Kenyan President William Ruto Vows Firm Response After Day of Violent Protests

After a day marked by protest, turmoil, and bloodshed, Kenyan President William Ruto addressed the nation, expressing both sadness and resolve. He condemned what he described as “legitimate” protests against his policies being “hijacked by a group of organised criminals,” and warned that his government would use all means necessary to prevent a recurrence of such violence “at whatever cost.”

“Today’s events mark a critical point on how we respond to threats to our peace,” President Ruto stated. “We will ensure that a situation of this nature does not recur again.” This statement was an attempt to regain control after days of growing street protests that escalated significantly on Tuesday, resulting in at least five deaths and hundreds of injuries.

President Ruto, who was elected in 2022 with promises to curb corruption, revitalize the economy, and support the poor, now faces an unprecedented backlash against a controversial finance bill he claims is crucial for national development. The bill, which proposes significant tax increases, has sparked widespread discontent, leading to a powerful rebellion that has moved from social media into the streets, culminating in violent clashes and the setting ablaze of significant buildings such as the Nairobi governor’s office, city hall, and parliament.

On the day of the protest, demonstrators had threatened a “total shutdown.” By the end of a chaotic day filled with the sound of teargas and, at times, live fire from the police, it was clear their anger had made an impact. Despite the unrest, President Ruto has refused to abandon his budget, instead choosing to push back against the demonstrators in an effort to restore calm.

The ongoing protests underscore the deepening public discontent with the new tax measures, which are intended to address Kenya’s substantial debt burden, exceeding $80 billion. Servicing this debt consumes more than half of the nation’s annual tax revenues. Earlier this year, Kenya secured a restructuring of its international debt commitments, which led to a surge in the value of its currency. This move was seen as essential to prevent a default on debt payments, reflecting Ruto’s focus on stabilizing the economy.

However, the proposed tax hikes, which range from increased taxes on healthcare and housing to levies on car ownership and financial transactions, have been met with fierce resistance. Despite some of the most contentious taxes being dropped after public consultation, the opposition remains strong. Many Kenyans blame the country’s financial struggles on longstanding issues of corruption and lack of transparency, and they are reluctant to support new tax measures without assurances of fiscal accountability.

For President Ruto, who has a history of involvement in a government criticized for corruption, the protests represent a significant challenge to his credibility and authority. His administration’s response to the protests, perceived by many as heavy-handed, has drawn further condemnation and has done little to quell the unrest. The youth-led movement behind the protests, which President Ruto had previously sought to inspire and engage, now poses the greatest challenge to his leadership since Kenya’s independence in 1963.

In his inauguration speech, Ruto had reached out to the country’s politically active youth, sharing his journey from a young campaign volunteer to the presidency. He encouraged them to let their experiences shape their leadership aspirations. However, it is now this very demographic that is driving the movement against his government, demanding change and accountability.

As Kenya faces a critical juncture, the coming days will be crucial for President Ruto. The government and the protestors appear to be on a collision course, with no clear resolution in sight. The outcome of this confrontation will likely shape the future of Kenya’s political landscape and test the resilience of its democracy.

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