Kenyan police open fire as tax protesters breach parliament gates

Kenyan police open fire as tax protesters breach parliament gates
Protesters gained entry into Parliament on June 25, 2024 after MPs passed the controversial Finance Bill, forcing police to open fire killing at least 4 protesters. Many others were injured.

Nairobi, Kenya | By Michael Wandati | On Tuesday, chaos engulfed the Kenyan Parliament as protesters stormed the building, setting sections ablaze and prompting police to open fire, resulting in at least five fatalities.

The violence erupted after the controversial Finance Bill 2024, proposing tax hikes, was passed, igniting widespread outrage. Amidst the turmoil, police struggled to control the rioters with live ammunition and tear gas, leaving a number of people killed and dozens more injured.

Protesters surged past police, attempting to breach and occupy parliament compound, resulting in scenes of chaos and violence.

“People have been shot, it is very bad,” one protester yelled, fleeing from a thick cloud of tear gas.

Video footage captured inside the building depicts overturned and smashed furniture, while external shots show portions of the parliament building engulfed in flames amid clouds of tear gas, with armed police officers in the vicinity.

In a Tuesday evening address, President William Ruto declared that all necessary measures would be taken to “thwart any attempts by dangerous criminals to undermine the security and stability of our country.” To address the escalating protests, he has deployed the military.

The demonstrations, sparked by a finance bill proposing several tax increases, have intensified over the past few days. The situation escalated on Tuesday when MPs passed an amended version of the bill.

Protesters stormed the parliament, causing extensive damage to the interior and setting parts of the building on fire. The ceremonial mace, representing the authority of the legislature, was stolen.

Police responded with live ammunition, resulting in the deaths of at least five people, as reported by the Kenya Medical Association.

President Ruto pledged a tough response to what he called the “violence and anarchy”.

“It is not in order or even conceivable that criminals pretending to be peaceful protesters can reign terror against the people, their elected representatives and the institutions established under our constitution and expect to go scot-free,” Mr Ruto added.

According to a paramedic at the scene who spoke to the Kampala Dispatch, said at least 10 protesters have been confirmed dead.

Another paramedic, Richard Ngumo, told us that more than 50 people had been wounded by gunfire. He was lifting two injured protesters into an ambulance outside parliament.

Visuals shared on X (formerly known as Twitter) depict protesters lying in pools of blood while clouds of teargas fill the streets near the parliament.

The number of casualties is expected to increase as confrontations between police and protesters continue both inside and outside the parliament building.

Police beat a protester inside the Kenyan parliament compound during a protest over proposed tax hikes in a finance bill in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, Tuesday, June 25, 2024.

Ambulances are actively transporting the injured from the scene.

Approximately 45 individuals have been taken to Kenyatta National Hospital, Nairobi’s largest referral hospital.

“Seven being female with different kinds of injuries… We have had no mortalities from the demonstration so far,” the paramedic said.

“We’re coming for every politician,” protesters could be heard shouting as some lawmakers were forced to flee parliament through a tunnel.

“We want to shut down parliament and every MP should go down and resign,” said protestor Davis Tafari, who was trying to enter parliament. “We will have a new government.” The protests started a week ago. Last Thursday, one person was killed and at least 200 people injured in demonstrations across the country, according to human rights groups and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (Ipoa), a police watchdog.

KTN TV, a privately owned station, has reported receiving threats from the government to cease operations due to its coverage of the ongoing protests.

Despite the shutdown order, the 24-hour news channel has vowed to uphold its commitment to journalism and continue broadcasting.

Kenyan police open fire as tax protesters breach parliament gates
Protesters run to take cover outside the Kenyan Parliament after storming the building during a nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi, Kenya, on June 25, 2024.

“In the event the authorities make good their threats to shut us down, we shall continue bringing you the unfolding events on our social media platforms,” the station’s newscaster says.

Kenyans have taken to the streets for weeks in protest against a finance bill proposing tax hikes, citing the already high cost of living as a burden.

The government’s stance is to increase revenue to fund services while managing debt levels.

Originally, the bill included a 16% sales tax on bread and a 25% duty on cooking oil, sparking public outcry.

A police officer stands near a burning vehicle during a demonstration against Kenya’s proposed finance bill in Nairobi, Kenya, on June 25, 2024.

In response, the government revised some measures, but the amended bill, passed on Tuesday 25, June 2024, still includes tax increases.

An eco-levy remains, affecting imported items like sanitary pads and babies’ nappies, but exempting locally produced goods.

President William Ruto has acknowledged the protests and pledged talks to address youth concerns, though tensions persist.

Kenya’s Finance Bill: Tax controversy amid rising costs

The proposed finance bill in Kenya has stirred controversy with its introduction of new taxes, including an eco-levy impacting goods like menstrual products and diapers. While a plan to tax bread was retracted due to public backlash, concerns over the escalating cost of living persist among Kenyans.

Parliament has granted approval to the finance bill, advancing it to a third reading by lawmakers. The legislation now awaits presidential endorsement, with the possibility of being returned to parliament for revisions if objections arise.

President William Ruto, elected nearly two years ago with promises to support Kenya’s working class, finds himself balancing the demands of lenders like the International Monetary Fund, which advocate deficit reduction for increased funding, against the struggles faced by the population.

The bill aims to generate an extra $2.7 billion in taxes to alleviate the country’s substantial debt burden, with interest payments alone consuming 37% of annual revenue.

Former president Uhuru Kenyatta urged dialogue, saying Kenya’s leaders should “know that power and authority is donated to them by the people.”

Opposition leader Raila Odinga has demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of the finance bill, advocating for dialogue amidst escalating tensions. Expressing concern over police actions against protesters, he condemned the violence and urged for a resolution to the taxation policies causing unrest.

Two of Africa’s leading anti-establishment figures, Ugandan opposition leader Bobi Wine and radical South African politician Julius Malema, have both expressed their support for the protesters.

While the government has offered concessions by scrapping proposed taxes on essential items like bread, cooking oil, and financial transactions, dissatisfaction among protesters persists.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission has condemned police actions, sharing footage of gunfire and pledging accountability.

Also Read: Uganda refutes claims it provided a firefighting truck during Kenyan protests

In a direct message to Deputy President Ruto, the commission warned against authoritarianism, emphasizing global scrutiny of Kenya’s situation.

“Your regime’s actions is an assault on democracy. All those involved in the shooting – actively or passively – must be held to account.”

The president had earlier said he wanted to have dialogue with the protesters and was “proud” of them. But security forces have been accused of abducting prominent Kenyans, especially those with large social media followings.

Nationwide unrest as anti-tax protests escalate

Tensions flare across Kenya as protests against taxation measures intensify, prompting police actions including tear gas deployment in Eldoret, Deputy President Ruto’s hometown. In Mombasa, Kisumu, and Garissa, clashes and demonstrations unfold, with police intervention disrupting traffic routes.

Kenyan police open fire as tax protesters breach parliament gates
People attend a demonstration against Kenya’s proposed finance bill 2024/2025 in Nairobi, Kenya, June 25, 2024.

In Nairobi, chants of “Ruto must go” resonate while crowds voice dissent through music and flag-waving before violence erupts. Amidst escalating clashes, Kenya’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority Chair Anne Makori calls for police restraint, highlighting casualties on both sides.

Expressing concern, ambassadors and high commissioners from various nations, including Britain, the United States, and Germany, issue a joint statement condemning recent violence and urging all parties to seek peaceful resolutions to the unrest.