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Kenyan Activists Renew Protests Despite Ruto’s Dialogue Appeal

KENYAN activists have called for renewed protests on Tuesday, rejecting President William Ruto’s appeal for dialogue following his decision to withdraw proposed tax hikes. Last week’s clashes between protesters and police resulted in at least 24 deaths, with demonstrators briefly storming and setting ablaze the parliament building.

The protests, led predominantly by young people and organised largely on social media, initially erupted in response to a finance bill aimed at raising KSh346bn ($2.69bn) in taxes. However, the demands of many protesters have since escalated, now including calls to eradicate corruption and for President Ruto to step down, marking the most significant crisis of his two-year presidency.

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In an interview with Kenyan television networks on Sunday evening, Ruto mostly defended the actions of the police and his government, a stance that appeared to further entrench the protesters’ positions. Activists shared pamphlets on social media on Monday, urging people to occupy Nairobi’s Central Business District, using the hashtag #OccupyCBDTuesday.

The protest movement, lacking official leadership, faces uncertainty regarding the extent of public response after tens of thousands participated in last week’s demonstrations, some of the largest in recent memory. In social media audio forums, activists have been discussing strategies to maintain momentum, especially after achieving their immediate goal of halting the finance bill.

During his Sunday interview, Ruto reiterated his call for dialogue with young people, expressing willingness to engage in a forum of their choosing, including the social media platform X Spaces where activists often strategize. However, many protesters perceive these calls as attempts to co-opt the movement. ‘You can’t dialogue with someone who is killing you on the other hand,’ one activist remarked during an X Space discussion over the weekend.

Ruto defended the police’s conduct, blaming ‘criminals’ for hijacking peaceful protests. He also suggested that the budget gap from the withdrawn tax hikes would be filled by borrowing, a statement seemingly at odds with his earlier claim that austerity measures would cover the shortfall. Finance Minister Njuguna Ndung’u clarified on Monday that legal limits on borrowing and debt capacity necessitate expenditure cuts, to be detailed once Parliament approves a supplementary budget.

Kenya’s national debt, exceeding 70 percent of its gross domestic product, already surpasses the statutory limit of 55 percent. Following the withdrawal of the finance bill, Ruto requested lawmakers to pass a supplementary budget, but Parliament is currently in recess.

The situation remains tense as activists and government officials navigate the escalating demands and the call for continued protests.

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