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They say there are decades when nothing happens and days when decades happen. The days since June 18 seem to fit firmly in the latter category. What started as protests against the Finance Bill 2024 have evolved into “Ruto Must Go” protests. For the keen observer, it seems like Kenyans’ date with their long-awaited revolution is finally here. And to be in the midst of it as a Kenyan youth feels like being present during a volcanic eruption. It is beautiful, it is exhilarating, it is a release of the pressure, but it is also destructive and absolutely nothing will stop it until it runs its course.  

To understand how a seemingly peaceful country like Kenya would descend into scheduled protests every Tuesday and Thursday, one would need to understand the anger that the Kenyan youth have been carrying for a while now. To paint for you a small picture, to be a Kenyan youth under President Ruto’s regime is to be educated and either jobless or underemployed. And when you remind the president that he campaigned on a hustler’s platform, where he promised the youth jobs, he tells you that he has procured for you tens of thousands of jobs in the Middle East and elsewhere. The irony of educated Kenyans being taken to work in the Middle East as house-helps and security guards notwithstanding, when you apply for a passport to go work in those countries, you’ll be lucky to get it in a year. In fact, it takes the same government’s intervention for a few young people to get their passports periodically. And to top it off, the same government, realising that it has caused the high demand for passports – either directly by mismanaging the economy so badly that there are few to no jobs locally or through their modern-day slavery methods of finding lowly jobs for Kenyans abroad – finds it wise to hike the cost of the same passports to prices that are too high for the kawaida Kenyan.  

And this has been the situation across every single sector since President Ruto came into power in 2022. His government has killed Linda Mama, a programme that enabled women to give birth in hospital at no cost or through a heavily subsidised programme, and scrapped school lunches that were sometimes the only meal of the day for children from poor homes. As social services are scrapped, tax hikes have caused industries to close shop in Kenya and move to neighbouring countries, rendering the few underemployed Kenyans now unemployed. 

And as if the devil has decided to set up shop in the country, President Ruto’s regime seems to have attracted the worst type of politician; several alleged murderers and rapists sit in the national assembly or occupy other positions of leadership in the government, their cases having either been mysteriously dropped or dragging on for years on end, pointing to a breakdown of institutions in the country. But it is not their criminal record, as bad as it may be, that has fuelled the rage that Kenyan youth harbour. It is their blatant disrespect and arrogance towards the Kenyan citizen as they wantonly steal the taxpayers’ money that is hard to live with, flaunting their 30-million-shilling cars, their Louboutin shoes, and their million-shilling watches that don’t seem to have told that their time was up. 

In fact, from their statements to Kenyans over the last few days – such as MP Sylvanus Osoro telling his constituents that if the Finance Bill were to be brought to parliament again, he would go against their wishes and still vote yes – they clearly have not been moved by the protests. In simple terms, they don’t care what those they went to represent in parliament say and they are very vocal about it. It is this kind of arrogance, coupled with the flashy display of luxury goods paid for with taxpayer’s money, that has caused immense rage in the youth, rage that finally found an outlet when the youth organised themselves using X and TikTok and took to the streets to reject the Finance Bill. It was the first time that we Kenyan youth got to collectively scream out our anger. And as some men admitted, it was the first time that they cried. 

At first the protests provided a catharsis of sorts, helping us to purge the emotions we had been holding in our bodies as oppressed people while also uniting us in our grief. For the first time, it was not our fate as barely surviving graduates – doing manual work on construction sites, selling eggs… – that NTV was airing. It was our voice, us telling the government what we felt. It was a release. An exhale. 

But it was also a moment of truth. Of just how much power the youth have when they organise around issues rather than tribe or class as the political class would have it. And that power caught both sides off-guard. The Kenya Kwanza government had drunk their Kool-Aid so much that it never occurred to them that they could be opposed by anyone, let alone unemployed youths. In fact, the deputy president was already starting his 2027 campaigns by posturing as a victimised vice president, which is the same way that President Ruto came into power. For them, nothing had changed and nothing was going to change except who sits in what seat come the next election. 

For the Kenyan youth, with nothing to lose except life, these protests have been a realisation that actually, things don’t have to remain the same. That we do not have to be ruled by leaders who have to be coerced to have the citizen’s interests at heart. That we do not have to leave our families to go raise other people’s children in the cruel Middle East when we could actually thrive in our own country if we had good leaders. That we do not have to pay debts that have never been audited while the political class gets insanely rich from stealing from us. That we do not have to accept and move on as our parents have consistently done since the 2007/8 post-election violence. 

So, when we say Ruto Must Go, it’s not an indictment of his leadership alone; it is a statement of lack of trust in the whole of the current leadership – the judiciary, the executive and parliament. It is a lack of trust in all the current cabinet secretaries that did not get those positions because of their competence but because of their sycophancy towards the president and his deputy. It is a lack of trust in the police and their ability to not be goons for hire by the moneyed and the ruling class. It is a statement of lack of faith in the whole government as it exists today. And as it stands, the Kenyan youth (dubbed Gen Z even though millennials make up a substantial part of the movement) are actually willing to work towards sending the entire government home. 

However, for a moment there after the president rejected the Finance Bill, there was a sliver of hope that maybe, just maybe, we could take this as a win and wait out his first term while doing things like voter registration and recalling some MPs in between. 

But this hope was thwarted when the police reigned terror on unarmed peaceful protesters on 27 June, while also continuing with what has now become commonplace – the abduction of Kenyan citizens either during the protests or in the middle of the night. And before people could make sense of the president’s statement just two nights previously that there would be no more extrajudicial killings, children were shot dead by police while playing in estates far away from any protests. 

That reign of terror has made us as citizens realise that while the politicians can afford to wait for 2027, we don’t have that luxury. Not when I could be abducted for writing this article, or you could be shot while reading it outside your home. That is no life to live. 

So, in a twisted turn of events, it has become a question of either dying while trying to agitate for a better country for yourself and fellow Kenyans, or the government killing you in your home as it did in Githurai and Rongai.

This turn of events has clarified the goal of these protests that were sparked by the Finance Bill 2024, and that is to work towards a Kenya that works for all Kenyans, which is only possible if we have a government that is citizen-oriented both in spirit and in action. Luckily for Kenyans, we have a constitution that champions this ambition quite beautifully; electing representatives that respect and abide by it is the problem. A problem that the Kenyan youth has started solving by standing firm in their resolve to have the president resign and go home. Him and his entire government. 

Armed only with a weekly calendar of events programmed around Tuesday and Thursday national protests in the face of a trigger-happy, teargas welding police service, the road towards the Kenya we want seems littered with bodies, abductions and arrests. And yet, even knowing this, the calendar for the events of the first week of July is already out. Partyless, tribeless, classless and religionless, the Gen Z movement forges ahead with nothing but life to lose. Armed with the simple conviction that “Hatuwezi ishi hivi”.