What is Happening in Kenya?

Situational Updates and Analysis: Nairobi 08 JULY 2024

Report Details

Date: 08 JUL 2024
Location: Kenya
Authors: AA
Contributor: FO
GSAT Lead: MF


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Key Points

  • Protests over new/higher taxes proposed in finance bill

  • 100+ arrests, 23+ deaths from violent police crackdown

  • Protesters broke into Parliament building

  • Looting reported in Nairobi and elsewhere

  • Ruto withdrew the bill, proposed austerity and dialogue

  • Protests continue, blocking roads and threats to occupy the State House/demand the president's resignation

Summary

Widespread protests led by youth are still occurring in Kenya over a controversial finance bill proposed by President Ruto's administration that was meant to introduce new taxes and hike existing ones. ​​The bill planned to introduce new taxes, as well as hikes on existing ones on basic goods and services has since been withdrawn by the government.  Protesters, largely young people, rejected the bill citing concerns over corruption and high living costs. Following the first round of protests on 18 June, portions of the bill were adjusted. However, opposition to broad aspects of the bill persisted. The bill will now go back to Parliament for legislative action. A timeline for this has not been issued.

Large-scale gatherings have occurred in various cities across the country since 18 June. While many protests have passed off peacefully, in other cases the security forces have forcibly dispersed crowds. At least 39 people have been killed during demonstrations, and hundreds of others were  injured or arrested. Most casualties occurred on 25 June after the police fired tear gas, water cannon, and live ammunition at protesters outside the Parliament building. Protesters demanded the president's resignation within 24 hours on 27 June, threatening to occupy the state house and block roads if the demands were unmet. On 28 June, the High Court initiated a ban on the use of tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, live ammunition, and other weapons by the police against protesters. However, reports indicating otherwise have emerged, albeit less frequently. Incidents of looting and robbery also occurred at the summit of the protests.

President Ruto declines assent to the bill


Addressing the nation on 26 June, the Kenyan leader declined to sign the controversial bill, noting that he had reflected on the conversations regarding the bill and listened to the voice of the people. He proposed austerity measures, as well as called for dialogue with protesters. Parliament may amend the bill considering the President’s veto or pass it a second time without amending it.  However, if Parliament members amend the bill and fully accommodate the president’s concerns, the speaker shall resubmit it for Presidential assent.

Many people continue to express anxiety that President Ruto will change his mind and sign the law before next week’s deadline. Some demonstrators have called for the resignation of the president, accusing him of poor performance. Police have continued to fire teargas to disperse protesters in Nairobi as many businesses remained closed for fear of looting. The main highway leading to Mombasa, Kenya’s second-largest city is closed due to demonstrations.

As unemployment in the country remains high and the prices of goods and services rise, there is widespread resentment and anger about the lavish lifestyles of the President and senior government officials. Members of the young protest movement and the nation’s leading unions do not trust the country’s leadership to sincerely execute the proposed austerity measures. On 2 June, Kenya’s largest opposition party urged Ruto’s government to acknowledge responsibility for the fatalities that occurred outside the parliament building on 25 June. 

A few days ago, the president announced significant cuts in budget allocations to the various departments and offices across the country. Budgetary allocations for some officials considered superfluous were also scrapped. Nonetheless, Mr. Ruto has reiterated that the country would have to borrow to finance the budget deficit as a sine qua non for developmental projects and programs. With taxes rejected, it appears the country’s debt burden is going to get worse as the government resorts to more borrowing.

Future Outlook

The security environment will likely remain volatile over the coming week. Public anger over the security forces’ response to the demonstrations, casualties, as well as protesters' demand for Ruto’s resignation, will continue to drive the risks of protests. However, protests may begin to lose momentum given the absence of a clear leadership. This will also make it difficult for the government to hold proposed talks with demonstrators. Additionally, Ruto’s withdrawal of the finance bill has appeased some segments of the population, which will likely create disunity within the protest movement. This, alongside the potential for forcible dispersals at protests, may reduce participation in demonstrations. 

Related demonstrations will accompany an elevated security force presence, underscoring the potential for localized clashes. However, the security forces will likely exercise more restraint following the High Court ban and widespread condemnation following their response to earlier protests. Ruto is unlikely to resign.

Given the points mentioned above, it is unlikely that the situation will escalate further over the coming days. However, this would occur if protesters shifted from calls for peaceful gatherings to advocating for violence to achieve their demands. This may include attacks on government and security force offices and personnel, aimed at forcing Ruto’s resignation. The government may then impose movement restrictions, which could include a curfew or a state of emergency. Access to routes would become more difficult, warranting increased security precautions.

The situation would worsen if there were to be a direct attempt against the president or his office. This would likely be driven by a combination of unrest dynamics and an increase in political tensions between various political actors, including the executive arm of government, intelligence and security apparatus, or other prominent political or security individuals. This would warrant the imposition of restrictive security measures. While this scenario remains unlikely, it requires monitoring over the coming days and weeks for any indicators that may alter this assessment. Such indicators would include an increase in criticism of the president from parliamentarians and prominent politicians or an increase in security personnel defecting or joining protests.

The opposition is likely exploiting the protests to keep the momentum until the next general elections. Already some members of the opposition are insisting that the president step down. This, combined with the violence by some youth has led to the mainstream protesters discussing a rethink of their strategy.  

Safety and Security Recommendations

  • Travelers and staff of organizations may stay away from locations in the city center where packets of protests will be concentrated.

  • While protests are not targeting foreigners, NGOs, and multinationals, reports of looting during recent escalation require that adequate security measures are put in place in offices that are located in the city center and potential protest areas.

  • Organizations should cooperate with the police and other state security agencies as they issue directives on potential threats and security measures concerning the protests. 


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