Kenya dispatch: violent police crackdown on anti-Finance Bill protesters prompts outrage Dispatches
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Kenya dispatch: violent police crackdown on anti-Finance Bill protesters prompts outrage

David Odero is a law student at Kisii University and a special correspondent for JURIST who attended Thursday’s protests in Nairobi. 

On Tuesday, June 18, and Thursday, June 20, Kenyan youth took to the streets of Nairobi’s Central Business District to protest against the proposed Finance Bill 2024 during its first and second readings. The protests were met with a heavy police presence, with anti-riot officers using excessive force to disperse the demonstrators.

The theme of the demonstrations, #RejectFinanceBill2024, reflected the widespread opposition to the bill. In anticipation of the protests, the National Police Service, through Inspector General Japhet Koome, issued a statement on their X account (formerly Twitter) stating that they would not condone or approve any attempts by demonstrators to occupy Parliament or disrupt its proceedings.

These protests highlight the constitutional rights provided under Article 37 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010, which guarantees every person the right to peaceably and unarmed, assemble, demonstrate, picket, and present petitions to public authorities. The Public Order Act CAP 56 also mandates that any public meeting or procession must notify the regulating officer at least three days in advance.

During the events on Tuesday and Thursday, protesters called on Members of Parliament to vote NO on the controversial Finance Bill 2024, which proposed additional taxes to meet ambitious revenue targets set by the Treasury. Hundreds of people were arrested and taken to Nairobi Central police Station. The Law Society of Kenya LSK led by their president Faith Odhiambo went to the police station demanding to see their clients and were in turn lobbed with teargas. Despite the deletion of widely contested clauses, the bill remains contentious.

The demonstrations spread to other parts of the country, where protesters stormed various government offices, including a state lodge. Police used teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowds. LSK provided toll-free numbers for any protester who would be arrested, and various law firms were out offering pro bono legal services. The medics were also not left behind as they were at every corner attending to the injured. I myself witnessed an individual with a head injury being rushed to the hospital.  According to the Kenya Red Cross, 39 people were injured, with 8 in critical condition and 31 sustaining minor injuries. As the protests escalated, police in civilian clothing intervened, resulting in the fatal shooting of a 29-year-old protester.

The incident has sparked outrage on social media, with Kenyans demanding justice for the slain protester. The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) Kenya condemned the violence, calling the use of live bullets against protesters disproportionate and unlawful. They have called for an investigation and prosecution of the police officers involved.

Despite the protests, the Finance Bill passed its second reading with 204 Members of Parliament voting in favor and 115 against. The bill will now proceed to the committee stage for further consideration and amendments.

The government’s actions have been criticized for ignoring the plight of the youth, who are struggling with unemployment and difficult living conditions. Despite nationwide dissent, the bill’s passage in Parliament has raised concerns about the government’s commitment to upholding the constitution and protecting the well-being of its citizens.

This wave of protests marks the beginning of a potential revolution, as Kenyans continue to demand justice and accountability from their leaders. In my opinion, the sovereignty of the people of Kenya and the supremacy of the constitution is under intimidation. The parliamentarians have turned a deaf ear and are acting in total disregard of what the people actually want and it is infuriating. The amount of brutality exercised by the police is heart-wrenching; the police fail to understand that the demands being made by the protesters are not for personal gain but for the betterment of the whole country. However, they have turned into oppressors and not protectors. The young people, who in the recent past have taken a backseat when it comes to matters politic are woke and not only well-informed but also determined to make their mark in the history of this country and the song has begun.