Daily Review: Kenya’s Protests Are About More Than Tax Hikes

Daily Review: Kenya’s Protests Are About More Than Tax Hikes
Protesters scatter as Kenya police spray a water canon at them during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, June 25, 2024 (AP photo by Brian Inganga).

Thousands of demonstrators protested in Nairobi yesterday after Kenya’s Parliament approved tax increases as part of a controversial finance bill. Kenyan President William Ruto deployed the military to respond to the protests—which have already left dozens dead—and today said he would not sign the bill. (New York Times)

Our Take

For all its local specificities, the protests in Kenya yesterday fit the profile of demonstrations in many countries in the Global South in recent years. Governments saddled with debt attempt to either raise revenues through tax hikes or reduce spending through austerity measures, worsening an existing cost of living crisis. The reforms serve as a spark that sets off protests, but more often than not, the real fuel can be found in longstanding social grievances that are perhaps dormant, but never far beneath the surface.

That is certainly the case in Kenya. The bill passed yesterday includes tax hikes for staple foods, raising the cost of living for millions of Kenyans. But there are residual grievances with the government that have built up for more than a decade, creating an environment in which many Kenyans, especially among the younger generations, don’t feel that the political system is responsive to people’s wishes.

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