injured, including 13 hit by live bullets and others hit by rubber bullets and launcher canisters; 11 suffered minor injuries. The five people killed had been treating the injured, the group said.

The protests targeted Kenya’s president, William Ruto, who, despite being lauded in Washington during a recent state dinner hosted by President Biden, has become deeply unpopular at home over tax hikes that have enraged the middle class. His ruling party pushed through a new tax bill Tuesday as the protests mounted.

At 3 p.m., a crowd of protesters who appeared to be unarmed breached Parliament buildings in Nairobi’s city center after entering the heavily fortified compound. Gunshots could be heard from Parliament. In the streets, police beat protesters and fired tear gas at them.

Kenya’s defense secretary, Aden Duale, ordered the deployment of Kenyan army troops to support the National Police Service in dealing with the nationwide protests, he wrote on X.

“It is very painful for Kenya that a conversation this crucial was hijacked by dangerous people, who have caused us the kind of loss we have incurred as a nation today,” Ruto said.

He added: “I hereby put on notice the planners, financiers, orchestrators and abettors of violence and anarchy, that the security infrastructure established to protect our republic and its sovereignty will be deployed to secure the country and restore normalcy. … I assure Kenyans that we shall provide a full, effective and expeditious response to today’s treasonous events.”

During the protests, CNN showed live footage of a protester who the network said was former president Barack Obama’s sister Auma Obama, just after being tear-gassed. Choking and wiping her eyes, she told the interviewer: “I can’t believe that these young people are just trying to demonstrate for their rights. I came to join them … to tell them that we understand that they need to use their voices, and we’re being tear-gassed.”

Broadcaster KTN, which was covering the protests live, tweeted Tuesday that it had received threats from authorities that it would be shut down: “We wish to inform the public of our commitment to defend public interest. We shall not be cowed by any threats.”

The legislation, dubbed Finance Bill 2024, was introduced in Kenya’s Parliament for debate in May. It calls for increases in taxable incomes, excise duties and value-added taxes, and introduces new income tax categories to the country’s finance laws.

The proposal was first debated in Parliament last week. It sailed through to its last stage of debate Tuesday after 195 lawmakers, mainly from the president’s ruling party, voted for it. Voting against it were 106 members, mainly from minority opposition parties.

The protests gained momentum last week, with Kenyan rights activists on social media using the hashtags #RejectFinanceBill2024 and #RejectDontAmend to push for the bill’s defeat.

On Tuesday morning, reports of abductions of social media influencers and bloggers surfaced with posters of their images and names, as demands for their freedom spread. Some online posts read, “Abductions won’t stop us.”

Anti-riot police operate during Tuesday’s protest. (Daniel Irungu/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

Rights groups said more than 200 other people have been injured since the protests began last week. One person, Rex Kanyike Masai, 29, died of a gunshot wound at a protest Thursday.

Masai had left home at 4 p.m. Thursday with his best friend to join the protests and was hit when police fired live ammunition into a crowd of demonstrators. “I asked the police for help,” the friend told The Washington Post, speaking on the condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisals. “They refused to help, some saying he had got what he was looking for.” Masai died en route to a hospital, the friend said.

The demonstrations have largely been branded as Gen Z protests based on the high number of young people who have taken to the streets.

“What we are seeing is young protesters who do not need to be led by anyone, coming out in the streets to say that they are tired,” said George Mwangi, 32, a taxi driver in Nairobi. “In every generation, there comes a time when the people decide enough is enough, and this is one of those moments,” he said.

Mwangi stayed out of the Nairobi central business district Tuesday morning, not sure how the protests would unfold. Most Kenyan schools had closed for their midterm break a day earlier, with some citing security concerns in memos sent to parents in anticipation of the protests.

Most businesses in Nairobi’s central business district were closed early Tuesday as crowds chanted, “Ruto must go,” while some sang the national anthem. Large trucks filled with armed security personnel patrolled the city. There was heavy security on roads leading to the president’s official residence.

As the day progressed, more protesters came out to march. “We are ready to die for this country,” one man declared while standing on top of a police truck and holding a placard. When he was arrested, police shot tear gas to disperse the crowd that had gathered in the street.

The Independent Medico Legal Unit, a rights group in Kenya made up of lawyers and doctors, told The Post that 50 protesters were arrested Tuesday.

The African Union, a regional bloc of 55 member states, said in a statement Tuesday that it is monitoring the protests and “urges all stakeholders to exercise calm and refrain from further violence.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. National Security Council said Tuesday: “The United States is closely monitoring the situation in Nairobi. We condemn violence in all its forms and urge calm.”

Among the clauses in the tax legislation are a proposal to increase tax income earned from digital platforms, a tax on food products such as bread and oil, and taxes on contributions to social security funds. The bill also initially proposed to introduce a motor vehicle tax at the rate of 2.5 percent of the value of the vehicle owned, and an environment tax on imported manufactured goods such as menstrual pads, diapers and phones.

Last week, the president’s office announced that tweaks had been made to the proposed finance legislation. “Changes to the Finance Bill have taken into account the views of the people and other stakeholders during public participation sessions,” it said.

Clauses removed from the proposed legislation, the statement said, included a 16 percent value-added tax on bread, taxes on financial services, the motor vehicle tax, increases in mobile money transfer fees and taxes on products such as vegetable oil. Taxes on some social security programs such as Social Health Insurance were also scrapped, the statement said.

The deaths Tuesday brought renewed attention to allegations of human rights violations on the same day that hundreds of Kenyan police officers deployed to Haiti in a U.S.-sponsored peacekeeping mission.

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