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Tyranny of numbers: Why GenZs are causing 2027 jitters

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Youthful protestors demonstrate against the Finance Bill 2024 on Kimathi Street, Nairobi on June 20 2024.


Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation

Around 8:30 pm, a group of young women huddled together at a coffee house, on Nairobi’s Kimathi Street, sip café latte and macchiato as they excitedly recollect the dramatic events of the daylong protests that rocked many parts of the country. 

The air is still heavy with the stinging smell from the teargas police officers lobbed at protesters, mostly young people who ordinarily spend most of their days sharing videos, hashtags and memes on TikTok, Instagram, X and other social media sites.

An explosion intermittently arouses the city centre from its unusual silence.

Just outside the café, two young men sit on the bonnet of a sports car, with half-filled plastic tumblers. Two others remain inside, bumping their heads to the Kudede tune blasting through the open doors of the vehicle.

They are toasting to the success of the protests. It has been an opportunity for social media posts for some among their ranks but for a majority of the young people, the organised display of outrage against the Finance Bill, 2024 across the country is a watershed moment. 

Many protesters are categorised as Generation Z (Gen Z), born from 1997 onwards while others are millennials, whose birthdays started in 1981. It is safe to say most of those involved in the protests are aged 18 to 34. 

Young people say the tough times will be aggravated by some of the punitive tax measures contained in the bill. 


Youthful protestors mob a police vehicle along Kimathi Street in Nairobi during the Anti-Finance Bill protests on June 20, 2024.


Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

Proposed tax measures include introduction of 16 per cent VAT on bread, 2.5 per cent motor vehicle tax and increased charges on M-Pesa and other financial transactions. 

Even though President William Ruto led MPs aligned with the ruling Kenya Kwanza coalition in announcing the dropping of some taxes, protests that started on social media before spilling onto streets on Tuesday and Thursday have demanded that the entire bill be rejected.

They could potentially pour out in their numbers as protest voters armed with their smartphones and voting cards three years from now. 

Official statistics show they have the numbers and if combined with the well-oiled mobilisation, they could prove to be the quintessential “tyranny of numbers”.

If their disillusionment over the state of their economic affairs does not abate, they might turn out to be Dr Ruto’s waterloo. 

Young eligible voters have in the past lost faith in the country’s leadership, with soaring unemployment seeing many keeping off political matters, including voting.

Mr Javas Bigambo, a commentator, says the organic dissatisfaction by young people should be alarming to the political class, especially the current government which insists on averting a debt crisis by increasing revenue mobilisation, including more taxes.

While this fiscal shock might turn out to be beneficial to the country in the long run, saving the country from the disasters that befell its peers like Ghana and Zambia, there are fears that these painful measures will drive the cost of living up.

The youth are feeling the brunt of a tough economic environment. Many are graduating from college to find themselves in an economy that is not churning out decent jobs as fast as they were promised during the presidental campaigns in 2022.

To make matters worse, the little money they make – for example by creating digital content – is being raided by the taxman.

Mr Bigambo says this new breed of protesters – educated and digital-savvy – has a common language of understanding one another and coordination than the old methods of political mobilisation.

“It may prove untactful for the government to dismiss the emerging political consciousness among the youth. The ruling class will risk losing a critical voting constituency,” he says.


Protesters display a banner during the Anti-Finance Bill demonstrations along Kenyatta Avenue in Nairobi on June 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

On Tuesday and Thursday, the young people captured the imagination of the nation by unexpectedly crawling out of social media platforms to face off with police officers in the streets and alleys, usually a battlefront for youths in Nairobi’s slums inspired by veteran opposition leader Raila Odinga and other political figures.

Driven by hashtags and social media presence, the young men and women – mostly in their early 20s – sent a warning shot to the political class that it will not be business as usual.

They chanted defiant slogans as the National Assembly debated the controversial revenue-raising measures. The bill sailed through the second reading with 204 votes for and 115 against on Thursday afternoon.

The young people, whose lives and lifestyles have been shaped more by the internet, have been apolitical.

Their voter turnout in 2022 was remarkably low, as the post-election report by the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) showed. 

“Youth dissatisfaction and apathy was a notable challenge ahead of the 2022 elections, reflected in low rates of voter registration, especially for those that turned 18 after the 2017 election,” reads the 2022 report by the commission.

“Stakeholders noted that registration outreach and tactics did not directly target young people and did not attempt to utilise digital platforms.”

Even with concerns over apathy in registration for the 2022 election, there were 8,811,691 registered voters aged between 18 and 34 – constituting 40 per cent of total number of voters. 

For now, things appear to be changing so much that if the Gen Z were to coalesce around a candidate and register as voters who actually turn out to cast their ballots, they could easily have a president of their own.

In the last election, more than half of them were not adults.

A chunk of the remaining did not bother registering or even visiting a polling station if registered as voters.

Most of the Gen Zs will have hit the voting age in 2027, analysis of the 2019 census data produced by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) shows.


Youths protest against the Finance Bill 2024 in Mombasa on June 21, 2024. 

Photo credit: Wachira Mwangi | Nation Media Group

Four in five of the Gen Zs, or more than 14 million, will be eligible for voting, an increase of 79.4 per cent of this cohort that were old enough to register as voters in 2022 when Dr Ruto swept to power on the back of youth economic empowerment.

Kenyans aged 18 to 34 will number 17.8 million, reflecting the predominant role they will play in deciding the country’s political trajectory from 2027. 

This is a generation that is known for impatience, even ready to quit a job if it does not make them happy. 

It is no surprise that most of them were pushing for outright rejection of the Finance Bill, 2024 even after the National Assembly Finance Committee members flanked by President Ruto announced some concessions on Tuesday.

The Economist magazine describes Gen Z as the “anxious generation”, which has been afflicted the most by mental disorders. 

It could also be known as the viral generation, given its affinity to social media and other trends.

Ironically, President Ruto rode to power on the backs of women and young people, key groups that he fashioned his campaign mantra, to clinch a slim victory in the August 9, 2022 election.

Dr Ruto, knew what the young people wanted – economic empowerment.

“The present and future of this country belongs to the youth. It is they who bear the heaviest burden of economic challenges and should therefore vote wisely in the next election – for a president whose agenda is economic reforms,” he told a rally at Kitui town bus terminus during the campaigns.

Using the campaign slogan of “Hustlers vs Dynasties” in 2022, Dr Ruto pledged to make young people the cog of his agenda and even give them a standalone ministry.

With three months to mark his two years as president, Dr Ruto faces a revolt from the very voting constituency, a majority of whom will be voting for the first time in 2027.

With the President having recently said that he intends to increase tax collection to GDP to 22 per cent by the time he leaves office, Mr Bigambo says the government could face mounting opposition.


Youthful demonstrators protest against the Finance Bill 2024 along Koinange Street in Nairobi on June 20, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

“The government is far less persuasive than it was during the campaigns. So if these kinds of organic protests recur, they will solidify the position of the young people, which therefore means that in 2027, they may come out to make a protest vote,” Mr Bigambo says. 

“They may vote for any other person as long as it is not an individual associated with Kenya Kwanza.”

According to Kisii Senator Richard Onyonka, the unprecedented protests by young people show they have realised they are on their own and need to stand up to be counted and fight for their space.

He says what happened in Senegal with the election of 44-year-old Bassirou Diomaye Faye as president has similarities with the Tuesday and Thursday street demonstrations.

Mr Onyonka says President Ruto cannot laugh off the protests but must realise that young people will not stop until things improve.

Kitui South MP Rachel Nyamai dismisses demos, saying some took to the streets to gain social media likes and views.