• D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG
  • D.C.
  • BXL
  • Lagos
Semafor Logo
  • Dubai
  • Beijing
  • SG

Updated Jun 18, 2024, 12:03pm EDT
africa

Kenya’s protest movement forces a U-turn on tax hikes

Reuters/Monicah Mwangi
PostEmailWhatsapp
Title icon

The News

Kenyan lawmakers scrapped some unpopular tax hikes in a controversial finance bill after protesters spearheaded widespread criticism of the plans.

Demonstrators took to the streets on Tuesday, prompting the police to make dozens of arrests and fire tear gas.

The finance bill, first tabled in May, proposed removing VAT exemptions on bread, tax hikes on mobile money transfers, and a new annual tax on motor vehicles. It prompted widespread criticism from the public.

AD

President William Ruto chaired a parliamentary committee meeting early on Tuesday to discuss the bill. Acknowledging widespread discontent, lawmakers announced after the meeting that several plans would be dropped, including the annual motor vehicle tax, VAT on bread and higher taxes on mobile money transfers.

“We have adjusted the document accordingly,” Ruto said of the changes in post on X, adding that the move followed a “robust public engagement” on the bill.

The partial climbdown follows a week in which campaigners spammed lawmakers with thousands of phone calls and messages urging them to reject the bill. They also targeted senior International Monetary Fund officials, due to the body’s support for the bill.

AD

Many protesters, however, told Semafor Africa it was not enough to drop some tax rises and called for lawmakers to reject the bill in its entirety.

Title icon

Know More

Police in Nairobi on Tuesday used tear gas and water cannons on protesters who were moving towards parliament. Rights group Amnesty Kenya called for the release of 210 people it said were arrested despite acting peacefully.

Semafor Africa saw at least a dozen arrests, including those of key organizers. The Kenyan Police Service could not immediately be reached for comment.

AD
Title icon

Martin’s view

While the protesters have taken a more direct approach, their sentiments echo those of several professional associations and business groups who appeared before parliament’s finance committee to challenge many of the controversial bill’s proposals. Bodies including the Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Association of Kenya Insurers, and Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) are among those that raised objections with parts of the bill.

Most of the protesters are young people concerned about the implications of the bill on their lives, their futures, and the cost of living. The arrests of peaceful protesters — which I personally witnessed — have only served to further anger demonstrators, and may yet lead to an intensification of the protests both online and offline.

Title icon

The View From Opposition Party

“This is a reckless race to the bottom,” Kalonzo Musyoka, leader of the opposition Wiper party, said on Friday.

“This is a 23.6 billion Kenyan shillings ($184 million) increase in recurrent expenditure. This is a budgeted corruption in the name of tea, mandazi and flowers,” he said. “It is their turn to eat, so they believe.”

Title icon

Room for Disagreement

The president’s allies have continued to drum up support for the bill despite mounting opposition, arguing that it is necessary to drive up revenue collection to fund essential government programs and service debt repayments. Ruto’s chief of staff this weekend maintained that any taxes collected would be managed prudently.

“Once it (the Finance Bill) is passed, the government will ensure that the taxes collected as a result will not be misappropriated or lost through corruption. We have agreed and the President has directed that we are not going to tolerate corruption in Kenya,” he said on Sunday, June 16.

Title icon

Notable

  • The planned tax hikes are part of the reason why Ruto, who was hosted in the US last month for a historic state visit, is arguably more popular overseas than at home.





Semafor Logo
AD