Over 200 Detained in Kenya During Protests Against Proposed Tax Increases

More than 200 protesters have been arrested in Nairobi, Kenya, during ongoing demonstrations against proposed tax increases in a finance bill set to be presented to parliament.

Civil society groups have stated that protests and a planned sit-in outside parliament buildings will continue despite the arrests of 210 protesters.

Nairobi Police Commander Adamson Bungei said on Tuesday that no group had received permission to protest in the capital. While the right to peaceful protests is enshrined in the Constitution, organizers are required to notify the police in advance. Police generally grant permission unless security concerns arise.

Police used tear gas on hundreds of demonstrators on Tuesday, forcing businesses to temporarily close due to concerns about looting.

Lawyer Wanjohi Gachie stated that he was protesting on behalf of all Kenyans who would potentially be burdened by the tax increases.

“I’m requesting the police not to arrest or beat us, because we are fighting for their rights as well,” he said.

Several key tax proposals in the bill were dropped following a Tuesday morning meeting between ruling party lawmakers and President William Ruto.

The chairperson of the finance committee, Kuria Kimani, said the proposal to introduce a 16% value-added tax on bread had been dropped.

Other levies that had been debated and have been amended include a proposed 2.5% annual tax on motor vehicles that was to be added to insurance premiums.

A proposed tax on goods that degrade the environment will also be amended to apply only to imported goods in an effort to encourage local manufacturing.

Rights group Amnesty Kenya reported that its staff members observing the protests were arrested.

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of all arrested protesters and observers,” the group stated.

Kenya Law Society President Faith Odhiambo said that police used tear gas on lawyers at a Nairobi police station as they attempted to see their clients.

Ruto defended the proposed taxes last month, asserting that Kenya needs to be financially self-sufficient.

“The whole principle is that you must live within your means,” he said. “I persuaded and I made a case to the people of Kenya that we must begin to enhance our revenue.”

Opposition leader Raila Odinga urged legislators to scrutinize the bill and vote to remove clauses that would burden the poor.

“It is worse than the one of 2023, an investment killer and a huge millstone around the necks of millions of poor Kenyans who must have hoped that the tears they shed over taxes last year would see the government lessen the tax burden in 2024,” he said in a statement in early June.

stated that weekly protests would resume if the finance bill is approved in its current form.

Legislators are scheduled to debate the bill starting Wednesday, with a vote planned for Monday.

Last year’s finance law introduced a 1.5% housing tax on gross income for salaried individuals, despite concerns that it would further burden Kenyans already grappling with a high cost of living. The law also doubled VAT on petroleum products from 8% to 16%.