Kenya’s Ruto says tax-hike protests will not be permitted

President says he ‘cannot accept anarchy’ as opposition calls for three more days of demonstrations starting on Wednesday.

A riot police officer stands near supporters of Kenya's opposition leader Raila Odinga of the Azimio La Umoja (Declaration of Unity) One Kenya Alliance, during an anti-government protest against the imposition of tax hikes by the government, in Mathare settlement in Nairobi, Kenya, July 12, 2023.
A riot police officer confronts supporters of Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga in Nairobi during a protest against tax hikes [File: John Muchucha/Reuters]

Kenyan President William Ruto says the government will not allow planned opposition protests to take place next week after two rounds of deadly demonstrations.

More than 300 people were arrested in the aftermath of this week’s rallies, but the party of the main opposition leader, Raila Odinga, called for three more days of protests starting on Wednesday against tax hikes that Ruto signed into law last month.

Ruto, who beat Odinga in an August election, said on Friday that he “cannot accept anarchy” in the country.

“Protests will no longer take place in our nation of Kenya. The one they have planned for Wednesday will not be possible,” he told supporters in Nakuru county.

Ruto pledged to be a champion for the poor in the lead-up to last year’s polls, but his critics say the tax rises will hurt Kenyans already struggling to afford basic commodities, such as maize flour.

Odinga, who alleges the presidential election was “stolen”, initiated a string of rallies this year against a government he described as illegitimate and responsible for a cost-of-living crisis.

“I want to tell Raila Odinga that elections ended on August 8 last year,” Ruto said. “You can’t seek the leadership of our country through bloodshed, deaths and destruction of property. There is no way you will change Kenya through the route you have taken.”

Odinga has run in and failed to win the last five presidential votes but has secured senior positions in government in the past by making deals with those in power after periods of unrest.

This week, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), an independent watchdog created by parliament, called for an investigation into reports of looting, vandalism and police brutality, warning that the country is teetering “on the brink of anarchy”. The unrest has left at least nine people dead, according to the KNCHR.

Police have been accused of a heavy-handed response and criticised for using tear gas against civilians, but the government said it could not allow rioting and looting to take place unchecked.

Each day of protest costs the economy an average of 3 billion shillings ($21.8m), according to the Kenya Private Sector Alliance.

The protests have attracted international concern.

A spokesman for the United Nations Human Rights Office, Jeremy Laurence, said on Friday that it was “very concerned by the widespread violence, and allegations of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force, including the use of firearms, by police during protests in Kenya”.

Source: News Agencies