Seek dialogue to avert deadly street protests

The country could be headed for turmoil as protests by youth against heavy taxation escalate. Thousands have demonstrated in the streets of Nairobi, Mombasa and other towns across the nation calling for a rejection of the entire Finance Bill, 2024.

Taxes must be levied to enable the government to pay for education and other services and meet its national debt and other financial commitments. However, immense suffering is driving hordes of desperate young people to protest against the government.

During the public participation on the taxes, the people called for the rejection of the Finance Bill but the MPs went ahead and voted for it.

It is, therefore, laudable that Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has explained well in advance that the protests planned for tomorrow will be allowed if peaceful. He is stating the obvious legal position, but on the ground things could be different again. The police chiefs and their juniors are known to use brute force against even peaceful protesters.

A situation that Kenyans are only too familiar with seems to be building up again. It does not augur well for the country for the authorities to ignore the people’s genuine pleas. Already, several deaths and injuries to thousands of demonstrators have been reported.

According to Article 37 of the Constitution, “every person has the right, peaceably and unarmed, to assemble, to demonstrate, to picket, and to present petitions to public authorities”.

However, what we have witnessed in the past few days is blatant police brutality. The officers have pounced on and arrested peaceful demonstrators. The freedoms of movement, association and expression are cardinal rights the police must respect.

These developments are alarming and this is why church leaders have called for dialogue. And the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged the government to listen to the people’s grievances.

We could not agree more with the clerics that though the country cannot run without taxes, excessive levies are unacceptable. The security agents must also desist from using excessive force against peaceful protesters.

There is a need for genuine dialogue and negotiations to break the stalemate and forge unity for national stability and prosperity.