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Kenya Scraps Bread Tax Amid Protests and Public Outcry

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Griffith Sarah

Jun 19, 2024

 Government Bows to Pressure, Axes Controversial Taxes as Protests Rock Nairobi

Demonstrators protest against Kenya's controversial finance bill in Nairobi on June 18, 2024

Kenya's government has scrapped several proposed taxes in the controversial finance bill, including a 16% levy on bread, after public outcry. This announcement came as police fired tear gas and used water cannons to disperse protesters in Nairobi. Dozens were arrested, and lawyers joined crowds at the main police station to demand their release.

Since taking office in 2022, President William Ruto has introduced numerous taxes to eliminate Kenya’s $80bn (£63bn) national debt. However, critics argue these measures will stifle economic growth and lead to job losses. Protesters in the capital have called for Ruto’s resignation, chanting, "Ruto must go!"

Kuria Kimani, chairman of the parliamentary finance committee, announced the U-turn at a press briefing with President Ruto and other lawmakers present. The decision to drop some tax proposals aims to protect Kenyans from the rising cost of living. Axed taxes include those on cooking oil, mobile money services, and motor vehicles, which critics said would have impacted the insurance industry.

Additionally, a proposed eco tax targeting packaging, plastics, and tyres, which faced backlash for potentially raising costs of essential goods, will now only apply to imported items. Despite President Ruto urging Kenyans to accept more taxation, arguing they are undertaxed, this move is seen as a response to public pressure. Recent tax hikes include levies on salaries, fuel, gross sales, and a 1.5% housing levy.

Lawmakers are set to discuss the finance bill, prompting the protests in Nairobi. Several protest organizers have been arrested, and rights groups have condemned the police response. One protester, Wangari, expressed her frustration, stating, "I am very angry and I'm fighting for my future. With such taxes, I don't see how we can build a life."

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