Reject the Finance Bill: Young Kenya Rises in a Summer of Revolt

Politics and Society

Reject the Finance Bill: Young Kenya Rises in a Summer of Revolt

A historical moment has been unleashed on the streets and highways of Kenya. The young and brave came with their many bodies and voices to reclaim a dream once sold of a developed and progressive nation.



This essay is dedicated to the defiant memory of Rex Kanyike Masai, a martyr of our times.

A historical moment has been unleashed on the streets and highways of Kenya. That nation with a long history of both resistance and van-guarding of imperialism. This history haunts its mind and landscape in many ways than one and since as Eduardo Galeano reminds us “history never says goodbye, it only says see you later”. That ‘later’ is here now once again and this time as a young, righteous and beautiful reenactment in a new and bold conjuncture.

It started, arguably, as a discontent towards the deadly floods that claimed and eroded lives, homes and the dignity of the impoverished across the nation. Even as the state rejoiced in its prayers for the rain through an evangelical prayer tour of a white American pastor; the poor weren’t as amused as they had another set of prayers and litanies. Prayers that they will survive the scourge of the waters. But they didn’t stop there, they organized to fight back against the ever prayerful system of Ruto.

In that organized effort was born the Occupy movement of the people of Mathare. Here was the start of a summer of many beginnings that now culminated in the vastness of young people on the streets fighting a new finance bill set on dispossessing an already dispossessed people.


As many scholars and intellectuals theorize the dying throes of the neoliberal project, it keeps gaining new slaves and interlocutors here in Africa to forward its tendencies of austerity and enclosure. While it was at one point a project of deregulation amongst others, it now, once more, strengthens the system through state worship of IMF led policies of overtaxation and constant disarticulation of the meager productive powers of the neocolonial state.

So the young and brave or more aptly the young and eternally tired of the nation decided “fuck this system and its excuses”. They posited and located themselves not as passive spectators but as active participants in the creation of a new national story and trajectory — in all its drama and pathos that is. They came with their many bodies and voices to reclaim a dream once sold of a developed and progressive nation. With slogans, music, chants they reminded unjust power who really ought to run the show in the here and now and what a beautiful show of brilliance and tenacity!

It is a public court held on the streets with the state as defendant. A vast theatre of the oppressed putting the state on the stand and then declaring it guilty of all the things that demean a human being before the forces of greed. This wasn’t going to be a summer of Sunday photo shoots on deserted Nairobi streets or nights of dancing and drinking in the valleys of Naivasha. Nay! This is the long summer of discontent, they seem to say. A summer of resistance and revolt till the notorious finance bill is rejected and thrown in the trash barrel of history and they’re doing it with a rage filled with the bright colours and contours of a fashionable generation.

This finance bill which is a harbinger and vanguard to much more pain to come was deconstructed, explained and commented on across social media platforms as a process of virtual political education. You see the irony that plays itself out is that the state never so much worried about this young generation when it comes to its policies. The dominant notion being the young only care about their fads and fashion. They only seem to care about visibility and acknowledgment of themselves and their egos. So when it broke out that they’re discussing these evil policies, the state still thought it was a passing trend as all social media things are. But it persisted. Gen Z and millennial thinkers and intellectuals went down to the bill and dissected it, broke it down in simple language and disseminated it on all platforms worthy of attention. It was a eureka, an aha moment, or in today’s language a “what the fuck!” moment.

A conversation then started. Memes were generated, still the state sleeps. Flyers were produced, still the state satiates in indifference. TikTok videos came through in abundance, and still the state laughs, a cunning laugh. Then all hell broke loose when the young held their own before police guns and teargas. Now the state jolts awake, frightened, as it should be. It forgot the old adage, that a people pushed to the wall can only bounce back. And what a bounce back it has been!


Then a martyr was born. Shot on the streets as he also bounces back against the state. His name was Rex Kanyike Masai. Remember that name and hold it high even as you tarry onto a new Kenya.

His fallen life is a testimony of where the violence really comes from. How the neocolonial state is inherently violent much like its predecessor, the colonial state. The logic that undergirds it, is a contempt of its subjects who must be contained constantly as if they’re beasts and animals; who are only worthy for their taxes and overworked lives for the system to thrive.

Rex’s life vindicates the mass of people who only want a livable society. He will remain a towering monument of the pursuit for dignity by peaceful means. But also a reminder that the state will unleash its brutality at every turning point when it’s under threat. It’s the only language it can speak when cornered. Rise in power young Rex. You’re a catalyst for the days of revolt.

Today it’s the finance bill and tomorrow it might be the questioning of the class composition of the neo colony and how the state is a set of power relations maintaining that class structure. A structure where poverty of the masses is big business as capital accumulates on the rich side of town. In that process of questioning they, consciously or instinctively, might desire to reconstitute the very basis of the social and national project. To create a newness that rejoices in a society that honours the fullness of human life and its many afterlives. It might be long but the moral arc always bends towards this popular aspiration of the downtrodden many.

The beat won’t stop and the people will march on! It’s at the very heart of history that a people beaten down can only rise up and claim their righteous destiny through a relentless and protracted struggle to win gains and expand the territory of life.


May it be so then as this long summer stretches her hand forth to the ideals embodied in a new generation of revolutionary young Kenyans.

Songa Mbele!

Alieu Bah is a writer and organiser at Mwamko. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the New Pan-African.

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