GP Short Notes

GP Short Notes # 716, 27 July 2023

Kenya: Anti-government protests turn violent
Jerry Franklin A

In the news
On 25 July, Kenyan President Willam Ruto announced that he is ready to meet opposition leader Raila Odinga “anytime” after months of anti-government protests. However, the opposition party, Azimio la Umoja, leader, Raila Odinga, dismissed Ruto’s invitation describing it as “not serious.”

The development comes after Odinga calling for three days of anti-government demonstrations in Kenya on 19 July. The protests turned violent. According to Amnesty International, at least 27 people were killed and dozens were injured during the clashes between police and demonstrators over the five days of protest. Nearly, 100 demonstrators clashed with police in Kibera, Nairobi, during the protests.

The new wave of protests is against the financial bill, which introduced a 1.5 per cent housing levy, a 16 per cent tax on petroleum products and a 16 per cent value-added tax (VAT). On 26 June the bill was signed into law. 

On 18 July, the United Nations Human Rights Office spokesperson stated: “The UN is very concerned by the widespread violence and allegations of disproportionate use of force, including the use of firearms by the police during protests in Kenya.”

On 25 July, the Kenyan Ministry of Interior stated: “Extrajudicial executions and/or excessive use of force… are malicious, false and intended to distort public opinion.”

Issues at large
First, the economic crisis. Kenya, the second largest economy in East Africa, suffers from a public debt of 9.4 trillion shillings (USD 67 billion) and is categorized by the World Bank as at significant risk of financial distress. Additionally, between 2013 and 2022, Kenya took three loans worth USD 5.3 billion from China Export-Import (EXIM) Bank for the development of a Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project linking the port of Mombasa with the capital Nairobi. According to the Department of National Treasury, the loans from China represent over 64 per cent of Kenya's current foreign debt as of March 2023. 

Second, continuous anti-government protests since the elections. Since the August 2022 presidential elections, Odinga has been organising frequent demonstrations against the government, alleging irregular elections and vote rigging. Through his constant protests, Odinga continuously criticized the rising expense of living, election fraud, the alleged plundering of Kenya's resources, and the introduction of Genetically Modified (GMO) Corn. Since 20 March, Odinga started organising bi-weekly demonstrations on Mondays and Thursdays, known as “the mother of all marches.” After Ruto agreed to negotiate, the opposition leader postponed rallies in April and May. However, as the negotiations stalled, Odinga’s Azimio alliance started staging current rounds of demonstrations. Odinga has been accused by President Ruto of trying to utilize economic dissatisfaction to further his political ambitions.

Third, violent crackdown. On 14 July, Ruto declared that the government would not let scheduled opposition demonstrations citing that the protests were illegal. Human rights groups criticized the clampdown imposed by the police, who occasionally used lethal gunfire.  The police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters in Nairobi. Additionally, many opposition leaders were arrested. Shops and schools were closed due to the protests. 

Fourth, increasing mistrust in William Ruto's government. William Ruto portrayed himself as a champion of the oppressed during the election campaign in August 2022, promising to make life better for ordinary citizens. Ruto campaigned of lowering the living expenses of the people. After coming to power, Ruto eliminated fuel subsidies, which caused a rise in the price of essential goods like bread and maize flour. The Kenyan population began to develop a mistrust in the economic policies of Ruto which are negatively impacting the public. 

In perspective
First, the government’s inability to address the grievances. The Kenyan government is using lethal force to suppress protests without addressing the demands of the people. The peaceful demonstrations turned violent, following the use of tear gas by the police to disperse protesters stating that the protests are unlawful. The government is struggling to manage the debt crisis. The taxes have been increased abruptly which affects the common population, already facing challenges afford essential commodities. 

Second, the demonstrations are being used by Raila Odinga to advance his political objectives. The opposition leader, Raila Odinga, had contested five presidential elections and consistently failed. Odinga tries to mobilize the people on various issues including the high cost of living, rigged elections, and even allegations of ethnic bias. The passing of the financial bill gave an advantage for Odinga to capitalize the popular anger to the call for a series of demonstrations.

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