Interview: Protests continue in Kenya demanding Ruto step down

On June 23, millions of Kenyans mobilized across the entire country against the Finance Bill 2024 that was sanctioned by parliament that day. The government unleashed a deadly repression but was unable to put the protests down. The following morning, President William Ruto had to announce the retirement of the Bill. But the protests have continued, now demanding the president step down. We interviewed a participant of the protests and member of the Revolutionary Socialist League, ISL section in Kenya.

What sparked these protests?

This was sparked by rampant unchecked corruption and the arrogance that this government showed its people. The rejection of the finance bill was not the beginning, it was a trigger of build up anger for the long standing corruption and oppression of this government and previous government. They display grotesque opulence and extravagance, with expensive cars, million dollar watches and $10,000 belts. And at the same time they are telling the people to tighten their belts. That’s what sparked this protest.

William Ruto is the fifth President of Kenya, who came to power in 2022, elected on the United Democratic Alliance Party, which is the ruling party now and also has the majority in parliament. That’s why it’s very easy for him to pass bills because the MPs are basically his puppets. They pass the bill regardless of how the people they represent feel. Honestly, they’re having a very bad time right now. When they go back to their constituencies, they get beaten up, their houses are getting burned.

Ruto is a darling of the West just like the previous president, another despot, Kenyatta. If anything, he is worse, as a more direct agent of the IMF and its agenda, and more openly neoliberal. The Finance Bill 2024 was designed together with the IMF and the World Bank to increase all the taxes that the majority of Kenyans pay, in order to raise funds to pay external debt. This was clearly seen as another way to continue squeezing the impoverished masses while protecting the huge wealth of a few businessmen and corrupt politicians, especially by the youth that spearheaded the protest.

How were these protests organized?

They were organized online by young people coordinating on safer platforms. That is where the call for “seven days of rage” was put out, fliers and posters were designed and disseminated and actions were organized. No parties or NGOs had a hand in the matter, though members of revolutionary organizations like ours play a significant role.

The actions of the “seven days of rage” and the “seven days of justice”

How have they continued after Ruto announced the withdrawal of the finance bill?

What people should know outside Kenya, is that the president is one of the biggest pathological liars out there. There is a press statement that he gave on Tuesday evening, right after the protests, calling us criminals and treacherous people in a very angry tone, threatening to intensify the repression with the military. That was the real him. The next day, he said that he conceded and would withdraw the bill. That was for the international community, given the brutality that happened the night before. But here, no one believes him.

That’s why people say this is not even about the finance bill anymore. That is why we organized a new week of actions, “seven days of justice,” because of the hundreds killed, injured, arrested or disappeared the previous week. Our demand is now for Ruto to resign and those responsible for the deadly repression to be brought to justice. There should be a total overhaul of the government. And what we’re planning to do is to make it a total overhaul of the system.

What is the perspective?

The government has said that they will set up a national dialogue committee. They are trying to quell violence, but they’re still not listening to the people. So protests will continue. We are pushing for a general strike in addition to the marches and other actions, as that is where the working people’s real power lies.

The outcome is uncertain, but already, win or lose, what has happened is very important for the Kenyan people. For the first time in history, the young people have organized, not based on their tribal lines, which was the main way people organized politically in Kenya. For the first time, it’s an issue that has united the people. And this will make it easier for organizations like the RSL to organize, because people will be looking at the issues that we have and the ideologies that we have to improve the situation.

People like President Ruto were not elected because they were the best candidates, but because they come from the largest tribes and their allies also came from the largest tribes. This new generation wants to hold its leaders accountable. And I think this change creates an opportunity for organizations who are seeking to recruit people based on ideology. So even if this doesn’t go through, I think moving on, organizations like the RSL will have an easier time organizing. That is what everyone is talking about now.