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Kenyans without hope more likely to revolt, warn religious leaders

21 July 2023

Alamy

Protesters throw stones at police who are firing tear gas in the Mathare neighbourhood of Nairobi, on Wednesday of last week

Protesters throw stones at police who are firing tear gas in the Mathare neighbourhood of Nairobi, on Wednesday of last week

RELIGIOUS leaders in Kenya have urged its government to repeal tax rises that have prompted mass protests met by police violence.

Protests erupted on Wednesday of last week against tax increases included in the Finance Act 2023. A Kenyan court had temporarily blocked the implementation of the Act, but the government, under the President, Dr William Ruto, implemented a sharp rise in fuel tax, which added to an already soaring cost of living.

A spokesman for the UN Human Rights Office, Jeremy Laurence, said that 23 people had been killed, and dozens had been injured, in last week’s demonstrations, and that there were “allegations of unnecessary or disproportionate use of force, including the use of firearms, by police”. He called for independent investigation of the deaths and injuries of protesters.

“We call on the authorities to ensure the right to peaceful assembly as guaranteed by the Kenyan Constitution and international human-rights law,” he said. “We appeal for calm, and encourage open dialogue to address social, economic, and political grievances, with the aim of identifying lasting solutions in the interests of all Kenyans.”

A meeting of religious leaders, including the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya, Dr Jackson Ole Sapit, at Ufungamano House, Nairobi, issued a statement urging the government to adopt policies that gave Kenyans hope, and to repeal the Finance Act “so as to review the heavy taxation burden it imposes on Kenyans”.

“The suffering individual Kenyans are experiencing is pushing them into hopelessness that can easily inspire insurrection,” says the statement, signed by the chairman of the Kenyan Conference of Catholic Bishops, Archbishop Martin Kivuva Musonde of Mombasa; the chairman of the National Council of Churches of Kenya — which includes the Anglican Church — Archbishop Timothy Ndambuki (Africa Brotherhood Church); and the chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims, Al Hajj Hassan Ole Naado.

They warn that Kenya is on a “downward spiral into the abyss”, and suggest that “Maintaining the prevailing tax levels will give citizens a chance to recover their livelihoods and inspire hope for the future.”

They continue: “As religious leaders, we have listened to Kenyans and recognise that our nation is headed in the wrong direction. It is time for us to ‘Take Our Country Back’. We must not allow the selfish interests of political leaders to destroy our homeland and push us into destitution.”

They also urge the opposition leader, Raila Odinga, to step back from his call to mass protest in response to the rise in taxation. Mr Odinga lost the presidential election last year (News, 26 August 2022), but disputes its outcome.

“The tension, violence, and shedding of blood are making the situation worse for the people of Kenya, rather than solving the problems they are struggling with,” the statement says.

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