The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Debt Crises and Protests

Jul 1, 2024

On June 25, waves of protests rocked Nairobi, the capital of Kenya. The spark for these protests was the introduction of a new finance bill that would levy punishing taxes on everyday essentials, including sugar, bread and cooking oil—a policy that would hit poor Kenyans the hardest.

To try to quell the demonstrations, the Kenyan government unleashed brutal repression, while also extending a few concessions. The police and other government forces arrested, kidnapped, beat, shot and tear-gassed protesters, killing over two dozen people. At the same time, Kenyan president William Ruto announced that he would not sign the finance bill that contained the much-hated tax increases, claiming that he was “listening keenly to the people of Kenya.”

But Ruto’s U-turn over the tax bill was not enough to quell the protests. On June 26, demonstrators announced a “One Million March,” calling for roads leading to the capital of Nairobi to be blocked. Others threatened to occupy government buildings, including the president’s official residence.

Most of the protesters are young people in their teens and early twenties. For years, they had been demonstrating against the severe lack of jobs, big cuts to funding for education and health care, and the rising cost of living, especially food and fuel prices.

Less than a year ago, in July 2023, the government announced a doubling of the fuel tax. This provoked several days of anti-government demonstrations in Nairobi, the capital, and 13 of Kenya’s 47 counties. The Kenyan police killed 23 people and arrested hundreds more.

Certainly, the young people in the streets were battling rampant corruption of top government officials and the ruling elite. For example, the bill contained extravagant expenditures for construction projects for the very rich, including the renovation of the president’s residence.

But Ruto and those around him are merely the guardians for the big imperial powers, starting with the U.S. banks and financial companies.

Currently, Kenya’s domestic and foreign debt comes to a staggering 80 billion dollars. This accounts for three-quarters of the country’s entire economic output. Interest payments alone eat up 27% of all the tax money collected each year.

Just two weeks before the latest protests, it was the International Monetary Fund that had imposed this latest round of tax increases on the Kenyan government, in the interests of the big international banks and financial companies. Imperialism is bleeding the country dry—just like all of Africa.

The fight of the young people in Kenya isn’t just against one corrupt government, but capitalist and imperialist domination.