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Tax hike: 23 die as Kenyan protesters vow to invade president’s office

Protesters in Kenya, on Wednesday, June 26, 2024, vowed to keep up their demonstrations against new tax hikes.

The protesters made the vow following violent clashes outside parliament and across the country which left 23 people dead and scores wounded on Tuesday.

As heavily armed police patrolled the streets of the capital Nairobi on Wednesday, supporters of the week-old protest movement took to X, using the hashtag #tutanethursday, or “see you on Thursday” in a mix of Swahili and English.

An online outpouring of anger over tax increases has swelled into a nationwide protest movement calling for a political overhaul, in the most serious crisis of President William Ruto’s two-year-old presidency.

Police opened fire on crowds who massed around parliament on Tuesday and later broke into the assembly’s compound, minutes after lawmakers had voted through the contentious tax measures.

A local newspaper documented protests in at least 35 of Kenya’s 47 counties, from big cities to rural areas – even in Ruto’s hometown of Eldoret in his ethnic Kalenjin heartland.

At least 23 people were killed across Kenya and another 30 were being treated for bullet wounds, the Kenya Medical Association said on Wednesday.

In the capital, the main public mortuary received the bodies of six people killed in Tuesday’s protests, a police officer posted there told Reuters. Another two bodies and 160 people with injuries came into the Kenyatta National Hospital, two health officials said.

Many social media users focused on Ruto’s speech after the clashes, in which he said the attack on parliament was the work of “criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters”.

“Good morning fellow CRIMINALS Tupatane Thursday To do what CRIMINALS do,” one X user posted.

Posts on social media urged people to occupy State House, the president’s office and residence, on Thursday, and the local offices of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on Friday, though it was not immediately clear if the calls came from individuals or a broader movement.

Ruto said in his televised address to the nation late on Tuesday that the debate about the tax measures had been “hijacked by dangerous people”.

The government ordered the army deployed to help the police deal with a “security emergency”, though there were no reports of troops on the streets of Nairobi on Wednesday.

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

Protesters – who have no formal leadership and are primarily organised on social media platform – say they want the entire bill scrapped, and many are now demanding that Ruto resign.

He won election almost two years ago on a platform of championing Kenya’s working poor, but has been caught between the competing demands of lenders such as the IMF – which is urging the government to cut deficits to obtain more financing – and a hard-pressed population.

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