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Ruto faces escalating crisis as many shot in Gen Z’s mass protests against tax hikes

Ministers could impose curfews in big towns and cities as citizens report disruption to internet and phone services

At least five people have been shot, including a journalist, amid mass protests around parliament in Nairobi in what is turning into a rapidly escalating crisis for President William Ruto’s government. The protestors were trying to stop MPs voting in support of a revised version of the Finance Bill. One report claimed that the protestors had entered the parliament and taken the Mace – which on paper should force the chamber to shut down.

At the heart of the protests is the mass opposition to yet another round of tax hikes in the latest Finance Bill, a desperate attempt by the Treasury to balance the budget without borrowing more money or further cutting back social services.

Before today’s clashes in Nairobi, President Ruto had indicated his willingness to engage in dialogue with the youth movement that has led a week of sustained protest against his government’s controversial Finance Bill.

Government ministers appear divided on how to respond to the protests. There have also been claims of mobile and internet disruption in Nairobi, while ministers have also been mulling whether to introduce curfews in major towns and cities.

Human rights organisations say that two young protesters have been killed by the police, while at least 200 were injured. There have also been multiple arrests of activists, journalists and opposition politicians, and reports of protest leaders being kidnapped.

Last week, late government concessions, including the scrapping of a motor vehicle tax and VAT on bread, failed to quell protests that began in Nairobi on 18 June under the ‘Occupy Parliament’ banner mobilised by Generation Z (Gen Z) and human rights activists largely on social media platforms (AC Vol 65 No 13, A fragile recovery).

Organised with little help from politicians or political parties, the protests are by a generation previously perceived as apolitical, indifferent and passive. They pose a potential threat not only to the Ruto government’s Finance Bill, which seeks to impose a series of new taxes in a bid to meet its debt repayment obligations and satisfy the International Monetary Fund, but also to his presidency. The protestors are demanding that the bill be scrapped in its entirety.

On Sunday, young activists sought to prevent politicians who support the bill from speaking in churches. At midnight the night before, DJs in bars and clubs across the country had been urged – with some success – to pause their music to lead anti-Ruto chants demanding the repeal of the bill.

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