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Ruto’s Dilemma: Navigating Tough Choices After a Day of Bloodshed.

After a day of protest, turmoil, and bloodshed, Kenyan President William Ruto addressed the nation with a message of sadness and strength.

Saying “legitimate” protests against his policies had been “hijacked by a group of organised criminals,” he warned his government would use all means at its disposal to prevent a repeat of the violence – “at whatever cost.”

“Today’s events mark a critical point on how we respond to threats to our peace,” he said. “We will ensure a situation of this nature does not recur again.”

The president’s message was an attempt to seize back control after days of street protests that have grown in strength and number. On Tuesday, they escalated, with at least five people shot dead and hundreds injured.

In the longer term, some around Mr. Ruto must fear that things might not be so simple and that the prospect of tough choices remains.

Elected in 2022 pledging to cut corruption, shore up the country’s faltering economy, and help the poor, the embattled Mr. Ruto now faces an unprecedented rebellion against a bill he says is an essential part of his plan to build the nation.

It might be easier to know which way to turn if the opposition Mr. Ruto faces were confined within parliament.

An astute political player and deputy president for almost a decade before being elected to the top spot, Mr. Ruto has years of experience wrangling politics to get things done.

Now, though, the forces massed against him are truly beyond his control. A movement that grew organically out of discontent expressed on social media has evolved into a powerful rebellion that has filled the streets of towns across the country.

In the capital, the Nairobi governor’s office, city hall, and the country’s parliament were set ablaze this afternoon.

The protestors had started the day threatening a “total shutdown.”

And at the end of a day of chaos and panic across the country, often set against the sound of teargas and at times live fire from police, there is no doubt their fury has been heard.

In response, Mr. Ruto has chosen not to yield to the demands of the demonstrators by abandoning his budget but has pushed back against them in an effort to calm the country.

Some in his government might wonder whether that position can hold and where it leaves his controversial finance bill in the longer term.

Mr. Ruto has argued that the raft of new taxes is essential to control Kenya’s debt—a huge sum of more than $80bn (£63bn), which costs the country more than half of its annual tax revenues to service.

Kenya secured a restructuring of its international debt commitments earlier this year – something which immediately pushed a surge in the value of its currency.

Increasingly seen as one of Africa’s leading statesmen, recently returned from a state visit to the White House, Mr. Ruto understands the importance to his nation’s economy of avoiding a default on its debt payments.

For those in his government, the calculation was that controlling the state finances by increasing the tax burden was preferable to cutting public services.

The bill, due to become law next Monday, originally brought in dozens of new or increased taxes on everything from car ownership and financial transactions to sanitary pads.

Several of the most contentious taxes have already been dropped following consultation with the public.

But the controversy over the budget follows other revenue-raising measures introduced by Mr. Ruto, including increased taxes for healthcare and low-cost housing.

For those on the street, the government’s tough choices may only be beginning.

 

Article By Suzy Nyongesa.

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