Kenya’s Ruto warns of ‘attack on democracy’ after protesters storm parliament

Unlock Editor’s Digest for free

Kenyan President William Ruto said his country had “experienced an unprecedented attack on democracy” after protesters stormed parliament on Tuesday in mass protests against the planned tax increase.

According to human rights groups, police fired tear gas at protesters outside the building and used live ammunition, killing at least five people and injuring more than 30.

The army was deployed later in the day after part of Nairobi’s parliament building was burned and lawmakers fled.

Ruto said: “Another legitimate expression of the fundamental rights and freedom of assembly, protest and petition to public authority by a section of the law-abiding citizens of the Republic of Kenya has been was infiltrated and taken over by an organized criminal group. a television address.

“I assure the nation that the government has mobilized all resources within the nation’s capacity to ensure that a situation like this does not happen again,” he added.

Earlier on Tuesday, parliament passed a bill to increase taxes, including fuel taxes and import duties, despite days of protests against the move. The legislation is currently awaiting Ruto’s assent.

Protesters have called for a shutdown of the economy over Ruto’s $2 billion tax hike aimed at plugging holes in the over-indebted country’s budget.

The president wants to reduce the budget deficit from 5.7% of GDP in the current fiscal year to 3.3% of GDP next year as he tries to improve Kenya’s fiscal situation partly to comply with the IMF program .

Protesters say the measures will make things harder for many people. of Kenya 54 million people have to make a living.

Young Kenyans – many of whom are unemployed and call themselves Generation Z – have led protests against the law over the past week.

“Ruto is using the finance bill to heavily tax Kenyans,” said Davis Tafari, 25, one of the protest leaders in Nairobi. He called the law “punitive and draconian”, adding: “We will ensure that protests continue until Ruto is gone.”

In his speech, the president thanked “the young people of Kenya. . . for helping our country organize our democratic discourse.”

But he added: “Our national conversation on any issue must be conducted in a way that respects and honors the foundational values ​​on which our nation was founded, specifically democracy. constitutionalism, rule of law and respect for institutions.”

Earlier in the day, police tried to disperse mostly young protesters who were chanting “Ruto must go!”

A group of legal, medical and human rights organisations, including the Kenyan branch of Amnesty International, confirmed that at least five people were killed and more than 30 injured – 13 of them critically injured. shoot with real bullets.

Ambassadors from several countries including the US, a staunch ally of Ruto, said they were “deeply concerned by the violence witnessed in many parts of the country during the protests recently” and “regrets the tragic loss of life and injury, including through the use of live fire.”

Nongovernmental groups said Tuesday that more than 50 people had been arrested in the past 24 hours and that there had been 21 “abductions and disappearances by uniformed and non-uniformed officers.”

Chief Justice Martha Koome said she was “deeply concerned” about the kidnapping allegations, concerns also raised by the US and other countries.

Armed police and security officers take positions to protect the Kenyan parliament
Police and security personnel in front of the parliament building © Luis Tato/AFP via Getty Images

When the protests began last week, lawmakers from the ruling coalition removed some of the most controversial proposals from the bill, including raising taxes on bread, cooking oil, diapers, mobile money transfer and motor vehicles. Opposition lawmakers refused to vote for the law.

“You cannot amend a bad bill,” opposition lawmaker Otiende Amollo said Tuesday. “This is very simple: withdraw all financial bills.”

A protester threw a tear gas canister back at the police
A protester throws back a tear gas canister during a protest in Nairobi on Tuesday © Tony Karumba/AFP via Getty Images

The tax hike is aimed at bringing in an additional $2.3 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that begins next week. Kenyan Finance Minister Njuguna Ndung’u has warned that failure to approve tax increases risks creating a $1.5 billion hole in the budget and could lead to spending cuts, including on services such as school meals.

“President Ruto and his team are not interested in austerity but in taxation to match the bullet points from the IMF,” said James Shikwati, an economist in Nairobi. . . But if he insists on the bill, I think the protests will continue.”

Ruto took office in 2022 with a pledge to ease the financial burden on Kenyans. However, he faced mass protests after removing fuel subsidies and imposing new taxes.

According to the World Bank, interest payments on Kenya’s debt eat up nearly 38% of revenue. According to the IMF, this country’s debt – equivalent to more than 68% of GDP – is at high risk of difficulty.

“I oppose the finance bill because it will harm the common good mwananchi (citizens in Swahili),” said Malaika Agunda, a 21-year-old nursing student who “hustles” to survive on campus. “This bill must be rejected! Enough is enough!”

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *