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Thousands across Kenya protest against tax hikes

By OTIATO OPALI in Nairobi, Kenya | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-21 09:48

People run for cover in Nairobi on Tuesday, after tear gas fired by police exploded during a demonstration. LUIS TATO/AFP

Thousands of people marched on the streets in major cities in Kenya on Thursday to protest against what they termed as punitive taxes introduced by the government in a recent national budget proposal.

The tax hikes are the latest effort by President William Ruto's administration to boost revenue and reduce borrowing, but they have triggered widespread opposition.

Led largely by young Kenyans, the demonstrations began in the capital Nairobi on Tuesday before spreading nationwide on Thursday.

Police hurled tear gas canisters at hundreds of demonstrators on Tuesday, forcing businesses to temporarily close because of fears over looting. At least 335 people have been arrested, according to a consortium of lobby groups, Agence France-Presse reported.

Hours after Tuesday's demonstrations, the cash-strapped government agreed to make concessions, rolling back several of the tax hikes.

But the government still intends to go ahead with some tax increases and has defended the proposed levies as necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

On Thursday, protests were held across Kenya, with thousands assembling in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu and Nanyuki.

Ruto defended the proposed taxes last month, saying the country must be financially self-sustaining.

Robinson Makau, an Uber taxi driver and one of the protesters, said the Kenyan government proposed a 2.5 percent annual levy on the value of motor vehicles in the 2024-25 financial budget.

"This means that if my car is valued at $15,500, the government would take $390 annually ... That is not fair considering I had to pay taxes to import my car in addition to the fuel levies I pay every time I visit the fueling station," Makau said.

Dennis Kabaara, a planning expert and founder of financial management company Fintellect in Kenya, said the government is able to raise revenues by taxing citizens, but the process should not be seen as punitive.

However, Dennis Itumbi, a political strategy consultant to Kenya's ruling party, noted the country's huge debt obligation, saying that to meet its commitments, citizens have to tighten their belts.

"If we have to develop our country, Kenyans must roll up their sleeves. Our country is not going to be developed by others, by aid or by debt. It is going to be developed by us," Itumbi said. "Other countries are built by their people using their own taxes. Kenya will be built by Kenyans using our own revenue and taxes."

A parliament source told AFP a vote on the proposals was expected on June 27, three days before the deadline for passing the bill.

Agencies contributed to this story.

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