Anti-Finance Bill protests
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How our children inspired us to join anti-Finance Bill protests

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Linda Makosinde, 40, a mother of two, holds a placard during the anti-Finance Bill protests.

Photo credit: Louis Ngari | Nation Media Group

When the first teargas was fired in Nairobi streets at 9.52am on Tuesday, there was a new group of protestors that scampered for safety.

For weeks, the riots in Kenya had been orchestrated by mainly GenZs, a group born between 1997 and 2012, but by this week, the controversial Finance Bill 2024 had triggered widespread dissatisfaction, and parents who had never thought they would join anti-government protests just did.

At first, they thought it was a bad idea for their children to take to the front line of the battle against high taxes. But by Tuesday, together with their children, on the streets, they chanted ‘Ruto must go’.

On Nairobi’s Moi Avenue, the Nation Lifestyle team bumped into a 56-year-old grey-bearded man who introduced himself as Pablo.

He was among older protestors, albeit a handful, who accompanied their children on the streets.

“I am a parent of two Gen Z boys aged 17 and 18. My second name is not important at this point because, just like you and everyone else, we are Kenyans fighting for the soul of this nation,” he starts off.

“Last week, Gen Zs taught us something very important as parents and also Gen X [a generation that was born in the late 60s to the 80s]. We can no longer sit at home and watch President William Ruto’s regime destroy their future. I am on the streets today with my two sons to help them liberate this country,” he said.

Besides the Finance Bill, the parents said they are rioting over the tough economic times, opulence and wastage displayed by politicians, as some MPs accumulate wealth and marginalise ordinary people, and slowing job growth, meaning that their children are graduates but still living at home.

Pablo says the younger generation has achieved things that many of the older folks who have been complaining about poor leadership have failed to do because they are fearless.

“These young people who chose to face President Ruto’s regime with such bravery, boldness, and fearlessness have inspired parents like me to show up in solidarity,” he said.

He faults the Moi era when dissidents were locked in the Nyayo House chambers, for contributing to older Kenyans’ timidity.

“Have you ever heard of Nyayo torture chambers? During former President Daniel Moi's autocratic regime, the police from the special branch used Nyayo House to torture and kill Kenyans advocating for democracy. The 24, 25, and 26 floors of Nyayo House were interrogation rooms, while the basement contained “dark, dingy, and often waterlogged cells,” he said.

Fear is Gone: Why parents chose to join their Gen Zs in tax protests

One GenZ protestor, Zaha Indimuli, 23, who had expressed her disappointment with older Kenyans in a past Nation Lifestyle interview, said, “our parents sit quiet year-in-year-out as bad leaders germinate and grow in stature and power. I’m 23 and I know this for a fact, the older generation has a fear that makes them not know their power which is why they are silent as Kenyans suffer. It’s upon us Gen Zs to build a new generation of people that can call out bad governance, show up and not be scared.”

Pablo agrees, saying so many older Kenyans are scarred by terror inflicted and continuously passed on by past regimes.

“We have trauma associated with state terror from colonial rule, and through the Kenyatta and Moi regimes. We have institutionalised state terror, intimidation, and corruption. Yet this legacy of institutionalised terror and corruption affects everyone: From the way we think and act on routine issues of daily life to the expectations of “immediate salvation” from the State that had styled itself—and succeeded in internalising—the notion that it was mama na baba (father and mother) on every issue,” he said.

According to psychologists, trauma can affect one’s beliefs about the future through loss of hope, limited expectations about life, fear that life will end abruptly or early, or anticipation that normal life events will not occur.

“We are here now [on the street protest] because our children have taught us how to overcome that fear; the fear that our generation has lived with for so long,” Pablo said, “besides that, we must also protect them.”

He added that their children were the only reason that the Finance Bill, which was to introduce higher taxes, became a key topic globally, fuelled by a social-media choreographed protest. But just like many parents, he worries.

“Of course, it scares me just as it does to any parent, but if they [GenZs] don’t stand up to the government, who will? If they don’t talk now, how many more will die? And it might not be from bullets, it might be from joblessness, hunger and other things we can prevent by protesting,” he said.

Citing the high unemployment rate, especially, among the young and educated Kenyans, he said his sons are soon joining college, and he is fighting for their right to work.

“How will they survive without depending on me? How will ever own a house, if they can’t get jobs, will they be living in my house forever?,” he said.

Anti-Finance Bill protests

Protesters demonstrate against the Finance Bill 2024.

Photo credit: Louis Ngari | Nation Media Group

Comparing the different generations, the 56-year-old said his father got married at 23 to his mother, who was then 21. Dependency was low then and children left the nest to start life at a young age.

“As Generation X, we couldn’t even think of that because our independence was so compromised, we do not want our children to go through that,” he said.

As a parent of the new breed of courageous protestors, if he were to meet President William Ruto today, he would only tell him two things, “listen to the children, don’t just hear their cries.”

“We love our country and do not wish to burn it down. We just want you to listen,” he said.

On Haile Selassie Avenue, Linda Makosinde, 40, a mother of two is holding a placard that reads ‘reject finance bill’. She said she has decided to come out of her shell and join her children in the fight for a better future.

“I have come here because of what we are going through as parents in the current economy. Life is just unbearable. We are suffering,” she tells Lifestyle. “The Gen Zs have opened our eyes.”

“By choosing to stand up against President William Ruto’s regime, our children have shown us that there’s no point of just sitting at home feeling sorry for ourselves when we are all suffering, they have shown us that our voices matter,” Ms Makosinde said.

She added that as a parent, one must “support their children through thick and thin.”

“I just wish to tell President Ruto that 57 million Kenyans cannot be suffering ...We the people who put you in power are suffering while you are enjoying,” Ms Makosinde said, while urging more parents to join their children in the quest for a better life.

Rarely have many generations been inspired to join a tribeless, leaderless and political partyless protest against economic frustrations.

Along Jevanjee Gardens, Elijah Zacharia, in his 40s, is a boda boda rider who lives Kawangware, a low-income neighbourhood. On his motorbike is a placard that reads “give me back my future.”

He starts by clearing the air that he is not part of the ‘boda boda anti-Gen Z’ protesters that had been seen in Nairobi's Central Business District with banners asking people to stop protesting.

“I have been a boda boda rider in this town for the last eight years, we know each other, the people you saw were hired goons who were paid Sh200,” he said, adding he joined the protests because if the Finance Bill 2024 had passed, his “life will be over.”

“Having five mouths to feed [four children and a wife] is no joke. Also, President Ruto is yet to fulfill any of the promises he made to us when he was campaigning,” Mr Zacharia said.

Anti-Finance Bill protests

Emily Akinyi (right) with a younger protester during the anti-Finance Bill protests in Nairobi.

Photo credit: Louis Ngari | Nation Media Group

“By occupying the streets, our children have not disrupted business because business has been struggling and in ICU long before they decided to protest. I have actually made more money ferrying young protesters from one place to another in the last week than I did last month,” he said.

He laments about one of Ruto’s promises to create jobs. “If our children had something productive to do, life would be more bearable,” he said.

Emily Akinyi, 58, who lives in Mathare is a mother of six. She said she was on the streets in support of the GenZ grievances.

“I am a widowed mother of six, why would I stop my children from fighting for a better future for themselves when it is their right to be heard? But the government must stop shooting our children, it is their right to protest, our children have not been violent, not robbed anyone or even blocked traffic,” she said. “Is what we are witnessing the actions of leaders who embrace Christianity? The Bible says do not kill, why would police be ordered to use live ammunition on peaceful protesters?” she said.

The mother of six further points out that she is protesting against the government's misuse of taxpayers’ money.

“They [politicians] are always on planes travelling out of the country with a huge entourage as hungry and frustrated taxpayers fund the trips. I am glad that our children have taken up the role of holding this government to account,” she said, adding, "Bwana Rais, mimi ni ngazi, ngazi imechoka! Nimechoka na watoto wangu wote, tafadhali usiwaue.”

Olympia Owira, 35, had accompanied her nephews to the street protest.

“I am a millennial parent and I am here to fight for our right to exist in this country. Everyone in this government is eating and if we are not careful we millennials will be an old generation that does not have money or wealth,” she said.

Too much taxes, she said, reduces savings and wealth creation. “My mom, Assumpta Rigi was a teacher, you are overtaxing the peanuts that the teachers earn? I am here to represent my mom and all the teachers in this country,” she said.

Ms Owira, a filmmaker, said what annoyed her most that she joined the street protest was the sentiments by the Dagoretti South Member of Parliament John Kiarie popularly known as KJ, regarding the authenticity of photos of protestors.

In a handwritten letter, Mr Kiarie expressed regret for his “unnecessary, misguided and insensitive” remarks made during the heated debate on the Bill in Parliament.

“Who are you apologising to KJ?,” Ms Owira angrily said, : “We will send you home when the time comes.”

Finance Bill protests

Finance Bill protesters demonstrate in the streets of Kisumu City on Tuesday.

Photo credit: Alex Odhiambo | Nation Media Group

She was also agitated over the land proposed laws.

“I want to live in this country because I have inherited land from my parents. Not all of us want to relocate abroad. It’s pure madness that they’d now want to tax the very land that my parents left me,” she said, “I also want my nephews to benefit from Kenya's economic prosperity. I'm tired of my nephews begging for money from me for a meal when I'm also struggling to make ends meet.”

On Wednesday, Mr Ruto bowed to pressure and declined to sign the Finance Bill 2024 into law, but protestors beyond Nairobi took to the streets on Thursday chanting, “Ruto must go.”

Pablo said, “I am still struggling to understand why the same MPs who disregarded what Kenyans said and voted for the Bill were at the president’s side heartily clapping when he refused to sign. I said before, they must learn to listen and not just hear because Kenyans see through their mediocrity.”