Tear gas fired as protests held across Kenya over tax hikes

Tear gas fired as protests held across Kenya over tax hikes

Kenya police use force to disperse protestors who appeared peaceful.
A protester throws back teargas to Kenyan police officers who were dispersing them during a demonstration against tax hikes / Photo: AFP

Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse thousands of demonstrators in Nairobi on Thursday as coordinated marches took place across Kenya against government plans to raise $2.7 billion in additional taxes to reduce the budget deficit.

Spraying people with purple-coloured water from water cannons, police sought to clear protesters in Nairobi's central business district and blocked their path to parliament.

It was not clear why police used force as the demonstration appeared peaceful. Police spokesperson Resila Onyango and Nairobi police commander Adamson Bungei did not respond to requests for comment.

Protesters say the tax rises will hurt the economy and raise the cost of living for Kenyans who are already struggling to make ends meet.

Reduce borrowing

A parliamentary panel urged the government on Tuesday to scrap some new taxes proposed in its finance bill, including new ones on car ownership, bread, cooking oil and financial transactions.

President William Ruto was elected almost two years ago on a platform to help Kenya's working poor, but has faced repeated anti-tax protests. He has defended the tax increases, saying the government needs to reduce its reliance on borrowing.

Elsewhere on Thursday, demonstrators in places such as Nyeri, Nakuru, Eldoret, Mombasa and Kisumu called for lawmakers to drop the bill and waved placards with slogans like "We say no to economic dictatorship", and chanted "Ruto must go". Those protests took place peacefully.

The International Monetary Fund has urged the government to increase revenues in its 2024/25 budget to reduce state borrowing.

Parliament majority

Lawmakers were debating the bill on Thursday in its second reading before parliament. Ruto has a majority in parliament, although some lawmakers allied to his coalition have expressed reservations about the bill.

Ndindi Nyoro, chairperson of the parliament's budget committee, said the Finance Ministry had told parliament that scrapping the handful of proposed tax hikes would lead to a revenue shortfall of 200 billion shillings in the 2024/25 budget meaning equivalent spending cuts would have to be made.

Hundreds of people demonstrated on Tuesday against the bill, in the biggest backlash against Ruto's government since protests in July last year, when rights groups said at least nine people were killed.

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