Kenya’s Gen Z Lead Nationwide Protests Over Tax Finance Bill

Gen Z spearhead nationwide protests as President Willian Ruto introduce new tax hikes through the finance bill

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Beginning in Nairobi on June 18, Kenya’s Gen Z has taken to the streets and social media platforms to protest against a controversial finance bill proposing tax hikes. These young protesters have been battled by the Kenyan police across the nation, as protest marches keep spreading across the country, even to the president’s home town of Eldoret.

The Finance Bill, currently under debate in parliament, introduces several tax proposals that the government argues are necessary to reduce the country’s national debt of nearly $80 billion. President William Ruto, who has introduced several new taxes since taking office in 2022, defends these measures as crucial for reducing government borrowing and steering Kenya away from debt distress.

The protests, dubbed “Occupy Parliament,” have been primarily organized and mobilized through social media, particularly TikTok. Unlike previous demonstrations led by politicians, these protests are characterized by their grassroots nature and the absence of traditional political affiliations.

The protests have been yielding results with the government forced to withdraw some provisons, including a 16% tax on bread, an annual 2.5% tax on vehicles, and proposed tax on goods that degrade the environment was marked for an amendment to apply only to imported goods. However, the protesters are not satisfied and are demanding the bill be scrapped entirely.

The impact of social media on these protests cannot be overstated. Hashtags like #OccupyParliament and #RejectFinanceBill2024 have trended for days, with young influencers creating video explainers that went viral across platforms. In a strategic move, protesters shared Members of Parliament’s phone numbers online, encouraging people to flood their inboxes with messages opposing the bill.

Zaha Indimuli, a young protester, told journalists, “We are the Gen Zs, we were able to mobilize ourselves. We use TikTok as a space to not only have young people come to protest but to educate them on the why.”

The protests have seen hundreds of trainer-wearing youth braving tear gas and water cannons to march through Nairobi’s central business district. Armed with smartphones, they live-streamed their confrontations with police, providing real-time updates and documenting instances of police brutality.

Many of these young protesters are demonstrating for the first time. Ken Makilya, a 24-year-old university student, told the BBC, “I’m here slaving for a country I love. It is the first time I’m doing this because my parents are old and they cannot do it anymore.”

Opposition leader Raila Odinga, who has traditionally been the face of anti-government protests, was urged to stay away from Tuesday’s march. He complied, posting on social media: “I’m a very proud father today! Well done to all those who bravely stood up for their rights!”

The protests have also highlighted the power of social media in mobilizing youth and shaping political discourse. Kenya is among the countries with the highest TikTok usage rate worldwide, and the platform has played a crucial role in organizing and sustaining these protests.

As the demonstrations continue, it’s clear that Kenya’s Gen Z is not backing down. As protester Hanifa Farsafi stated, “We are not scared, we are not moved and this is only the beginning of the revolution. We are coming, we are many and in good numbers.”

As June 20’s parliamentary session concluded, lawmakers voted to advance the contentious Finance Bill to the committee stage. 204 members of parliament voted in support. This majority consisted primarily of representatives from the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition, with a handful of opposition Azimio coalition members also lending their support.

However, the bill faced significant opposition, with 115 members, mostly from the opposition, voting against it. Despite this resistance, the bill has now progressed to the committee stage. Following this, it will proceed to a third reading, where parliament will make its final decision on the legislation.

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