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Kenya will need to borrow more after axing tax hikes — Ruto

July 1, 2024

Kenyan President William Ruto said Nairobi will have to borrow billions to tackle Kenya's sovereign debt. He said he was not at fault for the deaths of protesters opposing the now-revoked plans to raise taxes.

Kenyan President William Ruto speaking at podium in front of lawmakers
President William Ruto said his government would borrow money as part of a plan to reduce Kenya's sovereign debt days after he announced he was replacing a planned tax hike with budget cutsImage: Patrick Ngugi/AP/picture-alliance

Kenyan President William Ruto said that the government will have to borrow more money to plug Kenya's deficit.

It comes after Ruto walked back on a controversial tax hike that sparked widespread protests in which at least 30 people were killed, according to rights groups.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said Monday that a total of 39 people have been killed in anti-government protests in Kenya, twice the number previously acknowledged by Ruto.

The rights watchdog also said there had been 32 cases of "enforced or involuntary disappearances" and 627 arrests of protesters.

What did Kenyan officials say about the budget?

Ruto said that the government would need to borrow an extra 346 billion shillings (roughly €2.5 billion, $2.7 billion) to fill the deficit.

"The funding gap we have done with the finance bill going down is that instead of borrowing 600 billion, we are going to borrow 600 billion plus 346 billion," he said during an interview for television channels on Sunday.

Ruto defended the finance bill, saying that his government had failed to properly present it to Kenyans.

"If I am given a chance to explain to the people of Kenya what the finance bill was all about and what it would have done for them, then every Kenyan would agree with me," he said.

While announcing the withdrawal of the controversial finance bill on Wednesday, Ruto said that Nairobi would work towards a "leaner" government and introduce austerity measures instead of raising taxes.

On Monday, Kenyan Finance Minister Njuguna Ndung'u reaffirmed the government's commitment to introducing budget cuts in order to reduce Kenya's sovereign debt.

He said that there were legal limits on borrowing and that expenditure cuts were still necessary.

Kenya's sovereign debt amounts to around 70% of gross domestic product.

Ruto's government is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which has urged Nairobi to implement reforms in order to access funding.

Peoplegather in Nairobi at funeral ceremony of Ibrahim Kamau; a coffin with a green shawl over it is seen in the midst of the crowd
Kenya's government says 19 people were killed in protests against an unpopular finance bill that would have imposed additional leviesImage: Gerald Anderson/Anadolu/picture alliance

'I have no blood on my hands' — Ruto

During his televised comments on Sunday, Ruto argued that he was not culpable for the deaths of protesters during demonstrations against his government's finance bill and stressed that there would be an investigation.

Ruto put the death toll from protests at 19.

"I have no blood on my hands," Ruto said.

"It is very unfortunate," he said, referring to the fatalities. "As a democracy that should not be part of our conversation."

"There will be an investigation on how these 19 Kenyans died," he said. "There will be an explanation for each and every one of them."

"The police have done the best they could," said Ruto. "If there have been any excesses, we have mechanisms to make sure that those excesses are dealt with."

He also warned that protesters who stormed the parliament would be prosecuted.

"Criminals infiltrated and caused mayhem," he said. "Those who attacked Parliament and the judiciary are on CCTV." 

"Many of them are on the run but we will catch them," he said.

sdi/msh (Reuters, AFP)