A memorial for the victims of the protests set up by concertgoers. Source: @kenyanimimi on X

Tribute Concert Held for Kenya’s Protest Casualties

Hundreds gather in Uhuru Park to commemorate those killed during recent tax hike demonstrations and reflect on government concessions.

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In the heart of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, hundreds gathered for a concert at Uhuru Park on July 7, 2024. The event served as a tribute to those who lost their lives during recent anti-government protests, which began on June 18 in response to proposed tax hikes and calls for President William Ruto’s resignation.

The concert held an atmosphere of somber reflection on losses while also holding a determined resilience to President Ruto. Activist Boniface Mwangi, present at the concert, captured this duality: “The government is listening now because of the protests. So we are kind of happy, but there’s also a lot of sadness because so many people died for the government to listen.” He added, “We’re with you, and we shall honor their sacrifice,” addressing the families of the deceased.

The concert, featuring local artists, saw young attendees holding placards with messages like “RIP Comrades” and “We promise we’ll keep fighting.” The crowd’s chants of “Ruto must go” echoed through the park, while others planted crosses in a symbolic gesture of remembrance.

The timing of the concert was significant, coinciding with Saba Saba Day. This date marks the anniversary of the 1990 protests that eventually led to Kenya’s return to multi-party politics under the late leader Daniel Arap Moi’s government.

Artists who performed posted on social media to share their videos and experiences during the memorial concert.

The Recent Protests and Their Aftermath

The demonstrations, which resulted in at least 39 fatalities according to reports, were marked by clashes between protesters and law enforcement. Police reportedly used tear gas and water cannons to disperse crowds, and claimed to have arrested over 270 individuals suspected of criminal activities during the rallies.

In response to the mounting pressure, President Ruto made significant concessions. He scrapped a finance bill that would have introduced new taxes, which critics argued would have further increased the already high cost of living. Additionally, on July 5, Ruto proposed new austerity measures, including reducing his advisory team and dissolving 47 state corporations. These steps aim to address the $2.7 billion budget gap created by withdrawing the proposed tax hikes.

Ruto expressed optimism about these changes, stating, “I believe these changes will set our country on a trajectory towards economic transformation.”

Looking Forward

The concert in Uhuru Park serves as a memorial and a reflection of Kenya’s ongoing struggle for economic justice and political accountability. The concert highlighted the power of collective action in shaping national policy, while also memorializing the heavy price paid by some citizens in the pursuit of change.

While the immediate crisis appears to have been averted with the withdrawal of the controversial tax bill, the underlying issues of economic hardship and political discontent remain. The coming months will likely be crucial in determining whether the government’s proposed measures will effectively address these concerns and bring about the economic transformation that President Ruto envisions.

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