Kenyan President William Ruto scraps $2.3 billion tax plan after deadly protests

On Wednesday, a man walks past the wreckage of a car burned down by protesters following a deadly nationwide strike to protest against tax hikes and the Finance Bill 2024 in downtown Nairobi. (Luis Tato/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Kenyan President William Ruto said he’s withdrawn his support for a contentious tax bill and called on lawmakers to scrap it, bowing to public pressure after protests against the plan to raise $2.3 billion in new levies led to the deaths of at least 23 people.

“I decline to assent to the Finance Bill, 2024,” and refer it to the National Assembly for reconsideration with the recommendation that all the clauses be deleted, he said in a letter to the speaker of parliament.


The letter followed a televised address in which Ruto said “I concede,” and would therefore not sign the bill. “I run a government but I also lead people. And the people have spoken.”

Ruto proposed the new taxes to improve state finances and access more International Monetary Fund financing. On Tuesday, lawmakers in his ruling coalition pushed through the bill — after dropping some of the more contentious levies such as a 16% tax on bread. While the fiscal reform plans have cheered markets, they triggered protests by residents struggling with rising food prices and a youth unemployment rate that the Federation of Kenya Employers puts at as high as 67%.

Protesters broke through police barricades and stormed the National Assembly just after lawmakers approved the legislation. Ruto in a defiant speech hours later termed the action treasonous and said he’d deploy the military to quell further violence. His reversal comes after his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta and civil society leaders asked him to talk to protesters.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Ruto and thanked him “for taking steps to reduce tensions and pledging to engage in dialogue with the protesters and civil society,” according to a State Department statement on Wednesday.

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