President Ruto and members of the ruling Kwanza coalition say the matter of the finance bill is done. Ordinary Kenyans are just getting started.

On Thursday, a lethal police response failed to break the resolve of OccupyParliament protests in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Thousands of Kenyans walked between rows of buildings on Kenyatta Avenue, chanting anti-government slogans. 

“Be gentle on our pockets,” said one person’s placard. “The fear is gone! Clouds are gathering,” read another. From the ribald to the stern, their state of mind is on these signs.

They’re demanding the rejection of the 2024 Finance bill, braving police tear gas and water cannons. Despite the large turnout and the tide of public opinion, the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition insists the new taxes will secure the country’s future. Their votes ensured the bill sailed through a second reading

“The matter of the finance bill is now over,” said Moses Wetangula, the speaker of Parliament, to other MPs. But Kenyans whose lives will be affected by those taxes disagree. 

“It won’t be business as usual. This time we will refuse to be slaves,” said Purity Kahumbi, a 26-year-old nursing graduate. She was passing around water to help other protesters wash tear gas.

For her, this protest goes beyond the controversial bill. It’s a political awakening for a generation ignored by the ruling class. The involvement of young Kenyans, some as young as 14 has led to one publication branding the protests a “Gen Z March.” 

“We can do this for 365 days until they (MPs) learn to respect the people who sent them to parliament,” Kahumbi said. 

True to form, the protest will continue Tuesday, June 25 despite attempts from the police to break up the demonstrations. Instead of capitulating, more Kenyans from 17 regions are joining the wave.

“I know the people here are more than the government expected. It’s because the finance bill affects all of us. The politicians and their families have all these nice things provided to them by the government: luxury cars, houses, and health insurance. For us, we have to work hard to survive,” said Inea Odhiambo, a 28-year-old insurance agent who lost his job in April. 

It’s playing out quicker than anyone could have predicted and what started as anger on popular social media platforms, X and TikTok, is morphing into calls for a revolt. Some say the President Ruto government is trivialising a serious political struggle.

“If our elected leaders can’t represent us, we’ll represent ourselves. There’s no turning back. We can’t afford to sit back when a lot is at stake,” Kahumbi said.

For Stephen Kimanzi, a 22-year-old IT graduate, the events of the past two months have been an eye-opener. “Sitting and doing nothing is like staying in a crumbling house expecting someone else to rescue you. There are no jobs, and yet Ruto is overtaxing us,” he said.

Several people who spoke to TechCabal insist the government is overburdening them while they struggle to put food on the table. 

The government is unmoved. Ruto’s administration wants to raise $2.7 billion from the new taxes. It has put the government on a collision course with a young, educated but unemployed youth. 

President Ruto promised on the campaign trail in 2022 that he would reduce the tax burden on millions of Kenyans. The protesters argue that he has not kept the promise, and has doubled their tax burden. Despite introducing new taxes passed in 2023, the government missed its revenue targets by about $2.3 billion (KES300 billion). 

“My father is a potato farmer. He has been complaining how the new tax demands like e-tims and brokers have made business difficult for him,” Kimanzi said while ducking for safety from an incoming tear gas canister. “Do you expect me to sit back when people are out fighting for a better future?” he posed. 

Members of Parliament argue that some of the proposed taxes including a VAT on bread, a wealth tax on car owners, and excise duty on edible oil, have been scrapped. A plan to give the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) unfettered access to people’s mobile money and banking details without a court warrant has also been paused. But only a complete stop to the bill will satisfy protesters

The protests will resume next week on Tuesday when the bill is scheduled for a third reading. If it passes, it will be sent to the president for assent and become law. The protesters believe next week will rally more people as those who have been wishy-washy about the issue join.

“I think from here it can only grow bigger. We know what we want. We are going for it,” Odhiambo said. 

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