Let us reason together, Kenya belongs to us all


Protesters engage the police during the Anti-Finance Bill demonstrations in Nairobi on June 20, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

June 25, 2024. The date will remain etched in Kenyans’ collective memory. The foundations of the country have been shaken to the core, and the historical trajectory will never be the same again.

The sacred social and legal fabric that holds the country together has been torn apart in a manner never seen before. Precious lives have been lost, limbs maimed, and bucket-loads of blood spilled.

The hallowed institution of Parliament was set on fire and breached in a manner never seen before in independent Kenya. Furious protesters scaled the perimeter wall and breached the tight security cordon to gain access, run over and denigrate the country’s Legislature.

Members of Parliament were forced to cut short debate and scamper for safety. It is the first time that such a blatant violation of the second arm of government has happened. A section of the historical City Hall was set on fire. 

There was a general insurrection across the country, punctuated by looting and destruction of both public and private property.

Our country is on the brink. It will require Solomonic wisdom, patience of a dove, and the humility of a lamb to restore peace and normalcy. 

Pull back from the brink

It is time for the country to take stock, and pull back from the brink. The solution must start by identifying the cause of the fire, and not merely dousing the flames.

The groundswell of anger that galvanised the country’s youths against the ruling class should inform meaningful change to our governance and political structures.

The deaths and bloodshed of young protesters must not be in vain, but should be the ink that writes a new covenant between the citizens and the government. It is not hard to fathom the grievance so eloquently expressed by the largely youthful protesters, mainly comprising the Gen Z generation.

In a country so infamously known for its division along ethnic lines, it is notable that the protests were tribeless, a fact acknowledged by leaders of all political persuasions.

Thousands, probably millions of Kenyans from all walks of life turned out to exercise their democratic right to picket and petition their leaders. Even those barely in their teenage years were not left behind. It is even more noteworthy that the protests did not have a defined leadership, only a shared grievance.

The unique organisational structure of the protests has not been witnessed before in this country.

The unusual nature of the mass demonstrations implies that the path back to normalcy must also be thoroughly thought out. The root cause of the anger is economic pain visited on Kenyans in the past two years, wanton theft, corruption and plunder by the political class.

The youths found their expression through the “Reject Finance Bill” demonstrations, as a way of showing their frustrations over the high cost of living. 

Fix the economy 

President William Ruto has strongly pushed back against accusations of excessive taxation by arguing that his government took over a heavily indebted government two years ago.

He has maintained that he needed to fix the economy, which was on the brink of a public debt default when he entered office. Kenyans saw fuel and food subsidies taken away in the first few days of the Ruto administration, followed by a raft of taxes in the 2023 Finance Bill. 

In addition to budget-support taxes, the government imposed a highly controversial housing levy intended to provide affordable houses for low-income earners.

When the Finance Bill 2024 proposed yet another bundle of new taxes, the youths coalesced online and decided to express their anger through peaceful protests. Unfortunately the demonstrations that had remained largely peaceful turned violent, culminating in the unprecedented invasion of Parliament and other key State installations.

What next, for our fragile country? The options are indeed not many. There can be no more bloodshed, dialogue is the only way out of the impasse. All political, religious, civil society and youth leaders must come together and chart the way forward to our common destiny.

Leaders of all extractions must call for calm, and de-escalate the tensions across the country. The deployment of the military, as was announced late Tuesday evening, must be done with extreme caution.

The army is ill-trained and ill-equipped to deal with civilians, and they are best held back in the barracks. As for President Ruto, the current crisis offers a chance to exercise statesmanship and magnanimity. The stakes could not be higher.