| 19 April 2024, Friday |

Kenyan police fire tear gas to stop opposition protests over tax hikes

According to local media reports, Kenyans in various cities across the country expressed their dissent by staging street demonstrations against a newly implemented finance law. The law aims to increase taxes, including a doubling of the fuel tax and the introduction of a housing levy for employees. Consequently, the Kenyan police allegedly resorted to using tear gas on Friday (July 7) to disperse thousands of opposition protesters in Nairobi, the capital city.
According to local media reports, the protests that began at around 9:00 am (local time), on Friday called for by the opposition leader Raila Odinga, gained momentum across the country by afternoon, over a raft of controversial tax hikes.
The Kenyan police also fired tear gas in the capital city of Nairobi to disperse the protesters who had barricaded sections of two roads, reported the Daily Nation newspaper. Additionally, the local media has also reported that shops and businesses were closed in downtown Nairobi, while they were still open in the main central business district.

There was also reportedly a heavy deployment of police in the capital city’s central business district where the main government buildings are located with officers patrolling on foot, in vehicles and on horseback. Additionally, several roads in Nairobi were also closed.

The protests have been dubbed “Saba Saba” (Seven Seven) as it is taking place on the seventh day of the seventh month. Odinga also addressed a crowd of at least 2,000 supporters in an open ground just outside of the main business district in the afternoon.

According to the Daily Nation, police also fired tear gas at the Azimio la Umoja leader’s convoy after the party leaders told supporters at Kamukunji Grounds to march to Nairobi’s Central Park. However, some protesters also threw rocks at officers before turning back after the police started firing teargas to stop the crowd, reported Reuters.

Tear gas was fired to disperse protesters in the city of Mombasa as people chanted “the struggle is not over,” reported the news agency AFP. Meanwhile, footage aired by KTN News shows motorists taking u-turns and scrambling to get away from the tear-gas-drenched street in Mombasa while protesters fled on foot.

According to reports protesters also clashed with the police in Kisii municipality where demonstrators blocked several roads into the area.

What is the new finance bill about?
In recent weeks, Odinga’s Azimio alliance has repeatedly called for anti-government protests over the impact of the tax increases which have been opposed at a time when people in the country are struggling to buy basic commodities such as maize flour.

“I hope this demo will make a difference,” a 24-year-old manual worker, Alex Dwisa, told AFP. He added, “The cost of living is too high, I don’t have 10k (10,000 Kenyan shillings/$70) to send my two kids to school.”

The Finance Act would impose new taxes or increases on a range of basic goods such as fuel, food as well as mobile money transfers. The bill recently signed into law has also sought to levy additional taxes on Kenyans to fund a housing scheme.

This comes as President William Ruto signed the finance bill into law which is expected to raise an extra 200 billion shillings ($1.42 billion) a year to help the country’s growing debt repayment. Ruto’s government has previously defended the decision to raise taxes and said it would also help create jobs and reduce public borrowing.

Critics have also accused Ruto of backing out on his election campaign promises. “Kenyans elected leaders to parliament and they have betrayed them,” said Odinga on Friday, as quoted by AFP. He added, “Ruto himself who took over power illegally has betrayed Kenyans.”

This also comes as last week, the High Court suspended the implementation of the finance law. However, the incumbent government raised retail prices of petrol anyway, prompting an opposition senator to file a case against the head of the energy sector regulator for contempt and sought imprisonment.

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