Kenya : Protests Erupt Over Controversial Finance Law, Resulting in Tragic Fatality.

Written by Dr. Florence Akano

In a recent wave of anti-government demonstrations in Kenya, one man was tragically shot dead on Friday, following the implementation of a contentious finance law. The law, which has doubled the fuel tax and introduced a housing levy for employees, has sparked widespread outrage and fueled public discontent.

The protests initially broke out in the western city of Kisumu, where police intervened to disperse the demonstrators. Alex Ochieng, an administrator at Jaramogi Oginga Odinga Teaching & Referral Hospital, confirmed the fatality, stating that one person had succumbed to gunshot wounds, while two others remained hospitalized.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga spearheaded the protests, mobilizing supporters to voice their opposition against the tax increases. These hikes were imposed despite a court-ordered suspension and emerged during a time when many Kenyans were already grappling with exorbitant prices of essential commodities like maize flour.

Footage broadcast by the privately owned television channel KTN News captured the chaotic scenes in the port city of Mombasa, as tear gas filled the air and protesters hastily fled on foot. Similar confrontations unfolded in the capital, Nairobi, with reports from the private Daily Nation newspaper detailing the firing of additional tear gas to disperse demonstrators who had barricaded sections of two roads. The Star, a local media outlet, reported dozens of arrests made during the protests.

Human rights groups, including Article 19, condemned the police conduct during the demonstrations, citing the rough treatment and dragging of protesters. The coalition called for a thorough investigation into these alleged abuses.

The government justified the tax hikes, expected to generate an additional 200 billion shillings ($1.42 billion) annually, as necessary measures to address mounting debt obligations and fund initiatives aimed at job creation in Kenya, the largest economy in East Africa.

Addressing a gathering of approximately 2,000 supporters, Raila Odinga accused President William Ruto of failing to alleviate the high cost of living, engaging in the poaching of opposition lawmakers, and unilaterally attempting to reconstitute the election commission.

Despite the protests, shops and businesses in the main central business district continued to operate.

Fergus Kell, a researcher at the London-based think-tank Chatham House, suggested that President Ruto faced a series of challenging circumstances, both inherited and self-imposed, such as past loans and a turbulent global economy. Kell noted that while Odinga sought to capitalize on these circumstances, he had not presented a clearly defined alternative agenda beyond criticizing Ruto in these challenging times.

The High Court had previously suspended the implementation of the finance law, but the government proceeded to raise the retail prices of petrol, prompting the opposition senator who filed the case to seek the imprisonment of the head of the energy sector regulator for contempt. The court is set to rule on the contempt application and provide further directions regarding the main lawsuit on Monday.

During the main rally held in Nairobi, protesters blew horns and whistles, while some danced to express their discontent. Chants of “tumechoka!” (Swahili for ‘we are tired’), “Ruto must go!” and “No Raila no peace” echoed through the streets. Some protesters briefly obstructed roads with burning tires, which were later extinguished by the police. Instances of stone-throwing at law enforcement officers were also reported.

Although the police allowed the opposition’s main rally to proceed, they cautioned against property damage and disruptions to businesses. National police spokeswoman Resila Onyango did not respond immediately to requests for comment from Reuters.

Raila Odinga and other leaders from his Azimio coalition are scheduled to address a rally at the historic Kamukunji ground in the capital, coinciding with the 33rd anniversary of intense clashes between the police and advocates for multiparty democracy.

While the implementation of the finance law remains suspended, the government’s decision to raise petrol prices despite the court order has ignited further tensions. The court is expected to rule on the contempt application and provide additional guidance on the main lawsuit in the coming days.

Earlier this year, thousands of Kenyans responded to Odinga’s calls for anti-government protests on Mondays and Thursdays, organizing three rallies despite a government ban on demonstrations.

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Dr. Florence Akano

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