• Friday, July 19, 2024
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Kenya’s Ruto bows to pressure, says he is ready for conversation with protesters


Kenya’s President William Ruto has expressed his willingness to engage in dialogue with thousands of young protesters who have been demonstrating nationwide against proposed tax increases.

The protests, which began on Tuesday, were sparked by accusations that Ruto’s administration has reneged on its promises to reduce taxes and lower the cost of living.

Organised primarily on social media and driven by young Kenyans who livestreamed the events, the demonstrations took the government by surprise as dissatisfaction with Ruto’s economic policies grew.

In his first public comments on the protests on Sunday, Ruto said, “I am very proud of our young people… they have stepped forward peacefully and I want to tell them we are going to engage them.”

“We are going to have a conversation so that together we can build a greater nation,” he added during a church service in the Rift Valley town of Nyahururu.

However, protest leader Hanifa Adan emphasised the need for a public response from Ruto.

“If he truly wants dialogue, he must respond publically to our demand letter,” Adan said.

While the demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, five groups, including Amnesty International, reported on Thursday that at least 105 protesters had been arrested amid a violent crackdown by riot police using tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission reported that a 21-year-old protester, Evans Kiratu, died in hospital after being hit by a tear gas canister. Also, a police watchdog is investigating claims that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations.

Following smaller-scale demonstrations in Nairobi on Tuesday, the government, facing financial constraints, agreed to roll back several proposed tax increases. The administration scrapped levies on bread purchases, car ownership, and financial and mobile services, which created a projected 200-billion-shilling ($1.5bn) shortfall.

The government has now proposed raising fuel prices and export taxes, a move critics argue will further burden citizens already struggling with high inflation.

Kenya’s debt servicing costs have soared due to the declining value of the local currency over the past two years, leaving Ruto with limited options.

The tax hikes are expected to increase the financial strain on Kenyans, many of whom are grappling with a high cost of living and limited job opportunities for young people.

Ruto reassured protesters on Sunday that the annual budget includes measures to address youth unemployment and improve access to higher education.