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Updated Jul 8, 2024, 1:06pm EDT
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Semafor Signals

Kenya’s recent protests are the product of a long-simmering discontent

Insights from The Elephant, An Africanist Perspective, The Financial Times, and the Council on Foreign Relations

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Monicah Mwangi/Reuters
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The News

Populist Kenyan President William Ruto is facing increased calls for his resignation — including from leading columnists in several top publications. Ruto’s government has faced waves of protests in recent weeks led by the nation’s youth, sparked by a now shelved controversial finance bill.

Ruto has since proposed new governmental belt-tightening, including dissolving state corporations with overlapping functions and suspending non-essential travel for state officials. He has also promised to investigate reports of police brutality against protestors, while describing some demonstrators as “reckless.”

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It appears not to be enough to quell Kenyan’s ire: In an X Space session titled #EngageThePresident on Friday that saw at least 150,000 attendees, activists called Ruto a liar and said he lacked empathy, the BBC reported.

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SIGNALS

Semafor Signals: Global insights on today's biggest stories.

Ruto’s populism may have sown the seeds of his current legitimacy crisis

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Source:  
An Africanist Perspective

As a populist, Ruto “should have known better” than to attempt to push through controversial new taxes, Georgetown University professor Ken Opalo argued in the Substack newsletter “An Africanist Perspective.” Yet his own anti-establishment message may have ultimately emboldened protestors: After successfully recruiting disillusioned young voters by promising a brighter economic future, Ruto stacked his cabinet with “incompetent loyalists” who have dismissed criticism of his agenda as anti-Ruto middle class delusion, Opalo wrote. Ruto gives the impression of micromanaging everything, Opalo added, and so he may only regain legitimacy if he fixes his own government.

Ruto’s finance bill may have triggered a deep-rooted discontent

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Sources:  
The Guardian, The Financial Times

Kenya was already steeped in debt and struggling with the economic aftermath of COVID-19, and Ruto’s rushed-through finance bill may have simply been the straw that broke the camel’s back, a columnist wrote in The Guardian. The International Monetary Fund, which reportedly demanded Kenya tighten its belt in return for support, may also be to blame for using Kenya (and other similar countries) as a “petri dish for economic experiments” without regard for their specific social and political contexts, she argued. Since Ruto withdrew his bill, protests have continued and demonstrators have labeled Ruto the IMF’s “puppet,” the Financial Times reported.

The rise of Gen Z

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Sources:  
The Elephant, ContextNews, Council on Foreign Relations

The protests, spearheaded by Kenya’s tech-savvy Gen Z, grew organically, without traditional mediators in the form of politicians or NGOs, a columnist noted in Africa-focused outlet The Elephant. Once-respected NGOs and civil society organizations have become overly “professionalized” in the eyes of many Kenyans, putting Western donors first and sidelining the interests of “real” civil society, she wrote. Gen Z, whose parents were affected by the IMF and World Bank-directed Structural Adjustment Programs of the late 20th century, are determined to do differently, she added. Youth-led movements are rising up across the continent, from Uganda to Zimbabwe, ContextNews reported, and although Kenya’s may start to fracture, “[w]hat is certain is that a sleeping giant has awakened,” a columnist argued in the Council of Foreign Relations.

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