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A people’s revolt is in the offing

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Members of the public demonstrate in Nairobi on June 6, 2024 against the proposed Finance Bill, 2024.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

Kenya is ripe for revolution. That 1964 assertion from Chinese Premier Zhou en-Lai may have been rather premature, but President William Ruto’s regime is seemingly determined to make the prediction ring true in 2024.

If what we are witnessing in the confluence of different interest groups uniting against the latest set of oppressive taxes is anything to go by, citizens of all shades are not only fed up with an unfeeling, arrogant, oppressive ruling class, but are determined to confront it head-on.

The growing resistance against the latest taxation proposals might well shake the foundations of a State that doesn’t listen to the people or care about their concerns.

The arrogance of power that is epitomised by a regime insisting it can extract water out of stone is set to be severely tested by a loud campaign targeting members of Parliament in whose hands lie the fate of the punitive tax proposals.

Now, it might sound like a stuck record yet again, predicting imminent revolution.

Extremely servile lot

Ever since the Kanu kleptocracy, the oppressive one-party regime, and the criminally unequal society established at independence, Kenya has ticked all the boxes towards a citizen’s revolt. But the people of Kenya have been an extremely servile lot, preferring a false sense of peace and stability to any concrete actions that might rock the boat.

We have also been too trusting in political leaders to lead the way in challenging government excesses, forgetting that ultimately, they are all sides of the same coin whether in opposition or in the ruling party.

It has also been the accepted truism that without the towering presence of Raila Odinga to lead the charge, all efforts to mass action challenging government excesses are dead in the water. The veteran opposition chief is now effectively neutralised because he needs the Kenya government’s support in his pursuit of the African Union Commission chairmanship.

No doubt the vacuum is sorely felt because there is nobody in Mr Odinga’s ODM party or the wider Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition with the capacity to effectively mobilise the masses. Those holding the fort in Mr Odinga’s absence can hardly gather a crowd of 10.

And that is the beauty of it all. Because what is brewing is not orchestrated by the opposition leadership, but a spontaneous combustion of long pent-up frustrations among ordinary citizens.

New taxes

The movement assembling to resist imposition of new taxes seems to be growing organically with no centralised organisation or command structure. It has no office or recognised leaders, but seems to be simply emerging from a growing number of online campaigns operating independently of each other.

Yes, President Ruto has, with policies that breed despair, hopelessness and anger, managed to unite disparate groupings against himself.

The anger is felt across constituencies that ordinarily would never see eye to eye. The so-called hustlers—the mama mboga, boda boda operators and other underclasses who were conned that this would be their government—have found common cause with the captains of industry.

The pain of ruinous policies that want to tax everyone out existence is being felt across the usual fault lines of class, ethnic groupings and political persuasion.

This is coming at a time when the ruling Kenya Kwanza is in the throes of self-implosion as Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua copies the Ruto playbook and revolts against the President.

Of course the jury is still open on whether social media activism will translate to open defiance on the streets. It is easy to express anger on X and TikTok, but quite another to come out in numbers braving police truncheons, tear gas, water cannons and bullets.

Free pass

If the “Occupy Parliament” campaign turns out stillborn, it will be a free pass for the government to implement unjust taxation measures. The government will continue to enforce poverty on the populace, while the parasitic classes wallow in public largesse. They will continue increasing the price of bread, fuel, cooking oil, maize flour and petrol, while they enjoy all the luxuries at taxpayer expense.

The President and a few others in his immediate circle will retain access to “confidential” expenses running into billions, basically the freedom to use public funds for whatever they may wish without being subject to audit, oversight or any justification. Those are the taxes we pay, which our leaders are allowed to convert to personal use under a most grotesque form of legalised theft.

That is why Kenyans must say a very big and emphatic No!

[email protected], @MachariaGaitho