AFP26 June 2024 | 14:07

Kenya's Ruto says finance bill to be withdrawn after anti-tax protest deaths

On Tuesday afternoon, Parliament passed the contentious bill containing the tax hikes, which had to be signed by Ruto to become law.

Kenya's Ruto says finance bill to be withdrawn after anti-tax protest deaths

Kenyan President William Ruto / Wikimedia Commons: U.S. Secretary of Defense

NAIROBI - Kenyan President William Ruto said Wednesday that a bill containing contentious tax hikes would "be withdrawn", dramatically reversing course after more than 20 people died and parliament was ransacked by protesters opposed to the legislation.

But he warned that the withdrawal of the finance bill would mean a significant shortfall in funding for development programmes designed to help farmers and schoolteachers, among others, as the East African nation struggles to lower its foreign debt burden.

"I concede and therefore I will not sign the 2024 finance bill and it shall subsequently be withdrawn," Ruto told a press briefing, adding: "The people have spoken."

Ruto's administration has been taken by surprise by the intensity of opposition to its tax hikes, with protests breaking out across the country last week.

The largely peaceful rallies turned violent on Tuesday when lawmakers passed the legislation and police fired live rounds into crowds that ransacked the partly ablaze parliament complex.

The state-funded Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said it had recorded 22 deaths and 300 injured victims, adding that they would launch an investigation.

Frustration over the rising cost of living spiralled last week as lawmakers began debating the bill containing the tax hikes.

Ruto's cash-strapped government said the increases were needed to service the country's massive debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), equal to roughly 70 percent of Kenya's GDP.