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Police out in force as fresh protests hit Kenya

July 2, 2024

Riot police have fired tear gas at protesters in Kenya's capital, Nairobi, as demonstrations erupted in several cities.

People use whistles as they stand near fire burning during a demonstration in Nairobi
New protests in Kenya continue to put pressure on the government of President William RutoImage: Monicah Mwangi/REUTERS

Fresh protests have flared again in several cities in Kenya, with demonstrators facing a heavy police presence.

In the capital, Nairobi, police fired tear gas at protesters after they set fires on the main road running through the center of the city and threw stones at police in the central business district.

DW correspondent Sella Oneko said she saw "small groups of protesters being chased by police," with officers sporadically firing tear gas and making arrests.

But outside of Kenya's parliament, where thousands of people had tried stormed the compound last Tuesday in anger over proposed tax hikes, it was quiet, she said.

Tuesday's rallies come despite President William Ruto bowing to pressure from the protesters and abandoning the unpopular Finance Bill last week.

Riot police walk along a street with a cloud of tear gas behind them.
Kenyan police fired tear gas to scatter small crowds in NairobiImage: Monicah Mwangi/REUTERS

Protesters seeking 'justice' for those killed

"We are here today to continue with the protests, we must make sure our concerns are heard," human rights lawyer Hussein Khalid, the head of the Kenyan-based rights group Haki Africa, told DW. "And we are standing together with our fallen comrades who have been killed and demanding justice for them."

According to the government-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, 39 people have been killed and 361 injured during two weeks of youth-led demonstrations, with 32 enforced disappearances. A number of these occurred last week when police fired live bullets at protesters as they breached the parliament complex.

Protester Philip Mslo told DW that even though far fewer young people had turned out on Tuesday compared to last week, he felt it was "really important to show up for my brothers and sisters ... and unite."

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Many people were avoiding the city center, and the embassies of several countries, including the US, Ukraine and Poland, have warned their citizens to avoid crowded places.

Most of the shops in the city were shuttered in case of violence, and many had placed guards in front of the doors.

One shop owner told DW that his shop had been attacked and his neighbor's shop was looted. "Those are not demonstrators, those are thugs, carrying crude weapons like scissors," he said, adding they were mostly attacking M-Pesa mobile money service shops and phone dealers.

NTV Kenya's livestream showed hundreds of protesters walking on the streets of Mombasa, Kenya's second largest city. They waved palm fronds, blew on plastic horns and beat on drums, calling out the president with chants of "Ruto must go!"

Smaller rallies are also taking place in Kisumu on Lake Victoria, Nakuru, northwest of Nairobi and Nyeri in the central highlands.

Protesters mill around on the steet in the center of Nairobi as a tyre burns on the street
Crowds block the roads in central Nairobi with debrisImage: Monicah Mwangi/REUTERS

Speaking on Sunday, Ruto invited youth for a dialogue to address their issues.

Judy Achieng, programs officer at Siasa Place, a political hub that empowers youth and women to take up political leadership, said young people are now too fed up with Ruto to talk and are calling for him and his Kwanza alliance to resign.

"We are tired. The time for talking is out. You [the government] should have listened to us when we first said we don't want this bill," she told DW. "We just want implementation. We want the cost of living to go down. We don't want to talk."

Governance lost people's 'trust'

Ruto was elected in September 2022 on campaign promises to lower the cost of living and create jobs for young people. Young Kenyans are generally more educated than their parents, but the vast majority of jobs are in the informal sector, leaving the country with around 80% of working poor — that is, people who don't earn enough to give them and their families a decent living.

People are angered by corruption, unfulfilled promises, bad governance and what they see as politicians flaunting their wealth, said Achieng.

Kenya must find way to fix budget after tax hikes withdrawn

"These protests, they're beyond the Finance Bill. It's about the governance system that we have in Kenya. [...] Young people feel that politicians have been showing off in terms of lifestyle when other guys are suffering."

Kenyan politicians are the second-highest paid in the world adjusted for GDP. 

DW journalist Andrew Wasike, who is based in Nairobi, said there was "no trust between the president and the youth who are protesting."

"Anybody I speak to on the street [when I am reporting], they'll always say the same thing. 'I don't trust President Ruto, I don't trust what he's saying.' That is why we are at a stalemate. There's no one leading the protests. The youth are just speaking with one voice," he said.

Eddy Micah Jr. and Reuters contributed to this article. It has been updated to reflect the day's events.

Edited by: Martin Kuebler

Kate Hairsine Australian-born journalist and senior editor who mainly focuses on Africa.