Tear Gas, Arrests As Kenyans Protest Tax Increases

Kenyan police fired tear gas on opposition leader Raila Odinga’s convoy on Friday as rights groups condemned “arbitrary arrests” during anti-government protests over a cost-of-living crisis and a raft of controversial tax hikes.

Tear gas was fired on Odinga’s motorcade after he addressed a mass rally in the capital Nairobi, AFP correspondents said.

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Police took similar action to break up protests in the Indian Ocean port city of Mombasa and Kisumu, an opposition stronghold on Lake Victoria in western Kenya.

A multitude of opposition supporters take part in demostrations called by opposition leaders led by Raila Odinga against the high cost of living in Nairobi on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

An AFP correspondent also witnessed police making several arrests in Nairobi, with security tightened for the latest round of protests called by Odinga this year against the policies of President William Ruto’s government.

At the rally, Odinga announced plans to collect 10 million signatures in a bid to remove his arch-rival from office.

The 78-year-old lost the closely fought August 2022 election to Ruto and has repeatedly denounced the poll as “stolen”.

“Kenyans elected leaders to parliament and they have betrayed them,” he said to cheers. “Ruto himself who took over power illegally has betrayed Kenyans.”

Odinga’s Azimio alliance had called for the protests over the impact of the new taxes on Kenyans already suffering economic hardship and soaring prices for basic necessities.

Protestors retreat from a cloud of teargas after police fired canisters at the convoy of opposition leaders led by Raila Odinga during demonstrations against the high cost of living in Nairobi on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Tony KARUMBA / AFP)

Last week, Ruto signed into law a finance bill which is expected to generate more than $2.1 billion for the government’s depleted coffers and help repair the heavily indebted economy.

The Finance Act provides for new taxes or increases on a range of basic goods such as fuel and food and mobile money transfers, as well as a controversial levy on all tax-paying Kenyans to fund a housing scheme.

‘Excessive force’

Previous protests have sometimes descended into violence, with deadly clashes between police and demonstrators and looters going on a rampage in March.

Amnesty International’s Kenya chapter said Friday that it had “received reports of arbitrary arrests of protesters in Nairobi and Western Kenya and selective excessive force” deployed by police.

A coalition of rights organisations, including the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said their representatives saw “protesters being dragged on the ground while others were being carried to the police vehicles to be transported to police stations”.

“We have witnessed the police, yet again, lobbing tear gas to otherwise peaceful protesters, arbitrarily arresting peaceful protesters and brutally handling them,” campaigners said, condemning “the excessive and arbitrary use of force by police”.

Opposition supporters hold a poster with the face of Kenya’s opposition leader Raila Odinga as they participate in a public rally against the high cost of living after the passing of the finance bill at the Kamukunji grounds in Nairobi, Kenya on July 7, 2023. (Photo by Luis Tato / AFP)

Odinga’s Azimio alliance said they would hold another rally in Nairobi on Wednesday, calling for “nationwide demonstrations”.

Critics accuse Ruto of rowing back on promises made during his election campaign, when he declared himself the champion of impoverished Kenyans and pledged to improve their economic fortunes.

But the 56-year-old rags-to-riches businessman has defended the taxes, saying they will help create jobs and reduce public borrowing.

The high court in Nairobi last Friday suspended implementation of the legislation after a senator filed a case challenging its constitutional legality.

Despite the ruling, Kenya’s energy regulator later that day announced a hike in pump prices to take account of the doubling of VAT to 16 percent as stipulated in the law.

In Nairobi’s central business district, where main government buildings are located, police were patrolling on foot, in vehicles and on horseback, while several roads in the capital were closed.

“I hope this demo will make a difference,” Alex Dwisa, a 24-year-old manual worker, told AFP.

“The cost of living is too high, I don’t have 10k (10,000 Kenyan shillings/$70) to send my two kids to school.”

The protests have been dubbed “Saba Saba” (Seven Seven) as they are taking place on the seventh day of the seventh month, symbolising the day in 1990 that the opposition rose up to demand the return of multi-party democracy.

Sourec: AFP

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