Unpacking the Unrest: Key Areas for Further Investigation in Kenyan Protests Against the 2024 Finance Bill

Articles & Insights

June 19, 2024


Muliru Yoni

The 2010 Kenyan Constitution provides a robust framework for citizens to express grievances and participate in public affairs. The protests against the Finance Bill showcase this framework in action, reflecting the delicate balance between rights and responsibilities. Article 37 guarantees the right to peaceful assembly, demonstration, picketing, and petition, fundamental freedoms exercised by the protesters to voice their concerns about the bill’s economic implications.
Furthermore, Article 118 emphasizes public participation in legislative processes, and these protests, while occurring after the bill’s passage, serve as a powerful reminder of the need for greater public engagement during such processes. The protests also invoke Article 43, which outlines the right to a reasonable standard of living, as the bill is perceived to threaten access to basic necessities and exacerbate economic inequalities.

However, the Constitution also acknowledges limitations on these rights under Article 24, in the interest of public order, national security, and the rights of others. This underscores the importance of peaceful demonstrations and adherence to the law, even amidst discontent. Additionally, Article 119 provides a mechanism for citizens to formally petition Parliament, a route not directly taken by the protesters, but their actions effectively serve as a de facto petition, signaling widespread discontent and calling for a reconsideration of the bill’s provisions.

In essence, these protests illustrate a complex interplay of constitutional rights and responsibilities. They emphasize the significance of civic engagement, the demand for inclusive legislative processes, and the careful balance between individual liberties and public order. The ongoing protests against the 2024 Finance Bill in Kenya therefore present a fertile ground for research, with potential to yield critical insights into various interconnected aspects of social movements, economic policy, and governance. A focused investigation into the following areas maybe crucial for understanding the broader implications of these events:

1. The Changing Dynamics of Social Movements:
• The Emergence of Broad-Based Coalitions: How did diverse groups, including professionals, students, workers, civil society organizations, and even religious leaders, coalesce around the opposition to the Finance Bill 2024? What were the common grievances and unifying factors that led to this unprecedented level of collaboration? Understanding the dynamics of coalition building can inform strategies for future social movements and policy advocacy.
• The Role of Digital Activism: What role did social media platforms play in mobilizing support, disseminating information, and shaping the narrative of the protests? How did digital activism influence the tactics, reach, and impact of the movement? A deeper analysis of digital activism can provide valuable insights into the evolving landscape of social movements in the digital age.
• The Effectiveness of Non-Violent Resistance: The protests have been largely peaceful, despite facing some instances of police brutality. How has non-violent resistance contributed to the legitimacy and effectiveness of the movement? What factors have contributed to the protesters’ commitment to non-violence? Understanding the dynamics of non-violent resistance can inform strategies for peaceful conflict resolution and social change.

2. The Intersection of Economic Grievances and Social Unrest:
• Socio-Economic Impact Assessment: A comprehensive assessment of the Finance Bill’s impact on different socio-economic groups is crucial. What are the distributional effects of the tax policies? Who bears the brunt of the increased tax burden? How are vulnerable populations affected? Such an assessment can inform policy discussions on taxation, social protection, and inclusive growth.
• The Anatomy of Economic Grievances: What are the specific economic grievances that fueled the protests? How have rising costs of living, unemployment, and income inequality contributed to public discontent? Understanding the root causes of economic grievances can guide the development of policies that address the underlying structural issues and prevent future unrest.
• The Political Economy of Protests: How do economic interests and political motivations intersect in shaping social movements? What role do political parties and interest groups play in mobilizing and framing economic grievances? Examining the political economy of protests can shed light on the complex interplay between economic and political factors in social unrest.

3. The Role of Civil Society and Opposition:
• Collaboration and Coordination: How have civil society organizations and opposition parties collaborated in organizing and sustaining the protests? What are the strengths and challenges of their collaboration? Understanding the dynamics of their cooperation can provide insights into effective strategies for coalition building and advocacy.
• Strategies for Influencing Public Opinion and Policy: What tactics have civil society groups and opposition parties employed to shape public opinion, pressure the government, and influence policy outcomes? How effective have these strategies been? Analyzing their strategies can inform future advocacy efforts and contribute to our understanding of the role of non-state actors in policymaking.
• Impact on Government Response: To what extent have civil society and opposition actions influenced the government’s response to the protests and the subsequent amendments to the Finance Bill? Examining the impact of their actions can shed light on the potential of civil society to hold governments accountable and drive policy change.

4. Government Response and Policy Change:
• Decision-Making Processes: What factors influenced the government’s decision to amend the Finance Bill? What role did public pressure, media coverage, and internal dissent play in shaping the policy response? Understanding the decision-making processes can inform strategies for influencing government policy and promoting responsive governance.
• Policy Change and Its Implications: What are the short-term and long-term implications of the amendments to the Finance Bill? How will they affect the government’s revenue collection, expenditure patterns, and overall economic strategy? Analyzing the consequences of policy change can inform future policy debates and help policymakers anticipate potential challenges and opportunities.
• Lessons for Governance: What lessons can be learned from the government’s handling of the protests and the subsequent policy changes? How can the government improve its responsiveness to public concerns and foster a more inclusive and transparent policymaking process? Reflecting on the lessons learned can contribute to more effective and responsive governance in the future.

5. Comparative Analysis and Global Trends:
• Comparative Perspective: How do the Kenyan protests compare to similar movements in other countries, such as the Yellow Vest movement in France or the #EndSARS protests in Nigeria? What are the commonalities and differences in their causes, strategies, and outcomes? A comparative analysis can offer valuable insights into the global phenomenon of social unrest and its implications for governance and democracy.
• Global Trends in Citizen Resistance: The Kenyan protests are part of a broader global trend of citizen-led movements challenging economic policies and demanding greater accountability from governments. What are the underlying factors driving this trend? How are these movements interconnected? Understanding the global context of the Kenyan protests can help us anticipate future trends and develop more effective responses to social unrest.

6. The Role of International Actors:
• The Bretton Woods Institutions: What role have the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank played in Kenya’s economic policymaking? How have their policies and recommendations influenced the government’s response to the protests? Examining their role can shed light on the influence of international financial institutions on domestic policy and the potential consequences for economic stability and social welfare.
• Other Development Partners: What role have other development partners, such as bilateral donors and civil society organizations, played in supporting or criticizing the government’s handling of the protests? How have their actions influenced the course of events? Analyzing their role can provide insights into the complex landscape of international development assistance and its impact on domestic politics and policy.
• Implications for International Cooperation: What are the implications of the Kenyan protests for international cooperation on economic policy and development? How can international actors better support countries facing similar challenges? Reflecting on these questions can contribute to a more effective and equitable approach to international development cooperation.

By delving into these areas of inquiry, researchers can generate valuable knowledge that can inform policymaking, social movements, and our understanding of the complex dynamics of governance, economic policy, and social change in Kenya and beyond.

He is a researcher, program manager and M&E specialist in the Horn of Africa. His research focuses on the prevention and countering of violent extremism (P/CVE), border security, rehabilitation, and reintegration (DDR), migration, and climate change. ​

Muliru Yoni
Director - Scofield Associates
Muliru Yoni