Kenyan Ruto ready to “converse” with young demonstrators, says presidency

Kenyan Ruto ready to “converse” with young demonstrators, says presidency

NAIROBI: Kenyan President William Ruto has said he is ready to start “a conversation” with thousands of young protesters who have staged nationwide demonstrations this week to oppose proposed tax increases, he said on Sunday a presidential official.

Organized on social media and led largely by Generation Z Kenyans who live-streamed the protests, the protests have taken the government by surprise as discontent mounts over Ruto’s economic policies.

“Our youth have come forward to engage in the affairs of their country. They have done their democratic duty, to stand up and be recognized. I am proud of them,” Ruto said in quotes shared by the spokesperson of the presidency Hussein Mohamed on X., formerly Twitter.

“We will have a conversation with you to identify your problems and work together as a nation,” he added, making his first public comments on the protests.

There was no immediate response from protesters, who called for a national strike on June 25.

Two people died and dozens more were injured during Thursday’s protests in the capital Nairobi, according to human rights activists.

The protests were mostly peaceful, but police fired tear gas and water cannons throughout the day to disperse demonstrators near Parliament.

According to a Kenyan Human Rights Commission official, Evans Kiratu, 21, was “hit by a tear gas canister” during the protests and died in hospital.

On Friday, a police watchdog said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot dead by police officers in Nairobi after the protests.

The Independent Police Oversight Authority (IPOA) said on Thursday it had “documented the death…allegedly due to police shooting”.

Several organizations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said at least 200 people were injured in Nairobi during Thursday’s protests, which saw thousands take to the streets across the country.

A cash-strapped government

Ruto’s administration has defended the proposed levies as necessary to fill its coffers and reduce its dependence on external borrowing.

Following smaller protests in Nairobi on Tuesday, the cash-strapped government agreed to cancel several tax hikes planned in a new bill.

But Ruto’s administration still intends to raise some taxes, defending the proposed levies as necessary to fill its coffers and reduce its dependence on external borrowing.

Tax hikes will put further pressure on Kenyans, many of whom are already struggling to survive as the cost of living rises and well-paying jobs remain out of reach for young people.

“Tuesday June 25: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A National Strike,” read a poster widely shared online, adding that “Generation Z is giving all hard-working Kenyans a day off. Parents keep their children at home in solidarity.”

After the government agreed to remove taxes on the purchase of bread, car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, the Treasury warned of a deficit of 200 billion shillings (1.5 billion dollars).

The government is now targeting higher fuel prices and export taxes to fill the gap left by the changes, a move that critics say will make life more expensive in a country struggling with high inflation.

Kenya is one of East Africa’s fastest growing economies, but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty.