Updated Jul 19, 2023, 8:11am EDT

How much will Kenya’s tax protests destabilize the country?

Kenya protests
REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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The News

Kenya was rattled by massive protests against tax hikes Wednesday, a day after opposition leader Raila Odinga ordered his supporters to take to the streets for three days of demonstrations.

Meanwhile, Kenyan President William Ruto said that the opposition is merely using the tax debate to blanket their real grievance of Odinga losing the 2022 election.

Previous protests contesting Ruto’s election have already led to more than 300 arrests and several deaths, with international actors and religious leaders warning that the country is spiraling into unprecedented civil violence.

We’ve curated insights and reporting on how the demonstrations will impact the country.

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  • “Enough is enough,” Nation Media Group told both Ruto and Odinga, arguing in an editorial that both men are at fault “if the country goes the way of failed states.” The media company did not validate or dissect claims by any party, rather arguing that the personal ”supremacy contest" between the two men is an “appalling leadership failure.”
  • Former first lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta has been propped up by supporters of Ruto as a key negotiator that could help settle some of the protesters’ qualms. She “understands that such protests affect traders negatively and subsequently hurts the economy” one anti-protest trader told Kenyans, an online news agency. But security has also reportedly been scaled back from her and former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s home in the wake of the protests, Kenyans reports.
  • The protests are threatening Kenya’s much-needed tourism industry, with travel agencies reporting massive cancellations across the country. 3.1 million Kenyans are directly employed in the sector, and tourism is the country’s third-biggest source of foreign exchange. — Bloomberg
  • Kenyans have not seen the fulfillment of promises such as free education in return for higher taxes, argues economist Joy Kiiru, which has angered protesters for years. Meanwhile, corruption is more evident than ever, she claims. “Why in a country that is struggling like Kenya do public officials drive high-end vehicles?” Kiiru told Citizen TV.
  • The protests are as much about the high cost of living in Kenya as they are about the tax hikes, according to Semafor’s Muchira Gachenge. The current regime won by only a slim margin after campaigning on lowering daily costs. But a year later, the price of basic commodities is at an all-time high, motivating many to hit the streets. Businesses have been severely affected in the capital of Nairobi, with traders shuttering their stores in fear of opportunistic looting and destruction, Gachenge says, adding that further protests will put more pressure on the economy.