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Kenya in the Global Spotlight

Like most Africans, Kenyans are people with hospitable and warm culture. The country of about 52 million people in 2023, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, is a melting-pot of cultures with about 40 different ethnic groups. A report shows that Kenya is one of the fast growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa with emerging services and tourism industries with IMF programs to address current account and debt service challenges. These characteristics notwithstanding, many Kenyans, particularly the youths, are hard-pressed financially. They have been pushed to the limits because of financial pressures.

 “These characteristics notwithstanding, many Kenyans, particularly the youths, are hard-pressed financially. They have been pushed to the limits because of financial pressures.”

For the past few days the leadership of President William Ruto is caught between lenders’ demands and some Kenyans who are under financial pressure. Who are the lenders? There are many lenders. A senior research fellow of one of the international institutions has this to say:

“At the end of 2022, Kenya owed at least $6.7 billion to China, according to the IMF. It owed another $7.1billion to bond holders, $3.8 billion to industrialised countries, $3.5 to the African Development Bank and $1.9 billion to international commercial banks.”

The protests by Kenyans, transmitted live by most international and local media outlets, are caused by escalating discontent over tax hikes. This, according to reports, is a reflection of the economic situation in the country and dissatisfaction with government fiscal policies. On our television screens we could see an army of young people moving across the streets chanting slogans and shouting as the police tried to prevent them from disturbing the peace of the country. The unrest brought to the forefront the delicate balance between meeting financial obligations, public discontent and the country’s economic crisis.

Remote and immediate causes

My respected readers will recall that the USA had earlier granted Kenya the status of major non- NATO (MNNA) ally designation. The US Department of State website says that “the MNNA status does not entail any security commitments to the designated country.” However, some benefits reflected on the State Department website include “….. eligibility for loans of materials and equipment for research, development or testing, placement of US-owned War Reserve stockpiles on MNNA territory, consideration for the purchase of depleted uranium ammunition,” amongst others. Besides, there are reports that Ruto affirmed that both countries will collaborate in healthcare, work together with international financial institutions and multilateral trust funds to mobilise investment in clean energy, and a US-backed initiative to send a Kenya-led police force to Haiti. There are conspiracy theories that this new status of Kenya as a major non-NATO ally could partly be responsible for mass demonstration by the people. This is doubtful. But if this theory was true, it could be regarded as a remote cause of the protests in my view.

Kenyans have been angered by the finance bill passed by the parliament which essentially is about increasing taxes. The protesters, representing most Kenyans, oppose tax rises in a country already reeling from a cost-of-living crisis, and many of the protesters are calling for President Ruto to step down. They are not satisfied with the clauses removed, the youths are rejecting the entire finance bill. Ruto has declared that he will not sign the bill.

When Ruto campaigned for president two years ago, he promised that he would assist the poor. Ruto however, has now been caught between the competing demands of lenders such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) which is urging the government to cut deficits in order to access more funding and a population who are already overtaxed.

Kenyans like many other Africans have been struggling to cope with several economic shocks caused by the lingering impact of COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, two consecutive years of draughts and depreciation of the currency. There are reports claiming that the controversial finance bill aims to raise an additional $2.7 billion in taxes as part of an effort to lighten the heavy debt load, with interest payments alone consuming 37 percent of annual revenue.

Promises without end

Kenya is shaken by mass demonstrations. Protesters accuse the President of failing to live up to his election promises. Ruto’s government has already made some concessions, promising to scrap new taxes on bread, cooking oil, cars and financial transactions. But the protesters aren’t satisfied with these promises. Why is this so? There is a sense that promises made by the President in the past have not been fulfilled. But President Ruto says that the finance bill is to pay off Kenya’s debt.

Majorly, part of the reasons for the mass demonstration is because of the increasing cost of living as well as the state of helplessness as a result of decreasing employment. “Now some of these factors may not be exactly Ruto’s making…… However, I think there is increasing pressure on most people as a result of economic difficulties and social despondency.”

Government’s approach to the crisis

Widespread nature of the demonstration has posed a significant challenge to national security. It’s always easy to deal with an identifiable enemy with a command and control structure. Now when the state is dealing with a group that is spontaneous and extremely widespread, organised but without a defined structure to be able to deal with it becomes increasingly difficult. It’s the kind of protest that cuts across ethnic, political or religious lines and that becomes hard to deal with. Will the protest be contained? Or, will it even escalate further?

All over the world, particularly in Africa, more and more young people are dropping out of school. Most of them are not in employment, and education. Neither are they in training. The implication of this trend to global or regional security is known to those in authority. It’s the view of a prominent public intellectual, that elected and appointed leaders of African descent who think they stand firm – immune to temptations, being overconfident and self-righteous- take good governance seriously in their countries so that they are not condemned by those who feel oppressed by their policies….Thank you

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Written by Charles Daisi

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