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Public Dissent Grows as Kenya's Finance Bill 2024 Becomes Law

Demonstrators protest tax hike bill in Kenya
Demonstrators protest tax hike bill in Kenya

By: ATN News

NAIROBI, Kenya — The Kenyan Parliament passed the Finance Bill 2024 on Tuesday, solidifying measures intended to increase revenue and address the nation's mounting debt. Despite public backlash and protests, the bill, presented by President William Ruto's administration in May, has now become law. Initially proposing taxes on essentials such as bread, cooking oil, and cars, the bill faced significant opposition that led lawmakers to scale back some of the levies. However, these concessions failed to quell public discontent.

The new legislation imposes higher taxes on imported goods, including basic items like eggs from neighboring East African countries, as well as on phone and internet usage, bank transfer fees, and digitally operated businesses. Critics argue that these measures will exacerbate the cost of living for Kenyans already struggling with economic challenges. The opposition to the bill reflects a broader trend across Africa, where young people are disproportionately affected by rising unemployment and high prices, driven in part by the COVID-19 pandemic and global trade disruptions following Russia's invasion of Ukraine. In Kenya, the situation is further aggravated by a substantial national debt burden.

President Ruto, who campaigned on promises to improve living standards for the impoverished, now faces mounting anger and resentment. His government has previously increased health insurance and electricity costs, which, combined with natural disasters, sparked demonstrations last year. Human rights groups reported that these protests resulted in 57 deaths.

“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. The Finance Bill has a ‘last straw’ quality about it.”

The luxury lifestyle of President Ruto has become a focal point of dissent. Critics draw sharp contrasts between his opulent living and the impoverished conditions of many Kenyans who will bear the brunt of the new tax hikes. This disparity has fueled public dissatisfaction, highlighting a growing divide between the country's leadership and its citizens.

As the Finance Bill 2024 becomes law, the Ruto administration faces the challenge of addressing the economic needs of a population grappling with high living costs and limited opportunities. The government's ability to balance revenue generation with social equity will be crucial in navigating the turbulent waters of public opinion and economic recovery.


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