Kenyan President Vows to Prevent Violence ‘At Whatever Cost’ (2024)

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Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Here’s the latest on the protests in Kenya.

Kenya’s president, William Ruto, deployed the military on Tuesday to crack down on what he called “treasonous” protesters, after demonstrators furious over the passage of a package of tax increases stormed the Parliament building in the capital, Nairobi, climbed in windows and set fire to the entrance

The police fired tear gas and guns. At least five people were reported dead from gunshot wounds, and more than 30 others were wounded, according to a joint statement by Amnesty International and several Kenyan civic organizations. The numbers could not be independently confirmed.

“Today’s events mark a critical turning point on how we respond to grave threats to our national security,” Mr. Ruto said in an address to the nation. “The government has mobilized all resources at the nation’s disposal to ensure that a situation of this nature will not recur again, at whatever cost.”

Thousands of demonstrators had flooded the streets around the Parliament, some draped in the Kenyan flag and blowing whistles or chanting for the country’s president to resign. A video posted to social media by the independent Kenya Human Rights Commission showed police firing as protesters marched toward them.

In a joint statement, the ambassadors of 13 Western embassies in Kenya, including the United States, said they were “shocked” by the scenes of violence.

The turmoil over the finance bill, which includes the tax hikes, has shaken Kenya, an East African economic powerhouse of 54 million people that has long been an anchor of stability in a tumultuous region. In protests across the country last week, at least one person was killed and 200 others were injured, according to Amnesty International.

The contentious bill was introduced by the Ruto government in May to raise revenue and limit borrowing in an economy facing a heavy debt burden. But Kenyans have widely criticized the legislation, saying it adds punitive new taxes and raises others on a wide range of goods and services that would escalate living costs. The detractors also pointed to corruption and mismanagement of funds.

The president now has two weeks to sign the legislation into law or send it back to Parliament for further amendments.

Here’s what else to know:

  • Before Tuesday’s protests, several activists who are prominent critics of the bill were abducted, according to the Law Society of Kenya. The abductors’ identities were not publicly known, but some were believed to be intelligence officers, said the Law Society’s president, Faith Odhiambo. Ms. Odhiambo later said that some of those abducted had been released.

  • CNN aired footage of the half sister of former President Barack Obama, Auma Obama, being tear-gassed as she was interviewed about her opposition to the bill.

  • The protests have largely been guided by younger people who have used social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to initiate a leaderless movement that has galvanized the nation.

  • The protests come as an initial group of 400 Kenyan police officers is arriving in Haiti for help to stop the rampant gang violence that has upended the Caribbean nation, an effort largely organized by the Biden administration.

June 25, 2024, 5:10 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 5:10 p.m. ET

Eve Sampson

What to know about the violent protests in Kenya.

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Nairobi Police Use Live Rounds, Tear Gas and Water Cannons on Protesters

The Nairobi police and demonstrators clashed during protests against a bill expected to raise taxes on many basic necessities and increasing the overall cost of living in Kenya.

Crowd: “We are peaceful.” Crowd: “Ruto must go.” Crowd: “Reject.”

Kenyan President Vows to Prevent Violence ‘At Whatever Cost’ (3)

The sting of tear gas, the crack of live bullets and images of wounded people sprawled across the ground accompanied mass protests Tuesday in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, after Parliament passed a controversial bill raising taxes, despite criticism that it would intensify economic desperation.

Crowds breached the Parliament amid plumes of smoke as days of protests against the tax bill ended with police and protesters clashing. Nearly a dozen people died in the violence, state and independent rights groups said.

In recent days, the government has been accused of abducting critics, making mass arrests around the country to quell unrest and using force that caused brutal injuries and at least one death.

Typically a regional bastion of economic security, Kenya has a population of over 54 million. Many of its young people have used technology and social media to organize opposition to the government that they say transcends ethnicities, tribes, races and socioeconomic class.

Here is what we know about the contentious legislation that set off Tuesday’s clashes.

What will the tax bill do?

The Ruto government presented Finance Bill 2024 to Parliament in May in what it framed as an effort to increase revenue to help the country deal with immense debt in its borrowing-based economy.

Initially, the bill called for taxes on essentials like bread, cooking oil and cars, but public backlash caused lawmakers to roll some levies back. However, the rollbacks failed to derail public protests.

On Tuesday, Parliament passed the bill. It is expected to increase taxes on imported goods — including some basics, like eggs, from nearby East African nations — as well as on phone and internet usage, bank transfer fees and digitally operated businesses.

What does the opposition say?

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Critics of the bill say it will drive up the cost of goods for consumers in a nation already grappling with a high cost of living.

The overall opposition speaks to a trend across Africa, where young people are increasingly bearing the brunt of rising unemployment, and all Kenyans are suffering under high prices driven in part by the coronavirus pandemic and trade disturbances from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In Kenya, an additional factor is the burden of a huge national debt.

Anger and resentment toward President William Ruto, who campaigned on the promise of raising living standards for those in poverty, have inflamed an increasingly dissatisfied public. Mr. Ruto’s government previously raised health insurance and electricity costs, which, coupled with natural disasters, led to demonstrations last year that human rights groups say killed 57.

Kenyans “feel increasingly squeezed by disappearing subsidies and increasing taxes, and misled by a government that campaigned on a message about economic empowerment but has governed with a message about austerity,” said Michelle Gavin, a senior fellow for Africa policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“All of this is happening in the midst of inadequate employment opportunities and the spectacle of ongoing corruption among political elites,” she added. “The Finance Bill has a ‘last straw’ quality about it.”

Mr. Ruto’s luxury lifestyle has been a particular focus of dissent, with critics drawing contrasts to the impoverished members of the public who would be most affected by the pending tax hikes.

Less than a month ago, the White House hosted Mr. Ruto for a state dinner, hoping to bolster the shaky balance of U.S. alliances in Africa. On Monday, Mr. Ruto sent a first contingent of Kenyan police officers to Haiti as part of a Biden administration-led plan to stifle gang violence in Haiti, a deployment that drew domestic criticism. Some questioned whether the Kenyan police, who have a history of brutality, were fit for such a mission.

The Kenyan police have long been accused by rights groups of cracking down on protesters with harsh methods and extrajudicial killings at police stations.

What happens next?

President Ruto has two weeks to either sign the bill into law or send it back to Parliament for amendments.

In a public address on Tuesday evening, Mr. Ruto called the protests “treasonous” and an “existential threat” to the nation and said that the government had “mobilized all resources at the nation’s disposal to ensure that a situation of this nature will not recur again, at whatever cost.”

Aden Duale, Kenya’s defense minister, said the military was assisting the police.

A joint statement made by the embassies of 13 Western nations, including the United States, said they were “shocked” at the violence and “deeply concerned” about allegations that protesters had been abducted. They called for “restraint on all sides.”

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June 25, 2024, 3:08 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 3:08 p.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

In a mark of his hard-edged attitude, President Ruto characterized the chaotic protests a “grave threat” to Kenya's security and vowed to prevent their recurrence “at whatever cost.”

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Today, Kenya experienced an unprecedented attack on its democracy, rule of law and the integrity of its constitutional institutions. Today’s events mark a critical turning point on how we respond to grave threats to our national security. I assure the nation that the government has mobilized all resources at the nation’s disposal to ensure that a situation of this nature will not recur again at whatever cost.

Kenyan President Vows to Prevent Violence ‘At Whatever Cost’ (5)

June 25, 2024, 2:50 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:50 p.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

President Ruto’s predecessor, former President Uhuru Kenyatta, weighed in on Tuesday night with a statement urging Ruto to show restraint and “do the right thing by listening to the people.” Ruto served as vice president under Kenyatta for nine years until the 2022 election, when the two men became bitter rivals.

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June 25, 2024, 2:45 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:45 p.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

The turmoil in Nairobi is a blow to Biden’s embrace of Kenya’s president.

The street turmoil that swept Kenya’s capital on Tuesday represented a blow to the Biden administration’s tight embrace of President William Ruto, a strong U.S. ally on a continent where American influence is rapidly waning.

Just a day earlier, President Biden had formally named Kenya a major non-NATO ally, and Mr. Ruto had seen off a first group of 400 Kenyan police officers headed to Haiti on a contentious security mission that is largely financed by the United States.

The non-NATO ally designation, which clears the way for greater security cooperation between Kenya and the United States, was one of the main outcomes of Mr. Ruto’s state visit to Washington last month, the first by an African leader in 16 years. At the White House, the Kenyan leader was feted with a state dinner that included celebrity guests and former President Barack Obama, whose father was Kenyan.

For Mr. Ruto, the state visit was the high point of a globe-trotting presidency. He has visited dozens of countries since being declared the winner of a fiercely contested presidential election in August 2022. For the Biden administration, it was an opportunity to cement a major relationship in Africa at a time when rivals like Russia and China have expanded their influence.

However, Mr. Ruto’s domestic support has plummeted over tough economic measures that he said were necessary to get Kenya’s ailing national finances back on track. Many Kenyans, particularly from the middle classes, felt they were being forced to pay more than their fair share — especially as Mr. Ruto’s government showed few signs of cracking down on the top level corruption that has plagued Kenyan governments for decades.

The discontent set off days of protests that reached a nadir with the turmoil on Tuesday, when police fired tear gas and weapons during protests near Parliament in Nairobi. Amnesty International and several civic groups said that at least five people were killed.

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, condemned the violence, saying, “We mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained and offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones. We urge restraint to restore order and provide space for dialogue.”

And the U.S. Embassy in Kenya joined with 12 other Western embassies to release a statement on Tuesday saying that they were “shocked” by the scenes around Kenya’s Parliament and “deeply concerned” by allegations that some protesters had been abducted by the security forces. The statement called for “restraint on all sides.”

Mr. Ruto enjoys a famously close relationship with the U.S. ambassador to Kenya, Meg Whitman, a former American business executive who last summer accompanied him on a tour of Silicon Valley that included visits to Google, Apple and Intel.

Ms. Whitman, a former C.E.O. at Hewlett-Packard and eBay, has become a vocal advocate for American businesses to set up in Kenya, a thriving hub of tech startups and innovation sometimes called Africa’s Silicon Savannah.

American and Kenyan officials say that Mr. Ruto and Ms. Whitman often speak informally on the phone, sometimes with little notice. Ms. Whitman has drawn strong criticism from Kenyan opposition leaders who say she shows Mr. Ruto excessive favor.

“I want to tell the rogue ambassador, leave Kenyans alone,” Raila Odinga, a veteran opposition leader who lost the contested 2022 election to Mr. Ruto, said last August.

Mr. Ruto had also won support from Western nations for his strong advocacy of radical reforms to the international financial system, and more debt relief, to spur economic growth across Africa.

He has pushed for greater African representation at the top of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which are dominated by rich countries, and for inward investment by companies that can take advantage of the massive renewable energy in countries like Kenya.

Until recently, he seemed to be getting places: During Mr. Ruto’s Washington visit, Microsoft and an Emirati artificial intelligence firm, G42, said they would invest $1 billion in a green data center in Kenya, the country’s largest ever digital investment.

Michael Levenson contributed reporting.

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June 25, 2024, 2:43 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:43 p.m. ET

Lynsey Chutel

High living costs are straining even Africa’s most stable economies.

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Kenya, a thriving business hub in East Africa, has become a cautionary tale for a growing economic crisis in Africa. The country is one Africa’s fastest growing economies and home to new digital industries. But a new tax law promoted by the president and passed by Parliament on Tuesday showed how vulnerable the public is to economic shocks.

The tax law would increase the cost of essential items, some of which are imported from nearby East African countries and some from further away. The affected items include eggs, cooking oil and other goods. It also raises taxes on ride-hailing and food-delivery services, which employ many young people, and on telephone and internet usage.

The Kenyan government has said the tax increases are necessary to pay off the country’s crippling debt and avoid default.

East Africa has the fastest growing economy of any region in Africa, where economies show growth on a large scale. However, in many places, including Kenya, benefits have not trickled down to the average person.

Inflation across Africa has risen at an average of nearly 18 percent, the highest in more than a decade, according to figures from the African Development Bank. International shocks, like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a growing climate crisis, have hampered agricultural production and increased food prices, sending inflation climbing, the regional bank said.

These pressures have rocked some of the continent’s most stable and most promising economies. Nigeria, once Africa’s largest economy and the focus of praise for innovation, is buckling under the worst economic crisis in decades. Inflation has skyrocketed and the national currency, the naira, is in freefall. The cost of basic food items have become so high that markets have seen pockets of protest and even stampedes.

In southern Africa, Zambia, is struggling to avoid default on a massive debt and enmeshed in a cost-of-living crisis. Costs for fuel and basic food items, like maize meal, are high, and rolling electricity blackouts have become common. In May, the country’s currency, the kwacha, plummeted to a record low against the dollar, pushing import costs even higher.

The economic crisis has dimmed the hope that Zambians and the international community had placed in President Hakainde Hichilema, a businessman turned politician. Critics and civil society organizations have warned that the economic crisis is a ticking time bomb.

In South Africa, the most advanced economy in Africa, the economy was a dominant issue for many voters in May elections. Rolling blackouts and record unemployment, especially among the young, were among the issues prompting voters to punish the governing African National Congress at the polls, with the party earning its lowest majority yet.

Weaker economies are even more vulnerable to these shocks. In Cameroon, a West African nation already divided by internal strife, impoverished communities are struggling to put food on the table as food and fuel prices increase.

In its economic outlook for this year, the African Development Bank warned that “internal conflicts and violence could also result from rising prices for fuel and other commodities.”

June 25, 2024, 2:37 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:37 p.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

President Ruto blamed the violence on "criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters" and said, "We must isolate crime from democratic expression, and separate criminals from people exercising the freedom of expression and divergent opinion."

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June 25, 2024, 2:16 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:16 p.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

In a brief televised address, President William Ruto struck an uncompromising tone, vowing to deploy Kenya’s security forces across the country to quell youth-led protests. “We shall provide a full, effective and expeditious response to today’s treasonous events,” he said.

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June 25, 2024, 2:10 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:10 p.m. ET

Jeffrey Gettleman

The Kenyan police have a bloody past, and the present faces the force with challenges at home and abroad.

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Excessive force. Extrajudicial killings. A long history of brutality and impunity.

That’s the reputation of Kenyan policing, which is under scrutiny again after at least five people were reported to have died of gunshot wounds when officers confronted protesters in the capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday.

It was the very day a contingent of Kenyan police officers arrived in Haiti to lead a mission to restore order in the gang-ravaged Caribbean nation, a deployment that activists and human rights groups, citing the police’s history of abuse and unlawful killings, have roundly denounced.

The Kenyan police force is an extension of a colonial-era creation that the British used to control the population and stamp out dissent. During the 1950s, as Kenyans began to assert their right to rule themselves, the police and other British-run security services rounded up tens of thousands of Kenyans and hanged more than a thousand. It was an especially disturbing chapter of British rule, detailed in a prizewinning book, “Imperial Reckoning.”

Kenya’s independence in 1963 didn’t dramatically change policing. The police, and especially the paramilitary wing called the General Services Unit and another group known as the Flying Squad, became dreaded characters, known for quick trigger fingers and wide impunity.

In the summer of 1990, Kenyans held one of their first major pro-democracy protests. Thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets of Nairobi, calling for an end to the dictatorship that then ruled the country. The police responded by shooting dozens of them.

During an election crisis in 2007 and early 2008, police officers killed dozens of protesters. There were even instances of officers seen on television fatally shooting unarmed demonstrators.

In 2009, the United Nations sent a special rapporteur, Philip Alston, to Kenya to investigate the situation. The report he delivered was a bombshell. “Police in Kenya frequently execute individuals,” the report said. “Most troubling is the existence of police death squads.”

The Kenyan government vowed to revamp the services, and it set up an independent police watchdog. Western donors, especially the United States, pumped millions of dollars into training and other programs. The focus was to help make the Kenyan police more accountable and more effective at countering terrorism. Crowd control and the use of nonlethal methods was not the priority.

Last year, in the first round of anti-tax protests in Kenya, at least nine people were killed during rowdy demonstrations and their violent suppression, according to a human rights commission and news reports.

In July 2023, the government of President William Ruto agreed Kenya’s police would lead the mission to Haiti, with backing from Washington. The United Nations Security Council authorized the mission in October that year.

Kenyan courts sought to block the deployment, as activists and human rights groups shared their profound misgivings.

“Our concern is that this is not the quality policing we should be exporting to Haiti,” Irungu Houghton, the executive director for Amnesty International Kenya, said at the time.

But Mr. Ruto, who has sought to increase his standing with the U.S. government, did not waver, saying that Haiti’s worsening crisis was a call to “serve humanity.” And his foreign minister, Alfred N. Mutua, has pointed to Kenya’s history of leadership on peacekeeping missions to East Timor, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Sierra Leone and Namibia, as well as ongoing deployments in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

On Monday, in an address to the police officers leaving for Haiti, Mr. Ruto said: “You are undertaking a vital mission that transcends borders and cultures. Your presence in Haiti will bring hope and relief to communities torn apart by violence and ravaged by disorder.”

June 25, 2024, 2:05 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:05 p.m. ET

Michael Levenson

At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Matthew Miller, a State Department spokesman, said the United States condemned the violence in Kenya. “We mourn the loss of life and injuries sustained and offer our condolences to the families who lost loved ones. We urge restraint to restore order and provide space for dialogue.”

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June 25, 2024, 2:03 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 2:03 p.m. ET

Lynsey Chutel

In Nyeri, a town nearly 90 miles north of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, protesters looted several businesses. News footage from a local broadcaster, KTN News, showed people looting a large grocery store, grabbing food, toilet paper and even a mattress.

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June 25, 2024, 1:46 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 1:46 p.m. ET

Lynsey Chutel

Raila Odinga, the country's top opposition leader and the main challenger to now President Ruto in the last elections, condemned the government’s response to the protests. “The government has unleashed brute force on our country’s children, and more seems to be on the way,” he said in a statement.

June 25, 2024, 1:41 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 1:41 p.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s defense minister, Aden Duale, announced that he has deployed the Kenya Defense Forces to support police who responded to the “security emergency” caused by protests against the finance bill.

June 25, 2024, 1:32 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 1:32 p.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

A half sister of Barack Obama is among those tear-gassed during protests in Nairobi.

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Auma Obama, an older half sister of former President Barack Obama, was tear-gassed on Tuesday while being interviewed live on CNN during protests in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital. The protests were against the passage of a finance bill that raises taxes on many basic goods.

Ms. Obama was with a group of protesters carrying placards when a CNN reporter approached her.

“I am here because — look at what’s happening,” she told the interviewer. “Young Kenyans are demonstrating for their rights. They are demonstrating with flags and banners.”

Ms. Obama then began choking in a spreading cloud of tear gas lobbed by the police.

“I can’t even see anymore,” she said. “We are being tear-gassed.”

Ms. Obama grew up in Kenya and returned there as a community activist after studying and living in Germany and the United Kingdom. Her foundation in Kenya, Sauti Kuu, or Powerful Voices, serves children and young people, particularly from urban slums and rural communities.

Ms. Obama had earlier posted photos of herself at the protest on social media. As thousands marched to Parliament, police used tear gas and water cannons and opened fire. At least five people were killed and 31 people were wounded, according to several civic groups.

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June 25, 2024, 1:22 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 1:22 p.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s two biggest telecommunications companies, Safaricom and Airtel, both said an outage of undersea cables was affecting internet traffic. Their announcement came hours after users began reporting slow internet connectivity, with some social media applications barely loading.

Customer Notice On Network Outage pic.twitter.com/zgTlsawTPY

— Safaricom PLC (@SafaricomPLC) June 25, 2024

June 25, 2024, 12:14 p.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 12:14 p.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

At least five people have died from gunshot wounds and more than 30 others were wounded in clashes between protesters and police, a joint statement by Amnesty International and several prominent Kenyan civic organizations, including the Kenya Medical Association, the Law Society of Kenya and the Police Reforms Working Group Kenya.

June 25, 2024, 11:39 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:39 a.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

In a joint statement, the ambassadors of 13 Western embassies in Kenya, including the United States, said they were “shocked” by the scenes around Kenya's Parliament on Tuesday. They said they were “deeply concerned” by allegations that some protesters had been abducted by the security forces and called for “restraint on all sides.”

pic.twitter.com/RNucKmUzOG

— U.S. Embassy Nairobi (@USEmbassyKenya) June 25, 2024

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June 25, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:22 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

It’s just after 6 p.m. local time in Nairobi. Activists have been advising protesters to leave the city center. Public transportation services weren't readily available, two protesters said, so they were walking home with at least two dozen others.

Go home. While it’s still safe. The government will send goons to destroy, loot, and blame peaceful protestors. They must listen to us. Spread the word for people to start walking home in groups. We shall be back. #RejectFinanceBill2024 #ZakayoStopKillingUs #StopKillingUS pic.twitter.com/1rrVrhYaCn

— The People’s Watchman (@bonifacemwangi) June 25, 2024

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June 25, 2024, 11:21 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:21 a.m. ET

Declan Walsh

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

The street turmoil comes a day after President Biden formally designated Kenya as a major non-NATO ally, a key outcome of President Ruto’s state visit to Washington last month.

June 25, 2024, 11:18 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:18 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

The protests in Kenya have been driven by younger people.

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On Tuesday, protesters draped in the Kenyan flag and blowing whistles crowded the streets as lawmakers in Parliament quickly debated and passed amendments to a contentious finance bill that would raise taxes for millions.

Observers say that the protests have been guided by younger people who have used social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram to initiate a leaderless movement that has galvanized the nation.

“The politicians have for too long underestimated our power, energy and passion,” said Muchiri Mike, a 25-year-old content creator. “We are now asking questions and demanding answers, and they are surprised by this revolution happening at their doorsteps.”

Young Kenyans say that their movement transcends class, tribe or race, and that it is focused on helping millions of people attain economic security and social equality.

Besides organizing protests in almost three dozen counties across Kenya, young people have translated the bill into several local languages and used the artificial intelligence tool ChatGPT to simplify it. They have employed crowdsourcing to collect the contact information for lawmakers and urged constituents to call them about the bill.

They have also confronted officials at public gatherings and in houses of worship to show their displeasure, and have carried coffins to the offices of some lawmakers who support the legislation.

On Saturday night, nightclubs across Kenya played the national anthem to rally against the finance bill, and on Sunday church leaders and congregants raised their opposition to the tax bill at services.

Government officials have blamed unspecified foreign powers for stirring up the protests. And Parliament’s majority leader, Kimani Ichung’wah, dismissed the demonstrators as privileged youngsters who wield iPhones, arrive at demonstrations via Uber and then go eat at KFC.

Protesters hit back against that description. “It’s not about how we get to the protests, but why we are here in the streets,” said Anita Barasa, 19, whose TikTok videos about the demonstrations have gained a strong following. “They are trying to take attention away from our demands, but we, the cool kids, are seeing that we don’t have a bright future and want change.”

As tensions mounted over the bill in the past few days, some politicians praised the young protesters for taking a keen interest in the country’s future. At a church service on Sunday, President Ruto said he was “proud” of the demonstrating youth and promised to “have a conversation so that together we can build a great nation.”

June 25, 2024, 11:17 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:17 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

The internet watchdog group NetBlocks is reporting a major disruption to internet connectivity in Kenya, just hours after protesters marched toward Parliament. The Communications Authority of Kenya said on Monday, after days of protests, that it had “no intention whatsoever to shut down internet traffic or interfere with the quality of connectivity.”

⚠️ Confirmed: Live network data show a major disruption to internet connectivity in #Kenya; the incident comes amidst a deadly crackdown by police on #RejectFinanceBill2024 protesters a day after authorities claimed there would be no internet shutdown 📉 pic.twitter.com/Umo0NBLGBw

— NetBlocks (@netblocks) June 25, 2024

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June 25, 2024, 11:16 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:16 a.m. ET

Lynsey Chutel

Protests have spread beyond Nairobi. In Nakuru, a city 99 miles from the capital, protestors blockaded streets with burning tires, according to live rolling news coverage on local television. Young people shouted the words “reject” at the camera, a reference to the hashtag that has galvanized protesters on social media.

June 25, 2024, 11:13 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 11:13 a.m. ET

Lynsey Chutel

The Kenya Human Rights Commission, an independent body, posted a video on the platform X showing police firing their weapons as protesters marched toward them.

KHRC has witnessed police firing their guns when protesters marched along City Hall Way. KHRC warns police against shooting protesters.
To President @WilliamsRuto: the world is watching your descent into tyranny! Your regime’s actions is an assult on democracy. All those involved… pic.twitter.com/wDBqo0az5e

— KHRC (@thekhrc) June 25, 2024

June 25, 2024, 10:59 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 10:59 a.m. ET

Cassandra Vinograd

Kenya’s Red Cross said that its vehicles have been attacked and staff have been injured in the melee. “We can’t provide life-saving interventions without access and safety for our staff and volunteers,” it said in a statement.

June 25, 2024, 10:52 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 10:52 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Protesters earlier stormed Kenya’s Parliament just after the tax bill was passed, and set at least part of the main building’s entrance on fire. Protesters were draped in the Kenyan flag, blew whistles and trumpets and chanted, “Ruto must go.”

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June 25, 2024, 10:50 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 10:50 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Kenya’s independent Human Rights Commission said that police shot four protesters, killing one. That could not be confirmed.

June 25, 2024, 9:37 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 9:37 a.m. ET

Frances Robles and Abdi Latif Dahir

Frances Robles reported from New York, and Abdi Latif Dahir from Nairobi, Kenya.

Kenyan-led forces arrive in Haiti after months of gang violence.

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Foreign law enforcement officers began arriving in Haiti on Tuesday, more than a year and a half after the prime minister there issued a plea to other countries for help to stop the rampant gang violence that has upended the Caribbean nation.

Dozens of armed men in military fatigues filed out of a Kenya Airways plane at Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture International Airport in the capital, Port-au-Prince.

The officers are part of a deployment of officers from eight nations who will fan out across the capital to try to wrest control of the city from dozens of armed groups that have attacked police stations, freed prisoners and killed with impunity.

The arrival of an initial group of 400 Kenyan officers came on a day of intense and deadly violence in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, as the police clashed with demonstrators protesting a tax bill that would increase taxes on many basics.

Some security experts say the Kenyan officers face a significant challenge supporting Haiti’s police and facing off with well-armed and highly organized Haitian gangs that have seized control of much of Port-au-Prince and had vowed to fight the Kenyans.

Kenya’s police also have a checkered history back home, accused by human rights groups of killing and abusing civilians, raising concerns about their actions in Haiti.

Since Haiti’s appeal for international help went out in October 2022, more than 7,500 people have been killed by violence — over 2,500 people so far this year alone, the United Nations said.

With a weakened national government and the Haitian presidency vacant, dozens of gangs have put up roadblocks, kidnapped and killed civilians, and attacked entire neighborhoods. About 200,000 people were forced from their homes between March and May, according to the United Nations.

The Kenyans in Haiti are the first to deploy of an expected 2,500-member force, an effort largely organized by the Biden administration.

“You are undertaking a vital mission that transcends borders and cultures,” President William Ruto of Kenya told the officers on Monday before they left.

President Biden on Tuesday welcomed the deployment.

“Haiti’s future depends on the return to democratic governance,’’ he said in a statement. “While these goals may not be accomplished overnight, this mission provides the best chance of achieving them.”

The officers are expected to tackle a long list of priorities, including retaking control of the country’s main port and freeing major highways from criminal groups that demand money from drivers.

“Gang checkpoints on these roads are also a major source of their income,” said William O’Neill, the U.N.’s human rights expert on Haiti.

“While much delayed, the arrival of the Kenyans comes at a good time,” particularly since a new police chief and prime minister have been named in recent weeks, he said.

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The United States has provided many of the mission’s supplies, rushing to find armored vehicles and other equipment.

“The Kenyans do not want to be one of these missions that show up on the ground and, for a month, they never leave their base,” Dennis B. Hankins, the U.S. ambassador to Haiti, said in an interview.

The Kenyans, he added, will need to “support” the Haitian police, but not replace them, so that when the mission ends their departure doesn’t create “a security vacuum.”

Officially called the Multinational Security Support Mission, the deployment is expected to last at least a year, according to the U.S. government. Sanctioned by the U.N. and mostly financed by the United States, its goal is to support the Haitian police and establish enough stability so the transitional government can set up elections to choose a new president, as well as members of Parliament.

The U.S. military has flown more than 90 flights into Haiti ahead of the mission, carrying more than 2,600 tons of supplies. Civilian contractors have been building sleeping quarters for the Kenyan officers at the Port-au-Prince airport.

In May, Haitian government officials began clearing the airport perimeter of hundreds of houses, which had made it easier for gangs to hide and fire at aircraft, forcing the airfield to close. The airport has reopened to commercial flights.

The gangs, the ambassador added, did not fight back while preparations at the airport were made, a sign that perhaps they may not be willing to engage in direct combat with specialized forces, he said.

“As soon as we got the airport open and functional and we started seeing military flights, that had a real significant psychological impact on the population,” Mr. Hankins said.

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Many experts say that beyond security Haiti needs a comprehensive plan to address the root causes of its governance problems.

After Prime Minister Ariel Henry was forced to resign in late April, it took several weeks for political parties to agree on who would serve on a new transitional presidential council.

It was a full month before a replacement for Mr. Henry took office.

Garry Conille, a former U.N. official, accepted the post in late May.

During a news conference on Tuesday, where he was joined by Kenya’s foreign minister, Monica Juma, Mr. Conille directed comments to gang leaders who have wreaked havoc on Haiti.

“You are also tired of this situation, even when it is you who created it,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

So far, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Benin, Chad, Jamaica and Kenya have officially offered personnel for the mission.

But the mission has not received much financial commitment.

While Kenyan officials estimate the cost will run up to $600 million, a U.N. fund to pay for it has only $21 million. The United States has pledged more than $300 million to finance the mission.

The United States, Canada and France — Haiti’s biggest benefactors and allies — were unwilling to send troops of their own to Haiti.

Kenya was the first nation to publicly offer to do so. Many experts believed the mission would be more welcomed if was led by an African nation.

Experts say that Mr. Ruto, who won the presidency in 2022 after a closely contested election, was using the deployment to further boost his profile on the global stage.

The deployment comes even as Mr. Ruto faces widespread protests nationwide against a finance bill that critics say will increase the already high cost of living.

On Tuesday, the police fired tear gas and shots were heard as thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets around Kenya’s Parliament in Nairobi. Human rights advocates said that at least five people were killed and over 30 others wounded.

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At a police camp in Nairobi, officers have undergone physical and weapons training and received new helmets and body armor, according to interviews with officers who spoke on the condition of anonymity, because they were not authorized to speak publicly to reporters.

They have also taken intensive French and Creole courses.

Beyond protecting key infrastructure, the officers at some point will be expected to secure the presidential palace, which remains in shambles after a 2010 earthquake but continues to be a symbolic place of power in Haiti.

But the contingent of 400 that arrived Tuesday is just a small step toward a large operation that will require many more people and resources to be effective, said Gédéon Jean, the executive director of the Center for Analysis and Research in Human Rights, a Haitian organization that was forced to suspend its operations because of rising violence.

“So much remains to be done,” Mr. Jean said.

The initial group is likely to “play it safe” at the start, but even as more officers arrive from other countries, their task will be daunting, particularly since they have not worked together before, do not speak the same languages or have a shared “operational framework,” said Sophie Rutenbar, a visiting scholar at the New York University Center on International Cooperation who has worked in Haiti.

“The early deployment of this force is going to be very vulnerable,” Ms. Rutenbar said.

Eugene Chen, a former U.N. official who follows Haiti closely, said the international mission seemed to emerge out of a desperation to do something. Without finding ways to support Haiti’s political process, the mission could exacerbate the violence, Mr. Chen said.

“It’s not clear,” Mr. Chen added, “that this is the right answer.”

Andre Paultre contributed reporting from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and David C. Adams from Miami.

June 25, 2024, 4:32 a.m. ET

June 25, 2024, 4:32 a.m. ET

Abdi Latif Dahir

Reporting from Nairobi, Kenya

Despite days of protests, Kenyan lawmakers pass contentious tax increases.

Video

Kenyan President Vows to Prevent Violence ‘At Whatever Cost’ (32)

Kenya’s lawmakers passed a contentious finance bill on Tuesday even as thousands of demonstrators marched toward Parliament in the capital, Nairobi, hoping to persuade the government to scrap the tax increases that they say will make life onerous for millions of people.

The police used tear gas in an attempt to keep the protesters away from the Parliament building, and the sound of live fire rang out. Two wounded people were seen lying on the ground.

The debate over the bill has shaken Kenya, an East African economic powerhouse of 54 million people that has long been an anchor of stability in a deeply tumultuous region. Protesters have taken to the streets in cities around the country for days. As thousands protested over the tax increases across the country last week, at least one person was killed and 200 others were injured, according to Amnesty International.

On Tuesday, CNN aired footage of the half-sister of former U.S. President Barack Obama, Auma Obama, being tear-gassed as she was interviewed about her opposition to the bill.

The contentious bill was introduced by the government of President William Ruto in May to raise revenue and limit borrowing in an economy facing a heavy debt burden. But Kenyans have widely criticized the legislation, saying it adds punitive new taxes and raises others on a wide range of goods and services that would escalate living costs.

The president now has two weeks to sign the legislation into law or send it back to Parliament for further amendments.

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Before Tuesday’s demonstration, several activists who are prominent critics of the bill were abducted, according to the Law Society of Kenya. The abductors’ identities were not publicly known, but some were believed to be intelligence officers, said the Law Society’s president, Faith Odhiambo. Ms. Odhiambo later said that some of those abducted had been released.

Rights groups have long accused successive Kenyan governments of kidnapping critics and torturing them. The police did not respond to a request for comment on Tuesday, but Kenya’s chief justice, Martha Koome, condemned the abductions, calling them “a direct assault” on the rule of law.

Last week, as demonstrators packed the streets, lawmakers scrapped some taxes, including on bread, cooking oil and cars. But protesters have denounced other taxes, including on imported goods, and have urged the government to abandon the draft legislation.

“The audacity to raise taxes during these hard economic times, not listen to our concerns and then mistreat us shows how tone deaf the government is and how they don’t care about us,” said Kasmuel McOure, 26, a musician who was participating in Tuesday’s protests.

Detractors of the bill have pointed to corruption and mismanagement of funds, and faulted the opulent lifestyle and extravagant spending that they say have characterized the administration of Mr. Ruto, who has been in office since 2022. Kenyans have also faulted Mr. Ruto for reneging on campaign promises to champion the welfare of the poor and the interests of the striving Kenyans he called “hustlers.”

Opposition members of Kenya’s Parliament had rejected the draft legislation in its totality.

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As the protests got underway on Tuesday, activists and critics said the early-morning abductions of some activists showed that the government was not ready to engage in a sincere dialogue.

Several protesters, including Mr. McOure, said they had received threats or intimidating phone calls in the days and hours leading up to the protests and were fearing for their lives, although they said they would not be silenced.

“No matter what they do, we will remain unbowed in our demand that we reject the finance bill,” Mr. McOure said.

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Kenyan President Vows to Prevent Violence ‘At Whatever Cost’ (2024)

FAQs

Why are they protesting in Kenya? ›

A wave of protests is sweeping through Kenya. Triggered by controversial proposed tax hikes, the movement has evolved into a wider campaign for more accountable governance in the country. Some demand the entire government's resignation.

Can a president serve three terms in Kenya? ›

Term of office

A president is eligible for two consecutive terms of five years each, starting from the date the president is sworn in.

What is the main reason for post election violence in Kenya? ›

The post-election demonstration and violence stemmed from a mixture of motives. Some included: Voting in elections has widely been along ethnic lines in many Kenyan communities. Widespread perception that the count of the presidential election was modified in favour of Kibaki.

What is gen Z in Kenya? ›

The youth, popularly referred to as Gen Z (Generation Z), were born between 1997 and 2012. In Kenya's political set up and infrastructure, this category of Kenyans is well educated, informed and knowledgeable in matters economy and governance.

How much is a President paid in Kenya? ›

Member states and observers of the United Nations, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the European Union
StateHead of state annual salary
Japan3,075,316 USD (Emperor) royal grant
Jordan847,457 USD (King)
Kazakhstan20,400 USD (President)
Kenya192,200 USD (President)
157 more rows

What happens if a President dies in Kenya? ›

SECTIONS 1–4. In case of the removal of the President from office or of his death or resignation, the Vice President shall be- come President.

Which President served the longest term in Kenya? ›

Daniel Toroitich arap Moi CGH (/ˈmoʊiː/ MOH-ee; 2 September 1924 – 4 February 2020) was a Kenyan politician who served as the second president of Kenya from 1978 to 2002. He is the country's longest-serving president to date.

What is the issue in Kenya? ›

There is a large gap between the rich and poor, with approximately 70 percent of Kenyan families chronically vulnerable due to poor nutrition, food insecurity, and preventable diseases. Many Kenyans suffer from economic inequality while a minority elite continues to exploit their labor, resources, and opportunities.

What caused the state of emergency in Kenya? ›

A State of Emergency was declared in October 1952 after the Mau Mau murdered a loyal Kikuyu chief. Despite this, it took some time for an effective response to be formulated. The Kenyan police were few in number and unused to operating in the tribal areas.

What is going on in Kenya? ›

Kenya police clash with protesters as tax bill unrest continues. Protesters condemn police brutality amid deadly demonstrations over withdrawn tax bill, call for president to resign.

Why did Indians end up in Kenya? ›

The Indian diaspora in Southeast Africa consists of approximately 3 million people of Indian origin. Some of this diaspora in Southeast Africa arrived in the 19th century from British India as indentured labourers, many of them to work on the Kenya–Uganda railway. Others had arrived earlier by sea as traders.

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