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Kenyan President Faces Tough Choices Amid Bloodshed and Protests

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Mbeki edmond

Jun 26, 2024

Ruto’s Government Grapples with Escalating Unrest and Economic Challenges

President Ruto William

Kenyan President William Ruto addressed the nation with a message of sadness and strength after a day of protest, turmoil, and bloodshed. Describing the protests against his policies as "legitimate" but "hijacked by a group of organised criminals," Ruto warned that his government would use all means at its disposal to prevent a repeat of the violence. "Today's events mark a critical point on how we respond to threats to our peace," he stated. "We will ensure a situation of this nature does not recur again."

The president's message aimed to regain control after days of escalating street protests. On Tuesday, the violence peaked with at least five people shot dead and hundreds injured. In the longer term, some fear the challenges ahead for Ruto are far from simple. Elected in 2022 with pledges to cut corruption, bolster the economy, and help the poor, Ruto now faces a rebellion against a crucial finance bill he insists is vital for nation-building.

The opposition Ruto faces extends beyond parliament, with a movement fueled by social media discontent growing into widespread street protests. In Nairobi, key government buildings, including the governor's office, city hall, and parliament, were set ablaze. Protestors had threatened a "total shutdown," resulting in a chaotic and violent day marked by teargas and live fire from police.

Ruto's refusal to abandon his budget amid the turmoil reflects his commitment to addressing Kenya's debt crisis, which exceeds $80 billion and consumes more than half of the annual tax revenues to service. Earlier this year, Kenya secured a restructuring of its international debt, boosting the currency's value. Ruto, recently recognized as a leading African statesman, argues that increasing taxes is preferable to cutting public services to control state finances.

The finance bill, set to become law next Monday, introduces new or increased taxes on various items, though some contentious taxes were dropped after public consultation. Despite Ruto's focus on green energy and tech, his past association with a government marred by corruption undermines public trust in his tax policies. Many blame the financial woes on corruption, leading to a reluctance to accept higher taxes.

The events in Nairobi highlight Ruto's precarious position. Condemned for a heavy-handed response to protests, he faces a determined youth-led movement, posing the biggest challenge to authority since Kenya's independence in 1963. The coming days are crucial, with a likely continued showdown between the government and its people.

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