By Lateef Adams and Jimoh Abibat

Mass Protests Defeat Finance Bill

The recent mass protests by the people of Kenya succeeded in defeating the ‘Finance Bill’ that was set to worsen the already tough economic conditions in the country and further unleashed more hardship on the working masses. President Ruto in office for just over a year and the regime complete submission to the IMF/World Bank neoliberal capitalist policies of social cuts and attack on the living conditions. The cost of living for the average citizen shut up with the Kenyan working masses already grappling with high inflation, unemployment, and the rising cost of basic necessities. They had no other option than take to the streets in large numbers to express their dissatisfaction and demand change. The Anti-tax protests rocked major cities in the country like Nairobi, Kisumu, Migori, Kissi, and many others. A 7 days protest was declared by the ‘Gen Z’ rejecting the ‘Financial Tax Bill’.

Workers around the world looked on inspired as images of thousands storming government building spread via social media. Less than 48 hours later, Ruto was forced to withdraw the bill in question. The protests highlighted the growing frustration among Kenyans who feel that the government’s economic policies favour the wealthy elite while neglecting the needs of the working class and the poor.

The success of these protests serves as a powerful reminder of the potential of collective action to influence government policies and advocate for the rights of the working masses. But more importantly is the fact that it shows that only the organised force of the working masses can truly challenge President William Ruto’s neoliberal capitalist policies and with all of the potential to also end the dominance of private capital both foreign and local over the wealth and resources of the country, and set them free for use to meet the needs and and aspiration of the people. For this to happen however the programme of Socialist Alternative as oppose to capitalism must as a necessity be the basis of governance.

Kenya’s Finance Bill 2024: A Burden on the Working Masses

The Finance Bill 2024 is a programme of tax hikes and attack on the working masses dictated by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The ruling elites have plunged the country into a $80 billion debt profile, now standing at 68% of its GDP, coupled with high unemployment rates.

According to the bill, the Kenyan government aims to raise $2.7 billion in additional taxes to reduce what it refers to as the ‘budget deficit and borrowing’. This tax burden is set to be placed squarely on the shoulders of the working masses, who are already struggling to make ends meet. Meanwhile, political officeholders continue to live in splendour, enjoying pay rises and other privileges that starkly contrast with the economic realities faced by ordinary Kenyans.

By imposing higher taxes, the government seeks to address its financial woes at the expense of those who can least afford it. This is what has sparked widespread outrage and resistance, as evidenced by the mass protests.

A close study of the Finance Bill, which provoked protests resulting in the tragic death of 23 people, reveals a series of regressive tax proposals. These include a 16% VAT on bread, a 2.5% annual motor vehicle tax, and additional taxes on basic commodities such as sugar and vegetable oil. Furthermore, there were proposed increases on existing taxes for financial transactions and even levies on sanitary towels and diapers, although some of these were later exempted due to public outcry. The Ruto administration has defended these tax measures, claiming they are necessary to reduce the public debt.

However, during his campaign for the presidency, Ruto’s rhetoric was a blend of neoliberal propaganda aimed at securing the votes of nearly half of Kenya’s population (23.4 million people) living in abject poverty. He campaigned on a platform of empowering “hustlers,” a term he used to describe grassroots individuals, and promised economic relief programs targeting the lower class. Despite acknowledging the significant debt incurred by the previous government, Ruto’s campaign did not deviate from the capitalist agenda of his predecessor. He promised to reduce borrowing but failed to present a concrete plan for generating the resources needed for development. Instead, he has become a ‘tax collector,’ extracting resources from the very people he vowed to lift out of poverty.

In nearly two years of Ruto’s administration, there has been rampant government waste and extravagance, while the masses continue to face a skyrocketing cost of living. The protest against the new taxes and government excesses is not only legitimate but also a fundamental right of the Kenyan people to peacefully assemble and express their discontent over policies that threaten their future. Ruto’s characterization of the protests as ‘treasonous’ is a clear attempt to suppress dissent and must be unequivocally condemned.

The courageous mass protest reflects a determination that the voices of the people must be heard, and their demands for a fairer and more just economic system must be addressed. Only then can Kenya move towards a more sustainable and inclusive future, free from the shackles of neoliberal austerity.

Ruto’s Extravagant Trip to the US: A Display of Bourgeois Excess

Ruto’s recent trip to the United States has ignited significant controversy and discontent among the Kenyan populace. According to a Kenyan media outlet, the president, accompanied by 30 individuals, allegedly hired a private jet at an exorbitant cost of $1.5 million, funded by taxpayers’ money. Although President Ruto denied these reports, claiming that friends provided a cheaper jet at a cost of only $78,000, the incident has aggravated public frustration. The Kenyan media has labelled Ruto as the ‘flying president,’ highlighting his penchant for frequent air travel.

The previous budget proposed by the Ruto administration allocated sh2 billion to facilitate his foreign trips for the year. As of January 2024, the BBC reported that Ruto had made approximately 50 trips abroad since assuming office in 2022, averaging more than three trips per month. This excessive spending on international travel stands in stark contrast to the austerity measures and economic hardships imposed on the working masses of Kenya.

Unending Tax Hikes Under Neoliberal Capitalist Policies

The neoliberal capitalist policies of the Ruto administration continue to impose severe hardships on the working masses. The 2023 Finance Bill, signed into law by President Ruto, increased taxes on petroleum products, leading to a rise in the cost of transportation and staple goods. This regressive taxation disproportionately affects the working masses, deepening their economic struggles while the ruling elites enjoy unchecked privileges and luxuries.

In response to these oppressive policies, the opposition called for three days of nationwide protests aimed at compelling the president to repeal the unpopular finance law. The working masses, driven by class consciousness, mobilised to resist the government’s exploitation and demand judicious use of its resources.

The Necessity of a Working-Class Political Alternative

The ongoing economic exploitation under the Ruto administration underscores the urgent need for the working class to build a political alternative rooted in socialist principles. Only through a planned system of economy, where the commanding heights are nationalised and placed under the democratic management and control of the working class, can the cycle of neoliberal exploitation be broken.

This system must prioritize the needs of the many over the interests of the few, ensuring that resources are allocated to improve the living standards of the people rather than financing the abundant lifestyles of the ruling elites. The mass mobilisation against the finance bill is a testament to the power of the working class when united in the struggle against capitalist oppression.

By forging a strong, unified political movement, the working masses of Kenya can challenge the bourgeoisie’s hegemony, reclaim their rights, and establish a society based on equality, justice, and collective prosperity. The struggle against the Ruto administration’s neoliberal policies is not just a fight against individual injustices but a broader battle for systemic change and the liberation of the working class from capitalist exploitation.

Government Privatization Program: A Capitalist Assault on Public Assets

President William Ruto’s push for privatization marks a significant escalation in the neoliberal assault on Kenya’s economy. The Ruto administration has announced the sale of 35 state-owned companies, a move that threatens to dismantle essential public industries and worsen unemployment across the country. Rather than investing national resources to develop Kenya’s economy and improve the living standards of the working class, the government seeks to auction off public assets, likely to fund its opulent lifestyle.

Historically, the last successful privatization in Kenya occurred under President Mwai Kibaki, who oversaw the sale of shares in several state-controlled firms, including Mumias Sugar. Once the largest sugar factory in East and Central Africa, Mumias Sugar is now moribund after privatisation, a victim of the shortsightedness and profiteering inherent in capitalist policies. The current administration has further compounded this issue by opening Kenya’s borders to sugar imports, undermining local production and jobs.

At this critical juncture, it is imperative for the workers’ unions to demand the nationalization of state industries under democratic workers’ management and control. Such a move would safeguard against profligacy and ensure that public resources are utilized for the benefit of the majority rather than the elite few.

Workers Must Take Charge: Building a Socialist Alternative

The Kenya Medical Association (KMA) has taken a commendable stance by condemning police brutality and the excessive force used against protesters and health practitioners providing emergency medical services. However, the response from other trade unions to the unpopular Finance Bill has been relatively unheard of. While the KMA’s actions are laudable, they must extend beyond condemnation and actively challenge the Ruto administration’s anti-people policies that perpetuate poverty and inequality.

The Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU), Kenya, with its membership of over 2 million, must rise to the occasion and oppose the neoliberal attacks on workers’ welfare. COTU should spearhead the formation of a Workers’ Party grounded in socialist principles, advocating for policies that prioritize the needs of the working masses over capitalist profits.

The Neoliberal Program Across Africa: A Continent in Struggle

The challenges faced by the working masses in Kenya are mirrored across the African continent. In Nigeria, a similar scenario is unfolding. Both the executive and legislative branches receive exorbitant salaries and allowances, while workers live in abject poverty. President Bola Tinubu, under the pretext of attracting foreign investment, has spent approximately 71 days abroad in his first nine months in office, averaging nearly two trips per month. His government continues to implement neoliberal policies that exacerbate the suffering of the working masses, including hikes in petrol prices, electricity tariffs and attempted transaction charges. These measures have led to a skyrocketing cost of living, with inflation hovering around 40 percent. Additionally, the police are frequently used to suppress peaceful protests against these policies. Despite the government’s salaries being increased by 114% in 2023, Nigerian workers are still waiting for a new minimum wage more than three months after the expiration of the old one.

In Ghana, the situation is no different. The corrupt capitalist system is widening the inequality gap. On June 19, 2024, Ghanaians took to the streets to protest the planned privatization agenda. Reports indicate that the protests were sparked by the sale of SSNIT (Social Security and National Insurance Trust) assets to political associates at heavily reduced prices.

Meanwhile, in South Africa, the cost-of-living crisis has hit the working masses hard. The recent elections showed a significant decline in support for the ANC, a direct result of their corrupt capitalist policies that push more people into poverty.

In Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, there has been widespread support for the ousting of previous governments due to their anti-people programs.

The crisis of neoliberal capitalism will not disappear as long as the ruling elites continue to follow the dictates of Imperialism. The working masses of Africa must organize to defeat capitalism and establish socialism, where the continent’s resources are used to improve the lives of its people. Only a pan-African working-class political alternative, built on the principles of socialism, can ensure that resources are managed and controlled by the workers for the benefit of all African people, as a valued and vital part of a socialist world. This is the path to genuine development and liberation from the shackles of capitalist exploitation.

The mass mobilizations against the Ruto administration’s policies underscore the necessity of a working-class political alternative. The fight against privatization, regressive taxation, and governmental extravagance is fundamentally a struggle against the capitalist system that perpetuates these injustices. By uniting under a socialist banner, the working class of Kenya can forge a path toward a future where the economy is democratically controlled and managed in the interests of the many, not the few.

The workers of Kenya must seize this moment to build a powerful, unified movement capable of challenging the bourgeoisie and transforming society. The creation of a Workers’ Party with a clear socialist agenda is not just a political imperative but a revolutionary necessity. Only through such a concerted effort can the working masses achieve true economic justice and liberation from capitalist exploitation.

Indeed, the International Socialist Alternative (ISA) exist for this singular purpose to awaken the conscious of the working masses and working-class youth all over to take up the task of providing the leadership and programme with which to overthrow capitalism. With continuous widespread agitation and protest against the IMF/World Bank, there is clearly the need to unite all of this struggles both on an organisational and programmatic bases. The enemy is not any different, it is the same forces of imperialism from the west, inclusive of Europe and the US, China and even Russia to some extent that aims to exploit and take control of the resources of Africa with the full support of the African ruling elites at the peril and expense of the well-being of the African working masses.

This victory and defeat of the Finance Bill by working class youth demonstrates that this is possible, which is why the ISA calls on workers, and working class youth in Kenya, Ghana, Senegal, Nigeria, in the Sahel region, in the whole of Sub-Saharan Africa and Maghreb to rise up to this task to raise the banner of socialism forward as the goal of its struggle and set out to accomplish a revolution, and put in place a fairer and more just economic system that will set about and move Africa towards a more sustainable and inclusive future, free from the shackles of neoliberal capitalist policies of austerity, social cuts and attack on both working and living conditions.