(GIN) — Kenyans are preparing for tough times after lawmakers approved tax increases that are unpopular even with supporters of the president, who once vowed to reduce the cost of living. William Ruto’s election win was attributed to his appeal to voters as a fellow “hustler” who rose from a humble background to senior roles in government, including as Jomo Kenyatta’s vice president.
“He said he was going to make life easier for us hustlers. We are now unable to afford food. Prices are higher than they were before elections,” hairdresser Evelyne Adhiambo told a reporter.
Protests against the taxes led by opposition leader Raila Odinga have turned violent. Stone-throwers have clashed with police in Kenyan cities during a second round of demonstrations within a week.
According to local media reports, three schoolchildren were rushed to the hospital after police sprayed tear gas into their school while dispersing protesters. At least six people were killed during protests against the taxes.
Kenya’s High Court suspended the tax hike pending a legal challenge, but the government raised gas prices anyway.
Ruto campaigned on a platform of reducing the cost of living. He accused former President Uhuru Kenyatta of letting food costs “skyrocket because he has never slept without food in his life, as he was born in a wealthy family.”
Christian and Muslim leaders have now been urging the president to repeal the finance bill, warning that Kenyans face a level of hopelessness that “can easily inspire insurrection.” Ruto said new taxes were the only way to reduce borrowing for a government with a public debt of $67 billion.
Economist Aly Khan Satchu called the gas tax a reform that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was championing for some time and may have been a “soft precondition” for a $1.1 billion IMF package recently announced for Kenya.
According to writer Patrick Gathara, “The ability to command the loyalty of a police force that can kill and brutalize your perceived enemies and a compliant, corrupt parliament that can give your oppression the veneer of law, in the end, will only delay an inevitable reckoning with the people.
“Winning an election may give one access to public power, but that access has to be constantly negotiated during one’s term. And the people’s consent can be withdrawn at any time, with or without an intervening election. That is the essence of government by consent rather than by coercion. It is not about how many MPs support you. Rather, it is about how many Kenyans do.”