Nairobi Erupts in Protests Over Controversial Finance Bill

The streets of Nairobi witnessed a significant upheaval today as protesters took to the streets to oppose the controversial Finance Bill 2024. The proposed bill includes new tax measures that have sparked widespread discontent among the population, leading to clashes between demonstrators and police.

The Finance Bill, introduced by President William Ruto's administration, aims to raise an additional $2.7 billion through new taxes on essential goods such as cars, bread, and mobile phone charges. This move is part of an effort to boost government revenue and manage the national debt. However, it has been met with strong opposition from various sectors of society, who argue that the tax hikes will exacerbate the economic hardships faced by many Kenyans​.

Today's protests saw hundreds of demonstrators gathering near the Parliament building in Nairobi. The police responded with teargas and water cannons to disperse the crowds, leading to chaotic scenes in the city center. Reports indicate that 210 people, including journalists and human rights observers, were arrested during the protests​​.

Human rights groups and opposition leaders have condemned the police's heavy-handed tactics. Amnesty Kenya called for the immediate release of all detained protesters, emphasizing the right to peaceful assembly. The Law Society of Kenya also criticized the police for their excessive use of force, urging authorities to respect citizens' rights​​.

The Finance Bill has faced backlash not only from the public but also from within the government. A parliamentary panel has recommended scrapping some of the proposed taxes, including those on car ownership and bread, to alleviate the financial burden on ordinary Kenyans. Despite these recommendations, the government remains steadfast in its resolve to pass the bill, arguing that the additional revenue is crucial for economic stability​​.

Protesters, however, remain unconvinced. Many have voiced their frustration over the rising cost of living and the government's failure to address economic inequality. "We can't even afford diapers for the kids anymore … we need this government to do something," said Muthoni Wanjiku, one of the demonstrators​​.

The unrest in Nairobi is part of a broader wave of discontent across Kenya. Similar protests have been reported in other cities, including Kisumu, Eldoret, and Nakuru. The government's response to these protests will likely shape the political landscape in the coming months, as opposition leaders rally support against the Finance Bill and the administration's economic policies​ ​.

President Ruto, addressing lawmakers from his coalition, acknowledged the protests but defended the bill, stating that open debate on taxes and debt is necessary. The bill is set for a line-by-line debate and vote in Parliament later this week, a process that will be closely watched by both supporters and opponents of the proposed measures​​.