Death toll mounts in Kenya as police intensify crackdown on protests against US-IMF backed tax regime

After police killed six protesters and arrested more than 300 on July 19, Kenya’s left and human rights group warned of a resurgent police state. Kenyans have been protesting President William Ruto’s Finance Act that increases taxes on essential goods

July 21, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Death toll mounts in Kenya as police intensify crackdown on protests against US-IMF backed tax regime
Kenyans stage a protest against the government's Finance Act on July 12. Photo: Fred Mutune/Xinhua

Police killed six more protesters and arrested over 300 on Wednesday, July 19, in a violent crackdown on the protests against the US-IMF backed Finance Act 2023. The Act introduced by the government of President William Ruto taxes incomes and basic commodities amid a cost of living crisis, while making concessions to foreign capital. While the Act has been temporarily stayed by a court, the government has nevertheless imposed the taxes envisioned in it.

As many as 23 were reportedly killed during the crackdown on the protests earlier this month on July 7 and July 12. Among those shot dead was a celebrated boxing champion, Raphael Shigali.

Ahead of the protest July 19, Kenya Medical Association (KMA) had warned that “our members attended to hundreds of injured Kenyans and witnessed tens of fatalities… and the threat of this continuing is worrying.”

Read | Understanding mass protests and violent repression in Kenya: William Ruto’s tax hikes

Clashes between police and protesters were also reported on Thursday, July 20, in the city of Kisumu and in two shantytowns of the capital Nairobi. Mass protests in other parts of the country ebbed under the pressure of an intense crackdown.

“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the police have used beatings, arbitrary arrests and detention of protestors, indiscriminate and disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannons, and other serious rights violations to police the protests,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “We call for an immediate stop to violent policing and criminalizing of protests by the state.”

Apart from live bullets, suffocation by teargas is reported to be the main cause of deaths. The police teargassed 50 children inside the Kihumbuini Primary School in Nairobi, and another group of children in a kindergarten in Nakuru County, according to the Independent Medico Legal Unit (IMLU).

In a statement titled “Kenya marching slowly into a police state,” IMLU warned on Friday, July 21, about rising cases of “non-uniformed officers” using “vehicles with either distorted or no number plates” to “bundle protesters into car trunks and speedoff to unknown locations.”

Read | While Kenyans are protesting on the streets, US and IMF cheer President William Ruto’s ‘reforms’

Police also attacked at least two human rights defenders in their office on June 19 and abducted another, Boniface Ogutu, on July 20, said the statement, adding that “his whereabouts are still unknown.”

Haki Africa reported that on July 19, Nyando Social Justice Center “was burnt down… allegedly by police who threw tear gas canisters inside the office setting it ablaze.”

The Communist Party of Kenya (CPK), whose member Harris Ochieng was shot dead on July 7 and 37 of whose members were detained for two nights, condemned “the resurgence of the oppressive police state.”

Denouncing the “special lethal force created by President Ruto to suppress protestors and engage in cold-blooded killings” the party declared in a statement on July 20, “We shall not allow peace without justice to prevail… We call upon all Kenyan masses to intensify the mass offensive until concrete proposals are put forward to dismantle all anti-people policies set out by the Kenya Kwanza kleptocracy.”

Some of the provisions of the Act that have infuriated Kenyans are the doubling of Value Added Tax on fuel, a levy to build “affordable housing,” and taxes on the staple maize and sugar.