The Finance Bill 2024: Protests and Public Outcry Across Kenya

Kenya's Finance Bill 2024 has triggered significant public outcry, culminating in widespread protests across the country. The bill, which introduces new taxes and fiscal measures, has been perceived by many as a burden on the working class, already grappling with economic challenges. On Thursday, June 20th, Kenyans from various regions took to the streets to protest against the Finance Bill 2024. These protests were marked by participation from workers, students, and civil society groups, reflecting broad-based opposition. In Nairobi, thousands of demonstrators gathered in the city center, marching towards government offices to voice their discontent. Chanting slogans and holding placards, the protesters demanded the government reconsider the bill, arguing that the new taxes on essential goods and services would make life unaffordable for ordinary citizens. Eldoret saw significant participation from the agricultural community. Farmers and workers marched through the town, highlighting how increased taxes on agricultural inputs would hurt their livelihoods. The demonstrators called for the government to support rather than burden the backbone of Kenya’s economy. In Kisumu, protests were characterized by vibrant rallies along the main streets. The lakeside city saw a large turnout from young people and the unemployed, who expressed fears that the new taxes would reduce job opportunities and exacerbate poverty..

Mombasa’s protests focused on the impact of the Finance Bill on trade and the cost of living. Traders and port workers were particularly vocal, pointing out that increased taxes on imports would lead to higher prices for goods, affecting both businesses and consumers. In Nyeri, residents gathered to protest against the rising cost of essential goods. The demonstrations here were notable for the participation of both urban and rural dwellers, united in their concern over the financial strain the bill would impose. In Kericho, tea farmers and workers marched together, emphasizing how the new taxes would squeeze the already tight margins in the tea industry. They called for policies that would support agricultural productivity rather than add financial burdens. These protests were not isolated incidents but part of a coordinated nationwide movement against the Finance Bill 2024. The unity and scale of these demonstrations underscore the widespread discontent with the government's fiscal policies.

TThe Finance Bill 2024 is seen by many as a direct attack on the economic well-being of the working class. The new taxes on essential goods and services disproportionately affect lower-income households, increasing the cost of living and reducing disposable income. Many Kenyans are worried about how they will afford basic necessities such as food, healthcare, and education. Workers across various sectors, from agriculture to trade, have voiced their concerns about the negative impact of these taxes on their livelihoods. Small business owners fear that higher taxes on imports and goods will hurt their businesses, leading to potential closures and job losses.

The influence of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank has exacerbated the situation. Often, these institutions impose austerity measures as conditions for loans and financial aid. Such measures typically include reducing government spending, increasing taxes, and cutting public sector wages, all of which disproportionately affect the poor and working-class populations. In Kenya, these austerity policies have led to decreased funding for essential services and increased economic hardship for many citizens. President William Ruto has been criticized as a puppet of these international institutions, prioritizing their demands over the needs of his people. The presence of U.S. Congressmen in Kenya to oversee the passage of the Finance Bill has further fueled suspicions that external forces are dictating domestic policies, undermining Kenya’s sovereignty and democratic processes.

Given the widespread opposition to the Finance Bill 2024, it is clear that the government needs to reconsider its approach. The way forward involves meaningful consultations with various stakeholders, including workers, farmers, small business owners, and civil society groups, to understand their concerns and incorporate their feedback into fiscal policy. Instead of broad-based tax increases, the government should consider targeted tax policies that minimize the impact on essential goods and services. Taxes could be restructured to focus more on luxury goods and non-essential items, thereby protecting the most vulnerable populations. Supporting critical sectors such as agriculture and small businesses with subsidies, tax breaks, and other incentives is crucial. Strengthening social safety nets can help cushion the impact of new taxes on low-income households by providing financial assistance, food security, and access to affordable healthcare and education. Furthermore, the government must ensure transparency and accountability in the use of tax revenue. Demonstrating how the funds are being used to improve public services and infrastructure can help build public trust and support for necessary fiscal measures.

By adopting these strategies, the government can address the legitimate concerns of the working class while still achieving its revenue goals. It is essential to create a balanced approach that promotes economic stability and growth without disproportionately burdening the most vulnerable segments of society.