Kenya Police officers detain an injured man during an anti-government demonstration called following nationwide deadly protests over tax hikes and a controversial now-withdrawn tax bill in downtown Nairobi, on July 2, 2024. Image Credit: AFP

NAIROBI: Crowds in Kenya’s capital Nairobi lobbed rocks and looted businesses as police officers fired tear gas in scattered violence during fresh anti-government protests Tuesday following last month’s deadly demonstrations.

Activists have continued to agitate loudly online against President William Ruto, despite his decision last week to withdraw a controversial finance bill that triggered what he has branded “treasonous” protests by Gen-Z Kenyans.

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The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) said on Monday that 39 people had been killed and 361 injured during two weeks of protests — with the worst violence occurring in Nairobi last Tuesday - and condemned the use of force against demonstrators as “excessive and disproportionate”.

It is the most serious crisis to confront Ruto since he took office in September 2022 in a nation often considered a beacon of stability in a turbulent region.

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After last week’s bloody chaos, young Kenyans, whose protest movement has no official leaders, called for a new day of peaceful action on Tuesday, with leaflets posted online using the hashtag “RutoMustGo”.

‘Goons have infiltrated’

But Nairobi’s central business district - the focus of previous rallies - saw sporadic confrontations on Tuesday afternoon. Police fired tear gas and used water cannon against groups of stone-throwing men, some of who lit bonfires on deserted roads.

“Goons have infiltrated,” prominent Gen-Z protester Hanifa Adan posted on X, followed by a string of broken heart emojis.

AFP journalists reported seeing a number of arrests and injuries, although there are no official figures.

Image Credit: AFP

Several coffins, some covered with the national flag, were placed on roads by protesters, images on Kenyan television showed, before they were removed by officers.

Local politician John Kwenya told AFP that business owners shuttering their shops were “scared” of the “goons”.

“This is economic sabotage,” said Kwenya, a member of the Nairobi city county assembly.

Elsewhere in the country, local television broadcast images of larger marches in the coastal opposition stronghold of Mombasa, where a number of cars were torched, and Kenyan media shared video of at least one shop being vandalised.

At a peaceful march in the lakeside city of Kisumu in western Kenya, demonstrator Allan Odhiambo, 26, told AFP he had lost hope in Ruto.

“We promised a peaceful protest and that is what we have done, but Ruto must go,” he said, citing a slogan that has become a popular hashtag.

“Let him just pack (up) and go.”

‘We want justice’

On Tuesday last week, largely peaceful anti-tax rallies descended into deadly chaos when lawmakers passed the finance bill - a deeply unpopular move among Kenyans already suffering a cost of living crisis.

After the announcement of the vote, crowds ransacked the partly ablaze parliament complex in central Nairobi as police fired live bullets at protesters.

Ruto then decided to scrap the tax legislation and has appealed for dialogue with young Kenyans, but his actions appear not to have appeased his critics.

In a television interview on Sunday he defended his decision to call in the armed forces to tackle unrest and insisted he did not have “blood on my hands”.

In the Rift Valley town of Nakuru on Tuesday, protesters marched peacefully, with some carrying pictures of three who lost their lives in last week’s demonstrations.

“We want justice for innocent Kenyans killed by police during the protests that were peaceful,” Mary Lynn Wangui told AFP.

“Ruto has not offered an apology,” said the 24-year-old, as she waved a placard declaring: “RutoMustGo”.

‘Unwarranted violence’

The state-funded KNCHR said Monday that in the previous protests there had been 32 cases of “enforced or involuntary disappearances” and 627 arrests of protesters.

“The Commission continues to condemn in the strongest terms possible the unwarranted violence and force that was inflicted on protesters, medical personnel, lawyers, journalists and on safe spaces such as churches, medical emergency centres and ambulances,” it said.

Kenya’s cash-strapped government said previously that the tax increases were necessary to fill its coffers and service a huge public debt of some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), or about 70 percent of GDP.

In Sunday’s interview, Ruto warned that the government would have to borrow another $7.7 billion because of the decision to drop the finance bill.