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How President Ruto’s hardliners fuelled anti-Finance Bill protests

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Demonstrators at around Parliament on Tuesday, June 25, 2024 against the Finance Bill,  2024.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

The cynical attitude by top Kenya Kwanza leaders towards the burdened taxpayer and insensitive display of opulence and extravagance in the face of scarcity are at the heart of the current public outrage, especially among unemployed youth.

Some of President William Ruto’s top officials – in the Executive and Legislature – have adopted a dismissive demeanour towards the struggling population that they rode on to power on August 9, 2022.

Dr Ruto was elected on lofty promises of creating jobs for millions of young people, putting the needs of low-income earners at the front and taming the galloping cost of living.

Close to two years since taking power, there is a growing perception that the President and his officials are arrogant and not averse to displaying opulence through their dressing and vehicles, houses – and often contributing huge wads of notes in fundraisers.

Ruto: This was treason

The arrogance has also caught the attention of those serving in the same government.

“I urge those of us in government who have their stomachs full not to vomit on our people,” Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, who is falling-out with the President, said recently.

“Stop arrogance and pride and address our electorate with decorum and humility and remember that the electorate is the boss.”

National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah, Majority Whip Sylvanus Osoro, Senate Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot, MPs Oscar Sudi (Kapsaret), Rachael Nyamai (Kitui South), Gabriel Kagombe (Gatundu South) and John Kiarie (Dagoretti South) are some of the politicians who have dismissed the ongoing protests against the Finance Bill, 2024.

Cabinet Secretaries Alfred Mutua (Tourism), Kipchumba Murkomen (Roads and Transport) and Belgut MP Nelson Koech have also contributed to the growing discord through their cynical talks and display of raw wealth even as the majority of Kenyans struggle to put a meal on the table, let alone shoulder punitive taxes.

Others are Dr David Ndii, who chairs President Ruto’s Council of Economic Advisers, and Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura.


Since joining the ranks of President Ruto’s government, a version of Dr Ndii – which is dismissive of the public view – has emerged.

Despite being a public servant, his vulgar and often deigning demeanour and know-it-all attitude have painted a picture of a man who has no time for those less educated than himself.

Dr Ndii has been involved in spats on social media over government policies and strategies, where he is always right and everyone else is “wrong and ignorant”.

In the wake of the protests against the Finance Bill, 2024, Dr Ndii labelled the youth “cool kids” whose parents plundered the country.

“The irony of these cool kids protesting the Finance Bill they are clueless about is many are children of the plunderers who’ve bankrupted the State,” he posted on social media.

“You want to know where the money went? Look around you, visit your aunties, ask your parents. It bought the houses, the cars, the holidays and paid for your college.”

He has since softened his position following the rage that greeted the post.

Mr Ichung’wah, who led United Democratic Alliance (UDA) MPs in voting for the bill in the face of nationwide demonstrations, recently dismissed the protesters as a group of elites who can afford iPhones and food in high-end hotels.

Mr Ichung’wah, is among a coterie of Dr Ruto allies, who castigated former President Uhuru Kenyatta over VAT on Petroleum Products.

He now says anyone opposed to tax measures proposed by the current government is ignorant.

“The Gen Z have iPhones and use Ubers to protest. When they are done with protests, they get to KFC to eat chicken. They don’t know what it means not to have electricity connections because they have power for 24 hours,” Mr Ichung’wah said in Baringo last week.

Mr Kiarie, who has since apologised to Kenyans, initially dismissed the agitation as fake, saying some of the images of the protests were manipulated.

“The committee was already in the process of engaging Kenyans way before a fake protest was organised. Some of the photos we were seeing, I can tell you as a graphic editor, do not belong to this country,” he said in the National Assembly.

“Photos were taken off the internet, edited and posed as Gen Z. I am a photo expert and can point out to you photos that were edited to look like they were in the streets of Nairobi but were not.”

Ms Nyamai callously said the protesters were out to generate content for their social media accounts.

“I watched one of the girls I pay school fees the streets. She had written a message to me the previous day, and I asked her: ‘you told me that it was about taxation on motor vehicles and bread, why are you in the street?

“The girl told me that she was not in the street concerning the Bill, she was doing TikTok. And she was swinging very nicely. She told me that she wanted to get views for TikTok,” Ms Nyamai said.

Foreign forces

The number of youth dying as a result of the demonstrations is rising by the day.

Mr Mwaura also claimed, without any evidence, that the protests were being financed by foreign forces.

He claimed that Dr Ruto’s push to end reliance on the US dollar could be a reason some foreign powers “are sponsoring” the protests.

“Our president has said a lot of things on the international front, including climate change. He has rallied the whole of Africa to come together, and maybe some people are not happy,” Mr Mwaura said.

“The other day he talked about the Russian invasion and how it has disrupted Kenya’s access to grains and wheat. Some people are not happy with that. He has been calling for a change in the financial architecture; they don’t want us to get out of that slavery.”

Dr Mutua told protesters that the blood of the police officer whose hands were blown off by a teargas canister was on them.

He later told Daily Nation in that the protesters were ignorant and were only being used to push propaganda against the government.

“The youth demonstrating are so ignorant that they think the Finance Bill, 2024 is an invention of William Ruto. They say they do not want taxes but want more money for education,” Dr Mutua said.

“Ask any of the youth why they oppose the bill and they will vomit propaganda. They are being used. I feel sorry for them because they think they are right about the issues but as I always say, I do not have to agree with them but will defend their right to express their opinion,” he added.”

Some of the officials also continue to display opulence and extravagance in the form of designer clothes and accessories like watches and belts estimated to cost millions of shillings – while at the same time complaining of Kenya’s debt burden.

President Ruto recently bought a $2,800 (Sh425,000) Stefano Ricci crocodile belt. He also flew a private jet during his state visit to the United States.

The cost was estimated at Sh200 million, but the President said the trip took “only” Sh10 million after some of his friends sponsored it.

Some UDA lawmakers have been spotted carrying wads of notes in public, triggering protests from the majority of Kenyans who are struggling under high new taxation and additional statutory deductions introduced by Kenya Kwanza administration.

Mr Sudi led a fundraiser that realised Sh20 million recently.

Though Mr Koech remains guarded in his public utterances, his dressing and generous contributions have belied him.

Some of UDA lawmakers are in fundraisers every weekend, dishing out millions of shillings, way above their known salaries and perks.

Political analysts, activists and opposition politicians say the display of opulence by those in the Executive and lawmakers from the ruling alliance paints the government in a negative light as it portrays wastage of public money.

“It has become the norm for individuals to join politics to self-aggrandise. To loot from public coffers. Join politics poor, leave rich,” says Prof David Monda of City University of New York.

Ichung'wah dismisses Gen Z protesters as 'KFC-eating, Uber-riding' city dwellers

“It is also normal and expected that when someone makes it in politics, they bring the spoils home, to their family, friends, village and region. This is then exemplified in the extravagance and conspicuous consumption by leaders in the public realm.”

Prof Macharia Munene, a university lecturer, describes President Ruto as a lone ranger who does not take advice or opinion from other people.

He says more Kenyans are becoming poorer while a few in government are getting abnormally wealthy.

“There are politicians and those in the Executive showing off wealth they cannot account for. Some have bought wrist watches valued at millions of shillings. Others are driving in convoys that are a kilometre long. Young people are seeing these displays of opulence,” Prof Macharia adds.

Mr Murkomen is among the ministers who have set tongues wagging over the astronomical amounts he splashes on designer shoes, wrist watches and donating during fundraisers.

He has been spotted with a Hublot Classic Fusion Ceramic King Gold watch, estimated to cost Sh2 million.

He has in the past defended himself, claiming his love for wrist watches.

“I saw on social media people debating on the shoe and watch I wear, but I asked my wife, is that me? Again I asked my sister, “Is it us who have made it to this level?” asked Mr Murkomen during a graduation ceremony at Masinde Muliro University last year.

“Back in primary school, I had a beautiful watch. But getting that watch was very difficult because my father told me he would buy me a watch if I became number one in our class. I read so hard day and night and when the results came, I missed number one with two marks but out of sympathy, my father bought me a beautiful watch. I think that is where my love for beautiful watches started.”