Kenya Drops Controversial Tax Bill Amid Public Outcry

NAIROBI — In a dramatic reversal, Kenya’s government has abandoned several contentious tax proposals from this year’s finance bill, including a 16 percent levy on bread, following widespread public backlash.

The announcement was made by Members of Parliament as law enforcement clashed with demonstrators in the capital, Nairobi. Police deployed tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the angry crowds, resulting in dozens of arrests. Lawyers joined the protesters at the city’s central police station, demanding the release of those detained.

Since assuming office in 2022, President William Ruto has pushed through numerous unpopular tax hikes, aiming to reduce Kenya’s substantial national debt, which stands at nearly $80 billion. However, the latest proposals sparked fears among critics that they would hamper economic growth and lead to job losses.

Protesters marching through Nairobi called for President Ruto’s resignation, chanting, “Ruto must go! Ruto must go!”

Kuria Kimani, chairman of the parliamentary finance committee, announced the government’s decision to retract some of the proposed taxes during a press briefing attended by President Ruto and other coalition lawmakers. He noted that the finance team had been gathering public opinions on the bill and decided to withdraw certain measures to alleviate the financial burden on Kenyans amid rising living costs.

Among the taxes scrapped were levies on cooking oil, mobile money services, and motor vehicles—taxes that critics argued would also impact the insurance sector adversely. Additionally, a proposed eco tax targeting environmentally harmful products such as packaging, plastics, and tires has been revised. Originally intended to cover a broad range of items, including nappies, sanitary products, computers, and mobile phones, the levy will now apply only to imported goods, Kimani said.

The move is seen as a response to mounting public pressure and a strategic attempt to mitigate further unrest while addressing the nation’s financial challenges.

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