Pwani Tribune

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Reject Finance Bill 2024 Protests; A Nation United Against a Punitive Regime.

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On the morning of Saturday 22nd June, Kenyans on Twitter/X tuned into a Space that will be the subject of discussion and in-depth analysis for days to come. The team behind the formation of Spaces described the innovation as a welcome tool because “the human voice can bring a layer of connectivity to Twitter/X through emotion, nuance and empathy often lost in text”. The Space on Saturday, ‘Good Morning Kenya: Where is Crazy Nairobian?’ hosted by one @Osama_otero brought all the connectivity and emotion Spaces founders had envisaged. Almost 60,000 Kenyans at home and in the diaspora, international journalists and interested/intrigued parties tuned in. What the Space had were day-long contributions and exchanges on the state of the political landscape, the punitive Finance Bill 2024, police brutality and the unexplained detaining of Billy Simani aka Crazy Nairobian.

60,000 people do not just get up on a whim on a Saturday morning and maintain audience for upwards of 7 hours without cause. This had followed a week of online and on the ground ‘Reject Finance Bill 2024’ and ‘Occupy Parliament’ protests that broke ground on June 18th and set a snowball effect in other towns across Kenya. These were protests with a difference, there was no theft or vandalism intent neither were there mainstream opposition figures leading the charge. The protests, largely featuring youth and Gen Z participation, were fuelled by Kenyans being fed up with the wanton plunder by the government, weighed down by tough economic times and angered at the prospect of more taxes as proposed by Finance Bill 2024. No seeking negotiations with government or a piece of the cake as has been the norm, just ‘chanting down Babylon’ and demanding a total rejection not amendment of Finance Bill 2024. It left the political class wondering how protests can be that effective without involvement of official opposition channels.

The police were also exposed yet again for their use of brutality in the face of peaceful protests. The deaths of two young men, Rex and Evans, at the hands of killer cops meant that next to zero online sympathy was directed to a police officer who lost his hands in a freak teargas canister-launching accident. Until the National Police Service can undertake their mandate while ‘complying with constitutional standards of human rights and fundamental freedoms and train staff to the highest possible standards of competence and integrity and to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and dignity’ as stipulated by The Constitution of Kenya there can be no adoration of them from the Kenyan public. The police need to realize that they too and their families are affected by punitive taxes. A corrupt regime hurts us all, civilian and uniformed. There are undoubtedly good and moral police officers but the way the system is wired, they end up being the minority. When ‘Crazy Nairobian’ was then detained incommunicado, it sprung his friends and other Kenyans on Twitter into action with the Twitter/X Space in the full knowledge that not much good comes out of such arrests. With constant rising numbers in the Twitter/X Space and it gaining attention not just in Kenya, the pressure worked. Crazy Nairobian was released later on in the day.

The Twitter/X Space was started primarily to galvanize efforts of tracing and freeing Crazy Nairobian but it ended up being the spark that got Kenyans unburdening their honest thoughts on politicians and the regime. The presence of notable figures like CS Kipchumba Murkomen, the Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura and government blogger Dennis Itumbi in the Space provided a target for all the pain and disappointment Kenyans feel. Their task was simple, to sit quietly and be berated or provide details on the whereabouts of Crazy Nairobian, nothing else sufficed. The mic was not going to be passed to them to weave a tangled web of deceit in defence of the Finance Bill. Powerful Twitter/X figures like Amerix took to the mic in raw tirades against the regime and its representation in the Space. These are different times, Kenyans have become more vocal and social media has provided alternate powerful and unfiltered information platforms to mainstream media. Narratives can no longer only be shaped by the powers-that-be. It is actually mainstream media that is lagging behind in the desimination of worthwhile informative news to the people. Testament to this is the wave of creating vernacular content explaining the Finance Bill 2024, to be shared across many platforms to inform the vulnerable in society. Lest they fall prey to roadside misinformation by politicians on the same. First explained in Kikuyu by Muchiri Mike on Twitter/X, the Bill has now been dissected in kiTaita, kiGiryama, kiManyala and other languages, plus sign language.

It is a pity that as of yesterday, people like Mandera Senator and former Governor Ali Roba could still come out with statements like “If you see a tortoise sitting on a branch of a tree, you should know that someone put it there”, on the ongoings. They are still not convinced there is no hidden hand in the protests, meaning they are still not getting the picture. Either that or it is by design, to plant seeds of division in the protests. And this would not be too far-fetched. First it was MP Kimani Ichung’wah stating those protesting were iPhone-using, Uber-using, KFC chicken-eating and bottled water-drinking Gen Zs not in touch with real problems. This was a futile attempt at discrediting the protests and push a divide between the youth in rural Kenya, the struggling city youth and the youth from more affluent homes. Further, the Government Spokesperson Isaac Mwaura appeared during the late hours of Saturday night not to pass a message of government retracting on its push for the Bill but to convey theories of the protests being catapulted by those against President Ruto’s Climate Change and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine stances. A tragedy in PR and handling of a crisis.

It matters not that there might be some activists milking the protests for financial gain, as long as the cause is just. If there are, they are in the minority and cannot dilute the authenticity of the protests. We are where we are because the unemployment rate is high, medical interns are not posted, doctors and teachers are not paid what they deserve, schools are not adequately funded, public expenditure is over the roof and lacks transparency and accountability, the shift from NHIF to SHIF and not improvement of the former, we are over-burdened by unconstitutional offices, proposed taxes are unrelenting, corruption is being made to look cool by the perpetrators donning designer belts, shoes and jackets, because everything not working is blamed on the debts accumulated by the former regime plus a plethora of other government failings. Kenyans can no longer afford to go on unperturbed. If indeed the former regime left us in the absolute pits debt-wise, we need a clear audit of the debt situation in Kenya. When what was borrowed, meant for what project, status of the projects and who is owed what as of today. And if indeed coffers were found empty, who took what. It is the only way we can tolerate the government apportioning much of the blame on the previous regime.

In true Murphy’s Law, everything that can presently go wrong for the government in the face of these protests, is going wrong. Confessions like that of MP George Koimburi that MPs were offered Ksh. 2M each to vote for the Finance Bill only add legitimacy and fire in the bellies of Kenyans planning the mother of all protests tomorrow, Tuesday 25th. The Ksh. 2M, if assumed to have been shared to the 204 MPs that voted YES on the bill during its Second Reading, means a whooping Ksh. 408M or likely more was squandered to push for a punitive bill. Amounts that could have gone a long way towards development. It is the kind of impunity that Kenyans are fighting back against. The regime can not be preaching austerity measures whilst at the same time sipping from the cup of lavish foreign trips and wastage. Kenya does not have a revenue problem, what it has is an expenditure and corruption problem.

The killings of Rex and Evans, the abductions of Dr. Austin Omondi aka JaPrado and Shadrack Kiprono aka Shad Khalif yesterday are indicators that the regime will fight back using unconstitutional means. But the movement remains undeterred. Long accused of being mere keyboard warriors, this generation of net-savvy Kenyans have proven naysayers like David Ndii wrong by turning the internet into a galvanizing force for pressure on the ground. When Twitter/X personalities like Mwabili Mwagodi drive from Eldoret to participate in ‘Reject Finance Bill 2024’ protests in Mombasa then head back all the way to Nyahururu to protest infront of President Ruto who was attending a Church event, it is not business as usual. Ali Roba should know the tortoise has decided to climb and sit on the branch of a tree on its own, to determine for itself the future that lies in the horizon.

There are many other Kenyans that have been instrumental in the protests so far, anyone who was involved in whatever way deserves their accolades and flowers for courage and patriotic duty. Entities like Jamia Mosque also deserve praise for opening up their doors to protestors and medics treating injured protestors. The Church in Kenya should follow suit, regardless of whether some of us have already passed judgement on their conduct at a time they were needed to stand up and be counted. As Kenyans march onto Tuesday to Reject Finance Bill 2024, we march informed and sure that things can no longer go on as they have been. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to put things right. ‘People do not defy repression and death, nor do they remain for nights on end protesting energetically, just because of merely formal matters’ – Fidel Castro.

It is time.

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