Kenya’s Gen Z use Biblical reference to lead protests against tax hike

By Ken Kagicha |
Kenya protests against tax increases
Young people were among the main drivers of protests against new taxes. | Christian Daily International

Thousands of Kenyan youth demonstrated against the government’s plan to increase existing and introduce new taxes through a bill before parliament. Placards and slogans of ‘Zacchaeus, come down!’ were seen in the streets of the capital Nairobi and other cities across the country comparing President William Ruto’s ambitious tax plans to Zacchaeus the tax collector in the Bible, in Luke 19:1-10.

The peaceful yet growing protests started in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, on Tuesday 18, but spread to other cities and towns. What started as an online opposition to the bill through the #RejectFinanceBill2024 hashtag, spread to the streets thanks to young Kenyans in their late teens and early 20’s who used social media to mobilize and lead the protests.

Generation Z or Gen Z as they are popularly known, demanded Members of Parliament vote against the Finance Bill 2024 and accused Ruto’s government of being insensitive to the plight of Kenyans burdened by increasing costs of living.

In response to the protesters, the police lobbed tear-gas canisters and barricaded roads leading to parliament as banner-carrying demonstrators chanted anti-government slogans. The ruling coalition dropped most of the controversial tax proposals but more protesters took to the streets on the third day of the demonstrations demanding a recall of the Finance Bill 2024 instead of the amendments that were presented in parliament.

Several groups, including Church associations had made their thoughts on the bill known during the public participation phase weeks before the protests began.

Speaking to Christian Daily International, the General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of Kenya (EAK), Kepha Nyandega, explained how the alliance was deeply involved in the public participation conducted by parliament’s Finance and Planning Committee.

"We knew we had to present our analysis of the bill and realized that as Church leaders in Kenya, we needed expert consultant services to provide an in-depth review of the Finance Bill 2024,” said Nyandega.

While submitting EAK’s position to the committee, Nyandega maintained that raising taxes would not lead to Kenya’s prosperity. 

“If Kenyans are not going to be left with disposable incomes to provide for their needs, the economy will continue to shrink and the government will have less to collect. The problem in Kenya is spending not revenues,” said Nyandega. 

Earlier in June, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) had warned that the punitive taxes proposed in the Finance Bill would have a negative effect on the economy and impoverish the majority of Kenyans if passed into law.

“We urge the government to establish a tax regime that is predictable and conducive to economic growth, rather than one that stifles the private sector and overburdens the poor and vulnerable,” said the Catholic Bishops in a statement.

The Anglican Church of Kenya Archbishop, Jackson Ole Sapit, acknowledged the government’s need to raise revenue but challenged the approach to overburden citizens with new tax demands without commensurate service delivery.

“The stark contrast of allocating funds for luxuries like new car allowances and office amenities, while necessities such as vaccines remain inaccessible to our children, underscores a fundamental failure in our approach to public finance,” said Ole Sapit.

He also cautioned MPs that an increase in tax on bread, sacrament and altar wine and medical dressings would adversely impact the church's service to its faithfuls.

The bill had also proposed an increase on tax on other basic essentials such as cooking oil, fuel, financial transactions, sanitary pads and diapers, and an introduction of new taxes on motor vehicles and a new levy for a planned national health fund, as well as an eco levy that will impact the cost of many products.