More than 200 arrested in Kenya protests over proposed tax hikes in finance bill

More than 200 protesters have been arrested in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, in ongoing protests against proposed tax hikes in a finance bill that is due to be tabled in parliament.

Civil society groups say that despite the arrests, demonstrations and a planned sit-down outside the parliament buildings will continue.

Nairobi Police Commander Adamson Bungei on Tuesday said no group had been granted permission to protest in the capital. The right to peaceful protests is guaranteed in Kenya’s constitution but organizers are required to notify the police beforehand. Police generally give a go-ahead unless there are security concerns.

Police hurled tear gas canisters at hundreds of demonstrators on Tuesday, forcing businesses to close for fear of looting temporarily.

A lawyer, Wanjohi Gachie, said he was protesting on behalf of all Kenyans who would be potentially burdened by the tax hikes.

“I’m requesting the police not to arrest or beat us because we are fighting for their rights as well,” he said.

Some major tax proposals in the bill were dropped after a Tuesday morning meeting between ruling party MPs and President William Ruto.

The chairperson of the finance committee, Kuria Kimani, said the proposal to introduce a 16% VAT tax on bread had been dropped.

Other levies that had prompted debate and have been amended include a proposed 2.5% motor vehicle annual tax that was to be placed on insurance.

A proposed tax on goods that degrade the environment will also be amended to apply only to imported goods to encourage local manufacturing.

Ruto last month defended the proposed taxes saying the country must be financially self-sustaining.

“The whole principal is that you must live within your means,” he said.

“I persuaded and I made a case to the people of Kenya that we must begin to enhance our revenue,” Ruto added.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga urged MPs to scrutinize the bill and vote to remove clauses that would burden the poor.

“It is worse than the one of 2023, an investment killer and a huge millstone around the necks of millions of poor Kenyans who must have hoped that the tears they shed over taxes last year would see the government lessen the tax burden in 2024,” he said in a statement in early June

Opposition figure Kalonzo Musyoka said weekly protests would resume if the finance bill is approved as proposed.

Legislators are due to debate the bill starting Wednesday with a vote scheduled for Monday.

Last year’s finance law introduced a 1.5% housing tax on gross income for salaried individuals despite concerns it would further burden Kenyans already struggling under a high cost of living. The law also doubled the VAT tax on petroleum products from 8% to 16%.