Kenya dispatch: uncertainty prevails after deadly protests against Finance Bill Dispatches
© JURIST // Kirubi Maina
Kenya dispatch: uncertainty prevails after deadly protests against Finance Bill

Aynsley Genga is JURIST’s senior Kenya correspondent. She filed this report from Nairobi on Tuesday afternoon local time (EAT).

On Tuesday, Kenya entered its second week of protests against the controversial Finance Bill 2024. People from various counties such as Nairobi, Nakuru, Kisumu, Nyeri, Tana River and even Turkana decided to come together and protest against the proposed legislation. This is bill that has been rejected by the people since it was introduced to the public, a bill that provides more the 800 million Kenyan Shillings (Ksh) to cater for government furniture but only offers Ksh.2 million for educational aids. The governement even seeks to take people’s land by scraping out the aspect of freehold ownership. Through the bill all land will belong to the government and the public can only own land on a leasehold basis. This goes against Article 40 of the Constitution that enshrines people’s right to property ownership. To make matters worse, the government now seeks to tax unemployed people above the age of 25 years. This provision has left many speechless since one of the biggest issues facing Kenya at the moment is the high rate of unemployment. Many are wondering how the government expects them to pay taxes if they do not even have money to afford basic commodities such as food or shelter.

Additionally, the government has also decided they want to cut the budget for agriculture by Ksh.5 billion. This is despite the fact that last year the agricultural sector faced a major blow when it was discovered that the government had provided farmers with fake fertilisers that led to the destruction of a lot of produce. If the bill is passed, imported products such as sanitary towels will also be taxed. Even the elderly have not been spared, since the government seeks to further tax their pensions. Another issue of contention in the bill is the fact that the government wants to set aside Ksh.900 million for the office of the first lady, money which many argue could be used to pay teachers and even doctors. The government also wants to set aside 800 million for confidential purposes. The populace is wondering what exactly the bill means by confidential purposes. The bill does not even provide proper information on what loans our country has taken. This bill, as many are arguing,  is not a bill for the good of the people, it is a bill that has been created for the benefit of a select few in the country while everyone else is sentenced to a life of hardship and enslavement.

Protestors could be seen filling the streets of Nairobi’s Central Business District (CBD) as early as 7 am. Many made it to the CBD despite the numerous blockades across town. People came to the streets despite hearing that there were snipers in town taking out protesters. The public came out in large numbers despite hearing several protestors had been killed by police and even now as I write this dispatch countless others are leaving work and making their way to the CBD. We even had high school students joining the demonstrations today since some schools have closed for the mid-term break. This just shows how fed up people are with the way the government are handling things. In my opinion, this bill was the final nail in the coffin for most Kenyans whose patience had been wearing thin after countless acts of corruption from our leaders and numerous heartless remarks in regard to the cost of living in Kenya by the leaders in the Kenya Kwanza (ruling party) regime.

This weekend has also seen numerous kidnappings. Among the abducted are students, doctors who provided medical aid to protestors, and social media influencers who were vocal in their stand against the finance bill. Some were taken as early as 3 AM today. While a few have been released, others, like Gabriel Oguda, remain missing. We can only hope for their safety and swift release.

Since the demonstrations began last week, the goal was to occupy Parliament and today people finally managed to enter Parliament. Several people were killed but the protesters refused to stand down. Many could be heard saying, ” we either die from a gun or die from the Finance Bill. The end result is the same.” Others could be heard chanting, ” We are many, they cannot kill us all!” It is honestly quite tragic when a government drives its people to such a point of desperation. The protesters were willing to die if it meant that they could achieve something; for a chance that their cries would finally be heard.

It is also important to mention that the revelation of our Members of Parliament being paid Ksh. 2 million to pass the bill has outraged the public. Kenyans were angered by the fact that the MPs could just sell us off for such a meager amount. Moreover, the fact that police officers were deployed to Haiti on Monday 24th June has also raised a lot of tension in the country. Junior soldiers were deployed yesterday without even being paid fully for their services. The police officers were sent despite the fact that the High Court declared the deployment unconstitutional. They were sent to go save a country that even other military superpowers are trying to avoid. Many fear that the police officers have been sent to die.

Amid corruption scandals, the Finance Bill, inappropriate comments by various leaders, and the police deployment to Haiti, many people are questioning if the government genuinely cares about its citizens. Numerous debates have sparked online regarding what the future holds for Kenya as a nation. Others have suggested the recalling of MPs while others have even suggested that the president be impeached. We have also had diaspora protests happening in other countries such as UK and USA.

Currently, there are many rumors circulating online, making it hard to discern what is true and what is false. Among these rumors is the possibility that the government might declare a state of emergency. Additionally, Kenyans are facing difficulties accessing Twitter, with some also reporting issues with TikTok performance. The internet is down as well. We have even had new outlets such as KTN news that have declared that they have received threats from the authorities who want the situation on the protests not covered. The situation is honestly quite chaotic, and the government’s response could quickly escalate the situation even further.

People await the final reading on the Finance Bill that is to take place on Thursday, 27th June. However, whether it will happen or not is up for debate since the parliament has been damaged by protesters. Tensions are high and only time will tell what fate has in store for the citizens of Kenya.