Mon. Jul 15th, 2024
Demonstration in Nairobi Image Credits: Simon Maina /AFP via Fetty ImagesDemonstration in Nairobi Image Credits: Simon Maina /AFP via Fetty Images

On July 2nd, riot police deployed tear gas grenades and charged at stone-throwing demonstrators in downtown Nairobi and various other locations across Kenya, marking the most extensive unrest since the deaths of at least two dozen protesters during clashes the previous week.

Nationwide demonstrations underscored President William Ruto’s failure to quell a spontaneous youth protest movement, even after abandoning the tax hike plans that sparked last week’s unrest.

Additionally, outside the capital, hundreds of protesters marched through Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city on the Indian Ocean coast. They carried palm fronds and beat drums while chanting “Ruto Must Go!”

Confronting the most severe crisis of his nearly two-year presidency, Ruto is caught between the demands of lenders like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce deficits and a struggling population grappling with the soaring cost of living.

Members of the protest movement, which has no official leaders and largely organizes through social media, have rejected Ruto’s calls for dialogue, even after he abandoned his proposed tax increases. The fragile public infrastructure and policies have profoundly upset the masses, who are determined to push for President Ruto’s resignation and nothing less.

Major Uproar

The president’s hasty decision to push through a Parliament-backed finance bill, which aimed to increase taxes on a wide range of items from imported sanitary pads and tires to bread and fuel, backfired. This led to protesters previously storming a section of Parliament.

Earlier this year, the nation secured a deal with the IMF for $941 million in additional lending. Additionally, the government’s plan aimed to raise an extra 200 billion Kenyan shillings in taxes, approximately $1.55 billion.

Subsequently, during talks in Nairobi, they agreed to reforms, including tax increases, to stabilize the country’s debt-ridden financial situation. The IMF deal sparked street protests. Nonetheless, the government proceeded with the plan to impose additional taxes on the country of 54 million people, a third of whom still live in poverty.

The government suggested that its hands were tied, as the country struggles to repay a massive debt—including both domestic and foreign obligations—which amounted to a staggering $80 billion last year, nearly three-fourths of its GDP.

The crisis is a condemnation of the development model followed by Kenya and several other countries on the continent. As one of the fastest-growing nations in Africa, Kenya has heavily borrowed from multinational lenders such as the IMF and the World Bank, as well as from bilateral partners like China, to finance infrastructure projects.

The Pandemic years tanked the growth and hiked the expenses. In addition, the consequences of the Ukraine war have led to a spike in global food and energy prices, hitting African economies.

Consequently, lenders increased interest rates to combat inflation, causing the debt repayment burden of heavily indebted countries to balloon. This led many defaulting nations to negotiate agreements with their creditors to restructure their debt.

The president pledged to address the debt problem when he took office in 2022; however, the policy measures seem one-sided.

Nevertheless, withdrawing the finance bill in response to anti-tax protests has prompted the government to reevaluate the budget and seek alternative revenue sources to address economic instability in the nation.

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