Kenya: Police Set Up Roadblocks As More Protests Loom

More anti-government protests seem likely in Kenya despite President Ruto’s withdrawal of contentious tax hikes. Clashes at rallies on Tuesday led to the deaths of more than 20 people.

Kenyan police erected roadblocks on routes leading to the presidential palace on Thursday as the country braces for more possible protests even after President William Ruto backed down on planned tax hikes in the face of public outrage.

The anger over the tax hikes has led to the most serious crisis in Ruto’s two-year presidency, with especially young people taking to the streets in protest.

A controversial finance bill

Following widespread protests over the past week, Ruto on Wednesday climbed down on the proposed tax hikes, which would have seen items such as bread, cooking oil and diapers going up in price.

The president argued that the tax hikes were necessary to cut Kenya’s high debt, which has made it harder to receive loans and put pressure on the country’s currency, the Kenyan shilling.

However, he said that in view of the public’s rejection, he would begin a dialogue with Kenyan youth and introduce austerity measures, including cuts to the budget of the presidency.

“The people have spoken,” he said in an address, adding that he would seek “engagement with the young people of our nation.”

The Kenyan government has said previously that the country has a debt of some 10 trillion shillings (€72.9 billion, $78 billion), equal to roughly 70% of GDP.

Deadly protests

More than 20 people are reported to have been killed nationwide on Tuesday during the latest protests in a week of demonstrations, which also saw the parliament breached and ransacked.

An official at Kenyatta National Hospital in Nairobi said on Wednesday that medics were treating “160 people … some of them with bullet wounds.”

Washington on Wednesday called on Kenya to respect the right to peaceful protest and the UN urged “accountability” for the violent police action taken at the demonstrations.

Some protesters have said they would not demonstrate on Thursday, as their aims had been achieved, but others vowed to continue and call for Ruto’s resignation.

There have even been calls on social media to invade State House, the president’s formal offices and residence.

tj/kb (Reuters, AFP)