Uprising of the youth in Kenya

The Finance Bill 2024 was meant to impose a raft of wide ranging taxes on Kenyans but was resoundingly rejected by a historic youth uprising. All photos by Hassan Kibwan/Unsplash.

How this uprising will be chaperoned to a just social order in Kenya depends on what leadership may emerge from the social forces that drove it.

The youth in Kenya are angry.  On 25 June 2024, they stormed the National Assembly, setting part of it on fire. They ransacked the building, smashing everything on site. Some even ate the food in the cafeteria that was reserved for members of parliament and senators. Others smashed into the Senate chambers and took over as people’s representatives, including one who acted as the Speaker. The golden mace, symbol of parliamentary authority, was carted away. MPs were besieged. They were whisked away to safety through secret underground tunnels.

The golden mace, symbol
of parliamentary authority,
was carted away

The youth also broke into the buildings of the Supreme Court, the symbol of the second arm of the government. They ransacked and destroyed items in the office of the chief justice. An office in the chambers of the Governor of Nairobi County was also torched, as were the constituency offices and homes of some of the members of parliament who approved the Finance Bill 2024.

The anger of the youth was widespread across cities and towns in Kenya in the week starting on the 21st of June. The youthful protesters had dubbed it 7 Days of Rage. 25 June was the climax of the rage, referred to as Super Tuesday. The resistance of the youth is palpable. It’s the same for masses of people across the country who have been reduced to beggars by the wealthy and western interests. GenZ are leading this resistance by taking over the streets and social media. Reports by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR), the national rights watchdog, indicate that at least 39 have been killed and hundreds more injured in the uprising. There are also cases of enforced or involuntary disappearances and the arrests of hundreds of protesters.

Roots of the uprising

The current regime in Kenya under President Ruto and his Kenya Kwanza (KK) coalition assumed office after the contentious 2022 elections. KK rose to power by convincing the majority that they were the true representatives of the underprivileged, the suffering majority who they referred to as hustlers.  They said they were against the rule by dynasties, meaning the wealthy, represented by Raila Odinga, the flagbearer of the Azimio coalition and his key supporter, Uhuru Kenyatta, the former president.

Also read:  Police admit failures during July unrest

Once a ‘chicken seller’,
Ruto has become an
unpopular president

The majority of the youth, especially in central Kenya, and amongst the Kalenjin communities, the bedrock of the current president, saw in Ruto a chance to elect one of their own, a fellow hustler who claimed to be a former chicken seller. His supporters were exuberant when he won the 2022 elections. Finally, their man was in power.

The roots of the uprising show the deep inequalities in the country. Kenya is a deeply unequal country. The gap between the poor and the rich continues to widen since the country gained independence from British colonialism in 1963. Deprivation and want continues to squeeze masses of people across generations to the margins of survival. The inequality gaps have widened under successive regimes due to trickle-down economics driven by the IMF and World Bank, and other varieties of market-driven economics. It is these generational frustrations, angst and fury that Ruto and the KK brigade tapped into while its key economists and advisors were beholden to neoliberal economics and politics.

39 people have died and 361 have been injured in the days from 18 June to 1 July “in relation to the protests countrywide”, according to the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights.

Once in power, the KK government tethered the country to foreign interests. Global economic shocks dented the domestic economy, fueled by the after effects of Covid-19, war in Ukraine, and related economic imbalances. The ascension of President Ruto did not amount to anything markedly different from previous regimes. The cost of living escalated, especially for the lower classes in the country. The poor were getting poorer as neoliberal measures strangled the country, driving the masses to the edges of mere survival. Education was commodified, including university education, making it expensive and out of the reach of millions of struggling families. Health insurance through the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) was whittled down and rebranded the Social Health Insurance Fund (SHIF). It has not been implemented to date, denying millions of people access to affordable healthcare. The right to decent housing was mixed up in ‘affordable housing’ schemes that are incomprehensible and confusing. The recent drought and floods in the country have also exacerbated the economic crisis in the country.

Also read:  Why fixing primary health care is crucial to making South Africa healthier

Context of the Finance Bill 2024  

The Finance Bill 2024 was meant to push through a raft of wide ranging taxes. These included taxes on essential goods, services, digital content, individual incomes, and much more. The bill was rejected loudly and silently by many sectors in the country, including by corporates and professional associations. Rejection of the bill was vocalised by the youth, led by the Gen Z, who took to the streets in protests across the country. The youth were after all the group that would be most affected in their current and future lives if the unpopular bill was passed. This was more so as the bill intruded and punished their fields of work and survival, on social media and in cyber space. The youth turned cyber space into terrains of resistance and mobilised millions of others to take to the streets. The hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024 came alive. They had nothing to lose. Their lives, similar to the working class who Karl Marx quipped have nothing to lose but their chains, are already wasting away in unemployment and being drowned by the high costs of living. 

On the other hand, they see the politicians pushing for the bill being notoriously enmeshed in corruption, embezzlement of public funds, wanton opulence, and other forms of abuse of office. Generational anguish, frustration, hurt and disappointments in the neo-colonial governments in Kenya was a festering wound that burst open. Antennas of political consciousness of the youth, who had been deemed apolitical, were raised high. The youth resistance finally scored initial gains. President Ruto conceded and dropped the unpopular Finance Bill 2024.

The uprising by the youth has won the first and central demand of rejecting the Finance Bill. This is a major victory. The fire of mass uprising in the country has been ignited by the youth. The state has been weakened and is vulnerable. How this uprising will be chaperoned to a just social order in Kenya depends on how well placed the social forces and revolutionary movements and organisations are to provide leadership. Already, there are moves on various fronts to propose leadership, notably by a united front of various leftist political parties and movements, including the Communist Party of Kenya and the Revolutionary Socialist League.

Njuki Githethwa is an activist and a writer based in Nairobi

Copyright policy

Creative Commons LicenceThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Should you wish to republish this Elitsha article, please attribute the author and cite Elitsha as its source.

All of Elitsha's originally produced articles are licensed under a Creative Commons license. For more information about our Copyright Policy, please read this.

For regular and timely updates of new Elitsha articles, you can follow us on Twitter, @elitsha2014, and/or become a Elitsha fan on Facebook.