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Updated Jul 6, 2024, 1:54pm EDT
africa

Kenya’s president offers olive branch to young protesters but concerns remain

Reuters/Monicah Mwangi
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The News

NAIROBI — Kenya’s President William Ruto on Friday, July 5 announced several cuts to government expenditure and addressed anti-government protesters in an X space audio format, extending an olive branch to the Gen Z and millennial Kenyans leading the country’s protest movement.

Ruto held a press briefing hours before the X space, announcing the removal of the budgets for the offices of the first lady and the second lady, and the planned dissolution of 47 state agencies. He also suspended non-essential travel for government workers and the purchase of new vehicles. The President had earlier backed the suspension of planned salary increases for lawmakers and cabinet members.

The afternoon X space recorded more than 140,000 live listeners at one point, with Kenyans demanding answers from Ruto on the killings of at least 39 protesters by police, government corruption and wastage, questionable political appointments, and his failure to fulfill many of his campaign promises. He was called a “liar” multiple times.

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“Listening to the feedback today on X, I think I need to listen more, I need more empathy and my administration needs more empathy and I have heard you say loudly, more action,” Ruto acknowledged shortly after the space.” This is very rich and wealthy feedback. It was a great moment for Kenyans engaging openly.”

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Know More

The choice of X, formerly Twitter, was deliberate, as protesters have been using the app as well as TikTok to mobilize, discuss issues and coordinate protests. A large section of the protesters in Kenya however continue to demand for Ruto’s resignation despite his concessions so far, including the withdrawal of the Finance Bill 2024 which contained several tax hike proposals.

And while the X space platform may have won him significant attention from local and international press, many protesters remained dissatisfied by it and the participation of some protesters as hosts.They argued that it gave Ruto a chance to curry public favor and co-opt members of the protest movement. Kevin Monari alias Osama Otero, an influencer and protester who hosted Ruto on his space, has faced heavy backlash from Kenyans online over the move with some terming it betrayal.

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“He has made promises before and failed to deliver, what’s different now? He must resign,” said Ignatius Wafula, a protester in Nairobi.


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Room for Disagreement

Some observers as well as supporters of the president have argued that Ruto scored crucial political points by participating in the space and rolling out budget cuts as it paints him as a listening president. It also gives him the backing, they say, to undertake greater reforms including expected changes to his cabinet.

“It gives him the platform to make big, bold changes that would otherwise have been difficult to do without political repercussions from his allies,” economist Anderson Njuki told Semafor Africa.

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Notable

  • Kenyan protesters are using AI in their anti-government fight. Kenya’s government has raised concerns about risks associated with use of AI by the anti-government protest movement.
  • Kenyan celebrities drop Safaricom over alleged protest censorship. Several Kenyan celebrities say they have ended partnerships with the country’s biggest telecom company over claims it disrupted internet access during protests.

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