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“We support them fully”: Kenya’s Religious Leaders on Gen Z-led “peaceful” Protests against Finance Bill 2024

Bishop Willybard Lagho of Malindi Catholic Diocese reading a statement of the Interreligious Council of Kenya (IRCK) on Kenya's Controversial Finance Bill. Credit: IRCK Facebook page

“We support them fully”: Kenya’s Religious Leaders on Gen Z-led “peaceful” Protests against Finance Bill 2024

By ACI Africa Staff

Religious leaders in Kenya have expressed their support for the ongoing Generation Z (Gen Z)-led protests against the controversial proposed Finance Bill 2024, calling for the withdrawal of the Bill which they say  has “punitive tax measures.”

In a statement shared with ACI Africa on Monday, June 24, members of the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya (IRCK) said, “We stand in solidarity with the youth engaged in peaceful demonstrations and commend them for that. The Finance Bill 2024 is a Kenyan agenda, and we support them fully.”

“This is not a push by the youth alone. Over 85% of Kenyans stand in solidarity with the youth, and we firmly call for the withdrawal of the Finance Bill 2024,” the representatives of faith-based leaders in Kenya added.

The IRCK statement was issued a day before the previously peaceful youth-led protests turned violent.

On Tuesday, June 25, the anti-tax protests turned violent, with Kenyan police opening fire on individuals who were engaged in the protests. Protesters with different degrees of injuries, some fatal and with gunshot wounds, were admitted at various medical facilities in Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, as well as other Kenyan cities.  

The violence heightened when suspected police officers fired at demonstrators who stormed the Kenyan parliament, reportedly killing at least five of the protesters outside parliament. Bodies were also seen lying on the streets near parliament buildings, where legislators were discussing the controversial Bill.

Other injured people, who appeared to be in critical condition were brought to the premises of Holy Family Minor Basilica of Kenya’s  Catholic Archdiocese of Nairobi (ADN), where paramedics had pitched a tent to treat the injured protesters.

In their June 24 statement, Kenya’s religious leaders, who echoed the chants of the protesters to have “all those punitive tax measures proposed” in the Finance Bill 2024 withdrawn and eliminated said that the Bill had “galvanized palpable citizen political momentum across the country, fronted by the youth, vehemently resisting the assertive push by the government to pass the infamous Bill, which is set to introduce punitive taxes.”

They urged the President William Samoei Ruto-led government to “come alive” to the fact that Kenyans are overburdened by the high cost of living, and added, “The government should not make life harder by introducing new taxes. On this basis, he should withdraw the Finance Bill 2024.”

The faith leaders representing Christian, Hindu, Muslim, and African Traditional religions said they were concerned about what they referred to as “the rising political temperatures and disconnect between the government and the people of Kenya following the Bill.”

“The ongoing constitutionally guaranteed public demonstrations against the punitive taxes proposed in the Finance Bill 2024 are an eye-sore because police officers are using excessive force, which has sadly led to the death of two young Kenyans,” the representatives of the faith-based leaders in Kenya said in their June 24 statement.

While condoling with the families of the two young people who had lost their lives during the previous protests, IRCK members urged the country’s Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) to “conduct speedy investigations to give the families closure.”

They also called upon the government to “consciously engage Kenyans in an honest discussion, as opposed to scare-mongering that the government will shut down for lack of money if the Finance Bill 2024 is not passed.”

Generation Z (Gen Z)-led protests against Kenya’s Finance Bill 2024 started on June 18, the day the Bill was tabled in parliament for debate, with hundreds of youths and some human rights activists taking to the streets of Nairobi to urge the legislators not to vote for the Bill during its second reading that was scheduled for June 20.

On June 20, the Gen Z-led protests took place in at least 18 Kenyan cities and townships, with protestors saying they are not satisfied with the announced amendments to the Bill that aim to raise US$2.7 billion through additional taxes and want the entire Bill rejected. 

Kenya’s legislators approved the Bill in its second reading with 204 votes in favor and 115 against. The proposed Bill, protestors say, is set to raise the cost of living for an average Kenyan, who is already struggling to survive.

Irked by the developments, Kenyan youths led the street protests across the country, chanting “Ruto must go” and “Zakayo shuka” slogans, the latter a favourable comparison of President Ruto to Zacchaeus, the wealthy chief tax collector of short stature, who was asked by Jesus Christ to come down from the sycamore-fig tree he had climbed to have a glimpse of Jesus. 

In spite of the widespread opposition, Kenyan legislators met again on Tuesday, June 25, and approved the proposed amendments to the Finance Bill 2024, with apposition legislators opposed to the entire Bill having withdrawn their respective amendments. 

Kenya’s President William Samoei Ruto has two options: to sign it into law within the stipulated 14 days or return it to the legislators for further amendments.

Amid June 25 violent protests mainly in Nairobi, a section of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) members quickly convened a press conference at Roussel House of Donum Dei Missionary Sisters in Karen, Nairobi, calling for calm across the East African nation. They also criticized the police for using excessive force to stop the protests.

police have tried to act rightly, decry and condemn in the strongest terms, the use of force by the police, the arrests, and the indiscriminate and unnecessary use of live bullets,” the Catholic Bishops said.

In their six-page eight-point collective statement that was read out in turns, beginning with KCCB Chairman, Archbishop Maurice Muhatia Makumba, they added, “Unwarranted attacks on peaceful protesters cannot be justified. The police have many ways to ensure protests remain peaceful.”

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