A boy during the Sunday service

Sunday service at the Eastleigh congregation of the Kenya Evangelical Lutheran Church, Nairobi, Kenya, Photo: Albin Hillert/Life on Earth Pictures

Even as president William Ruto withdrew the controversial tax bill, known as the Finance Bill 2024, the leaders urged the government to talk to the youth to hear their concerns. This came as the protesters broadened their demands, calling for more financial and political reforms beyond the tax bill law.

 On 27 June, the countrys Protestant churches observed that with youth under 35 years constituting 79 percent of the population, the protests signal the redefining and reshaping of Kenyas identity, ethos, and future, for the next 50 years.

We therefore call upon all institutions and leaders to focus more than 80 percent of their efforts and resources on empowering the youth to have dignified livelihoods,” said the Rev. Canon Chris Kinyanjui, general secretary of the National Council of Churches of Kenya. The first step in this process is listening to the youth and creating platforms for them to shape the nation they desire to live in.”

After organizing for days through social media networks such as Tik Tok, Facebook and WhatsApp, the youth had mounted nationwide protests against the bill under the banner of Seven Days of Rage.” The peak was a total shutdown of the country and storming of parliament on 25 June.

 By 27 June, at least 22 people had died and over 300 were injured in the protests, according to the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Amnesty International reported that the police were filmed shooting live ammunition at peaceful protesters. The groups are also reporting a wave of abduction and disappearances.

 “Churches of Kenya are mourning with deep sadness the deaths of dozens of Kenyans…killed…during demonstrations. We pass our condolences to the families that have been bereaved by these unnecessary deaths, and are praying for quick recovery for all those injured,” said Kinyanjui.

He announced that the council would establish centres of excellence for youth skills, launch youth-focused programmes, and organize multi-sectoral economic forums, among other initiatives.

At the same time, the Interreligious Council of Kenya urged the government to engage Kenyans rather than attempting to scare them. The grouping said the constitutionally guaranteed protests had become an eyesore since the police were using excessive force and leading to death of citizens.

We stand in solidarity with the youth who have engaged in peaceful demonstrations and commend them for that,” said Roman Catholic Bishop Wilybard Kitogho Lagho of Malindi, who chairs the council.

The bill drew rage because it had sought to hike taxation on basic commodities including bread, cooking oil, diapers, and sanitary pads, among other items.

Earlier, Ruto had defended the bill as critical for the government, since it would aid in the payment of external debt. By December 2023, Kenya's external debt stood at approximately $45.5 billion USD.

As he withdrew the bill, Ruto said he reflected in the continuing conversation around the contents of the bill and listened keenly to the citizens who want nothing to do with it. He directed austerity measures to cut government expenses.

“…I concede, and therefore, I will not sign the 2024 Finance Bill, and it shall subsequently be withdrawn,” Ruto told a news conference at State House in Nairobi.

Meanwhile, Christian Aid, the international relief and development agency said external debt had exacerbated Kenyas anti-tax riots and would require international intervention to resolve.

Kenyans are worried. In the face of this abhorrent violence, too many have not felt safe on our streets. This disastrous debt burden has led to unsustainable spending cuts. We now see a lack of equipment and medicine in hospitals and reduced welfare for the elderly and vulnerable,” said Janet Ngombalu, Christian Aids country director in Kenya in a statement on 26 June.


"WCC expresses alarm over reports of violent response to Kenyan protests" (WCC news release, 26 June 2024)