GenZ: These demonstrations go beyond the Finance Bill

Politics and Society

GenZ: These demonstrations go beyond the Finance Bill

An anti-people 2024 Finance Act currently before the Kenyan Parliament has united Kenyans in opposing the Ruto regime in a manner we haven’t witnessed in a long time. Kenyans, under the capable leadership of GenZ, came out in the tens of thousands to oppose this draconian Finance Act on the 18th, 19th and 20th of June 2024 not only in Nairobi but also across the country.



“Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” – Frantz Fanon

An anti-people 2024 Finance Act currently before the Kenyan Parliament has united Kenyans in opposing the Ruto regime in a manner we haven’t witnessed in a long time. Kenyans, under the capable leadership of GenZ, came out in the tens of thousands to oppose this draconian Finance Act on the 18th, 19th and 20th of June 2024 not only in Nairobi but also across the country. These young people are saying that they will not sit by and watch Parliament pass a finance act that buries them and their parents in an eternal pit of poverty.

After assuming power in 2022, the Ruto regime scrapped fuel subsidies, increased tuition fees in public universities, started a process of privatising public-owned entities and industries, raised taxes on essential commodities and cemented an economic philosophy of beg, borrow and steal – all within a year.

Having raised taxes in 2023, the Ruto regime has in 2024 again proposed a raft of new tax measures which sound like they were drafted by the Internationally Monetary Fund(IMF). The 2024 Finance Bill that was presented before Parliament in June 2024 proposed a plethora of new tax measures that would literally squeeze life out of the population. It proposed taxes on bread, sanitary pads, digital content and telegraphic money transfer – then went further to propose a ridiculous motor vehicle tax that even members of the cabinet and other high-ranking government functionaries found themselves unable to explain coherently. This same Finance Bill concurrently shielded the rich from taxes by, for instance, exempting aircraft parts from Value Added Tax.



Enter GenZ

GenZ, the generation born between the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, is often vilified for being passive and out of touch with political events across many countries. It has however given sudden impetus to the struggle for a better Kenya because of its innovative and decentralised forms of organising which enable massive numbers of people to converge around any issue that is of concern to them.

When details of the Finance Bill first reached the public domain, there was a general uproar across Kenya. Its proposals did not sit well with a majority of the population which was already struggling with the high cost of living – and feeling overburdened by a system that was only taking from the people, whilst giving almost nothing back in return. That frustration is what made Julius Kamau to interrupt the Finance Ministers photo session as he headed to Parliament to read the 2024/2025 budget statement last week. Kamau is a hero and inspiration to many.

Upon learning that the bill would be presented before Parliament on the 18th of June, GenZ’s quickly mobilised themselves on online platforms to express their discontent. Thet then organised a well-attended and highly successful protest that shook the streets, giving politicians and government functionaries sleepless nights. The Kenyan government still refused to listen to the people nonetheless, and resorted to old politics.


The administration tried to hoodwink Kenyans by proposing amendments to some of the contentious parts of the Finance Bill – for instance the proposed 16% VAT on bread. Government operatives then tried to set a narrative both offline and online, but their efforts were quickly countered and thrown out of the window by a generation that made it explicit that it was not asking for amendments to the Finance Bill. It was calling for a rejection of the bill in totality.

By Tuesday afternoon, GenZ’s had effectively shown – through their effective mobilisation – their middle fingers to power. The state responded in its characteristically colonially brutal way – through teargas, gunshots and massive arrests. By the end of that day, over 300 peaceful demonstrators, mostly GenZ’s, were locked up in police cells across Nairobi, only to be released because the state had no charges to confer against them.

They thereafter mobilised again and held the mother of street protests on the 20th of June when the Finance Bill was to undergo a second reading before Parliament. What happened on the 20th was beyond a protest in Kenyan terms – it was a unifying moment across ethnicity, religion, gender and many other differences that have repeatedly been used by anti-people forces to divide the forward march of our people. There were multitudes of people, placards, whistles, vuvuzelas, ripped-jeans, tight pants, piercings and everything that can be associated with this generation.

This multitude of progressive Kenyans was again met with teargas, water-cannons, gunshots, and arrests. These did not intimidate them – they continued marching, singing and dancing on the streets. They shared the little water they had brought to the protest among themselves in a bid to quench the sting of the teargas. Beyond being a protest, this was a festival of freedom that has inspired hope of future prospects and earthquakes in the political landscape.

In a show of defiance, the protest morphed into a massive street party in the evening, but was sadly interrupted by gunshots that led to numerous injuries and the loss of at least two lives. The Kenya police, those supposed to ‘serve and protect’ the masses, had again been deployed as conveyor belts of violence against peaceful and unarmed youth.


As the crowds dispersed, Rex Masai lay dead – he was the first martyr of the political process that this generation has brought to life and thrust upon us. Alieu Bah once reminded us that ‘we stand not just on the shoulders of those who came before us, but also on their graves’. We today stand on the grave of Rex Masai, in the same way that we stand on the graves of Dedan Kimathi, Pio Gama Pinto, JM Kariuki, Alexander Muge, Odhiambo Mbai and many others who paid the ultimate sacrifice for us to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we exercise today.


From moment to movement.

What we have witnessed over the past week is a generation coming of age. It is a generation openly declaring that they will not live in poverty and humiliation. It is a generation saying it will not be cowed or intimidated into silence. It is a rupture on the Kenyan political landscape – a rupture that might just eventually push aside anything and anyone who stands between the masses and their dignity.

Many are asking, “Where have all these kids come from?” Well, these are not kids – their techno-savvy generation constitutes the largest segment of the Kenyan population. They are easily recognisable as the generation that is sharp enough to see through your lies and tell you off. They have been speaking truth to power and rebelling against the status quo for over a decade now. They are the generation that burnt the high schools to the ground when their teachers refused to listen to them. While some voted in the last election, a great majority of them did not because they could see beyond the charade and knew that multi-party dispensations do not necessarily equate to democratic outcomes.


They clearly understand the power structures in society, and know who comprises the unseen and unheard segments of society – those excluded and deemed as unworthy of housing, education, healthcare and dignity. While some are from the middle class, most of them come from the many settlements that dot the urban landscape in Nairobi. Many of them are actually homeless at the moment after the state recently demolished several of the settlements in Nairobi, leaving tens of thousands of Kenyans without shelter.

The state has taken everything from them, and left them in a situation where they don’t have much else to lose. That is why they are easily willing to brave the June cold, teargas, water cannons and echoes of gunshots to be present on the streets of Nairobi and other towns to stand up to this latest slap that the Finance Act represents. Where else would they be? At work? Well, industries and companies have been closing shop every other day because of punitive taxes. There simply exist limited opportunities for them.

This generation was coming of age during the covid crisis and watched their parents go through tough situations to sustain their families. They have endured poor quality education, unemployment, police brutality, extra-judicial executions, and many other forms of humiliation that the neo-colonial state everyday subjects and condemns our people to. The only difference between them and some of the generations that preceded them is that they have refused to be silenced. They have refused to be part of the political economy of silence.

They gave us shembeteng and gengetone, reminding us that “Cheki hawa mafala wamekaa wamezubaa… na wanacheki ati subaru ya mambaru inakam na imejaa”. They are saying a big NO to extrajudicial killings, inter-generational poverty and humiliation. They are affirming the territory of life through their actions.

That parliamentarians allied to the ruling party overwhelmingly voted to pass this draconian Finance Bill when it underwent a second reading despite the unending public uproar signals that these parliamentarians think of the population as illiterate cows that can be milked till they drop dead. It is now clear to the greater majority of us that those members of Parliament who voted in favour of this bill are betrayers of the people. They belong to the filthiest dustbins of history.


In their characteristically direct nature, GenZ’s showed up with placards bearing clear messages. One such placard bore the message; “Dear IMF, we are not our parents’ generation, we will fuck your up”. In so doing, this generation has explicitly made it clear that these protests go beyond the Finance Act. They have made it clear that these protests are challenging the very structure of the economy, the internal and external forces that control our productive forces and direct the national economy. They are a protest for our very dignity.

GenZ’s have ignited a flame by occupying Nairobi and other urban centres across the country. They will have to sustain this pressure to the end of the ongoing budgeting process – and beyond. They will have to fan this flame into a huge inferno that is long, nasty and protracted.

They will have to continue making life unbearable for the people and institutions that hold our people in low regard, as they already are doing. They will have to hurt the ruling class where it hurts most – in the economic sector. It really is encouraging that they already are talking of boycotting supermarkets, restaurants, nightclubs and other businesses owned by politicians. The rest of us will have to follow suit and march in their footsteps if we are to think of solidarity and what it entails in these times. They will equally have to devolve this energy, and use similar methods to keep the county governments and some of the extravagant budgeting processes at that level of government in check.

While these protests have largely been leaderless, they are a testament that the great work done by diverse organisations and movements over the past decade are slowly coming to fruition. GenZ, who are the largest demographic in Kenya, must realise the importance of organisation.

Our organisations must also acknowledge that GenZ are the most potent segment of the mass-based dimensions of our organising today. That GenZ’s have even inspired a category of millennials and Gen Alphas who have never been to protests to join them on the streets cannot be underscored. Some of them have even brought their parents out to the streets with them. They are a unifying factor in more ways than one. They have shown the rest of Kenya how to conduct political processes capable of exerting uncomfortable pressure on power.


In the early 1960’s, Frantz Fanon reminded us that, “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it.” GenZ is already on the road. Our task then is to join in and unite in this long and loud march to freedom.


 Sungu Oyoo is a writer and Coordinator of Mwamko, the Pan-African popular pedagogy collective. He is also the national spokesperson of Kongamano la Mapinduzi(KLM).

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