Welcome to Kenya’s Gen Z Revolution!

Kenya: "Welcome to the Gen Z revolution!"

Big events are rocking Kenya. The government of William Ruto—faithful servant of Washington, the IMF, and the World Bank—is attempting to shove punitive taxes down the throats of the masses. And his government has reaped an explosion of the youth, who have spontaneously flooded the streets of every major town and city. There are revolutionary elements in the situation, and many are talking of Sri Lanka coming to Kenya.

#RejectFinanceBill2024

Ruto’s measures, packaged in Finance Bill 2024, represent a veritable onslaught against the impoverished masses of Kenya aimed at forcing them to pay for the deep crisis of capitalism.

A couple of months ago, it looked like the country might be heading for default—one in a long, long chain of poor and “emerging” economies teetering over an economic abyss. But thanks to a $1.5 billion bond sale in February, the government managed to scrape together just enough money … to pay back another bond that was about to reach maturity!

New debt is being taken on to pay old debt at ever higher interest rates. This absurdity has reached such a level that 30% of Kenya’s government budget is now being spent on debt servicing.

In stepped the IMF and World Bank with loans to “help” Kenya repay its parasitic creditors. They came with one condition attached: that the debts are repaid by sucking the marrow from the bones of ordinary Kenyans.

Faithfully following the IMF’s diktats, parliament has come forward with a package of vicious attacks: Finance Bill 2024, which will impose massive tax hikes on bread, vegetable oil, motorcycles, even cancer treatment! Perhaps most galling of all—a measure that has brought thousands of young Kenyan women to the streets—has been the introduction of cynically named “eco-taxes” on items like diapers and sanitary pads.

It wasn’t long before the hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024 was trending, alongside #OccupyParliament, on social media. On Tuesday, without the lead of any individual or political party, large crowds, overwhelmingly made up of the youth, swept Nairobi and other cities.

The slogans reflected the hatred of the ruling clique at the head of the country. Placards read, “Ruto is a thief!” “Ruto must go!” “Wake up, we are being robbed!” But the masses are also aware that Kenya is key to the strategic interests of US imperialism in East Africa, and that their leaders are merely puppets of imperialism.

“Kenya is not the IMF’s lab rat,” read one placard. The vast, vast majority of Kenyans are extremely young, and that is reflected in these protests. But while there is no direct memory among this generation of the debt crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, in which the IMF forced brutal austerity on the masses, still, there’s a mood that this generation is not like the last. This generation will not take it lying down; it would sooner carry out a revolution than accept the IMF’s diktats. As another placard colorfully put it: “IMF, we are not our parents. We will fuck you up.”


The arrogant MPs at first dismissed the protests. One MP, John Kiarie, mocked the masses from the floor of parliament, claiming that as a former graphics editor, he could tell that the pictures of protests circulating on social media was the work of a skillful photoshop expert.

At first, the government tried to respond with repression, unleashing water cannons and tear gas canisters, and arresting over 300. But it was clear that the tested method of violence was completely failing to cow the masses. Numbers grew throughout the evening, despite the repression. Videos circulated of determined women prisoners singing cheerfully in their cells.


Panic gripped the government. They attempted to change tack and make concessions, introducing a whole series of amendments. Taxes on bread and vegetable oil were dropped, and the masses were assured that “eco-taxes” would only apply to finished imports—although such an “amendment” means nothing for those goods which are not domestically produced at a cheap price.

But the critical point had been passed. The masses, who had a taste of their power, had a new confidence. Both repression and concessions are now serving to push on the mass movement—the one enraging the masses, the other emboldening them to demand more.

By the end of the day, the masses had vowed to return to the streets in even greater numbers last Thursday, the day of the vote, to demand that MPs reject and not merely amend the Finance Bill.

Kenya explodes

Last Thursday, the country exploded. Huge numbers streamed onto the streets in towns big and small: from Nairobi to Kisumu, Lodwar, Kakamega, Kisii, Nakuru, Eldoret, Nyeri, Meru, Nanyuki, and Mombasa and Kilifi on the coast. For the first time in a generation, this mass movement has united immense numbers across the divisions of ethnicity, religion, and tribe, divisions which the political parties have systematically exploited for decades.

The slogans reflected the feeling that this is more than just a protest movement. Alongside the placards calling for the rejection of Finance Bill 2024, and for Ruto and the IMF to go, one could read: “Welcome to the revolution!” “The revolution will be televised!”

We include a few videos below, without which it is impossible to convey the energy and overwhelmingly youthful character of these protests.

As well as in the big cities like Nairobi and Mombasa, large numbers came out across the country. In the west, large numbers came out with homemade signs in Kakamega, with a population of 100,000, as well as in Ruto’s home town of Eldoret, with a population of 500,000.


In Nanyuki, a town of 70,000 at the base of Mount Kenya, and in Nyeri in the central highlands, there were similar scenes.


In all the videos, there is barely a face older than 30. It is no wonder that this is being called the “Gen Z revolution.” Many politicians had arrogantly assumed the youth were apathetic, that they would never move. In the 2022 elections that brought Ruto to power, less than 40% of registered voters were youth—this in a country where the median age is below 20 and 65% of the population is under 35 years old.

But the ruling class was fatally mistaken. What they mistook for apathy was, in reality, a complete detachment from and hatred of the political system. With few prospects and high unemployment rampant among young people, the message of the last week has been clear. To paraphrase one Twitter user, “We’ve no jobs and no future, so we’ve all the time in the world to overthrow you, and nothing to lose by fighting you.”

Parliament passes the Finance Bill

As the afternoon wore on, all eyes were on the parliament building. A roll call was taken on Finance Bill 2024. By a vote of 204 to 115, the MPs passed the hated Finance Bill.

At this point, it is worth making a point about the role of women in this movement … and the role of their “official” representatives.

From the first moment, what has been remarkable has been the participation of the most oppressed layers of Kenyan society—above all, of women, who are excluded from participating in politics in “normal” times.

The tax on menstrual products represented a particularly cruel and humiliating blow in a country where 65% of women cannot afford essential sanitary products, making it impossible for many women to work or go to school. This was the last straw for thousands of women.

Such are the barriers to women entering all spheres of public life, that Kenya has historically had very few women MPs. To “remedy” that, the constitution includes quotas for “women’s representatives” in the parliament.

And some of these women’s representatives, like Gloria Orwaba, have promoted their own political careers by running campaigns precisely to end period poverty. A few days before the protests erupted there was a little incident involving this women’s representative. After William Ruto had finished giving a speech, he turned to Gloria Orwaba and gently pinched her cheeks as she smiled back at him.

This little gesture, seen by millions, speaks volumes about the relationship of these “women’s representatives” to the rest of the system. They are handpicked stooges of the ruling class used to deceive the mass of oppressed women that something is being done to help them.

In the end, the majority of women’s representatives, including Orwaba herself, voted with their male colleagues to impose the new crushing measures on the Kenyan masses, including a tax on sanitary pads.

The women’s representatives have earned the hatred of the masses, along with the rest of the MPs (who are being referred to as “MPigs” on the streets). This has shown clearly what a deception quotas are. The revolutionary movement of the masses in the streets shows the real way to bring women into the political arena: when the masses are mobilized and have confidence in their victory, Kenya’s women have shown that they will provide the front ranks and the staunchest and most resolute fighters.

#OccupyStateHouse

As the news came through of the vote in parliament, the mood turned to rage among the masses on the streets in Nairobi. It was clear that the movement had to escalate.

Among the steps in passing this hated legislation, one is the signing off of the law by President William Ruto. The masses therefore began to march on the presidential palace, State House, and the hashtag #OccupyStateHouse began trending by early evening.

The idea of making a revolution and sweeping away the president began gripping the imagination of thousands of young people. Memories were evoked of those emotional scenes in Sri Lanka two years ago, when the masses stormed past the police and took the presidential palace, forcing President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to flee the country. Some jokingly started asking whether State House also has a private swimming pool that the masses could bathe in!

It was clear that the masses had lost their fear of the brutal police repression, which could no longer keep a lid on this anger. Until now, the Kenyan police have been a force to be feared, responsible for extortion, disappearances, murders, and complicity in ethnic violence. But the explosion of the mass movement has overwhelmed them.

Throughout the day, slogans on social media and improvised placards reflected a new feeling among the masses: we cannot be intimated anymore. “Tusitishwe! Tusiogope!” (“Don’t be intimidated! Let’s not be afraid!”) read one placard. “When we lose our fear, they lose their power,” read another popular slogan.

The latter contains a profound truth. When the point is reached where the masses lose their fear, the ruling class becomes powerless to stop their onrush. This point has now been passed in Kenya. That has revolutionary implications, which could unfold rapidly in the days to come.

Faced with a movement that they could not quell, as we’ve seen in every revolution past, cracks began appearing in the police apparatus on Thursday. Numerous videos have circulated of police either standing down, overwhelmed by the movement, or even fraternizing with the masses.


But before the night was over, the capitalist state gave the masses a bloody reminder of its presence, and that even if the masses insist on peaceful means, the ruling class will not hesitate to use murderous means to protect its interests.

Some time around 8:00pm local time, a young man, 24-year-old Rex Kanyike Masai, was shot dead in cold blood by a plainclothes police officer.

#TotalShutdown

The killing of Rex Masai has poured fuel on the flames of the revolutionary anger of the masses. The coming week, escalation is planned. By nightfall, a new hashtag was trending: #TotalShutdown. The call now is for a general strike on June 25.

This is the correct way to escalate the movement. This killer government has ignored the mass demonstrations. Ruto has shown his determination to plow ahead with Finance Bill 2024, without so much as waiting for the blood of Rex Masai to dry.

But there is a force in Kenyan society that cannot be ignored, because without it, not a wheel turns and not a lightbulb shines: that is the force of the working class. A general strike, a total shutdown, is the correct next step.

But who is to lead it? The leadership of the Central Organization of Trade Unions (COTU-K) should be calling for a general strike now. But it has played a disgraceful role in these events, which would deserve nothing but contempt were they not playing such a pernicious role in upholding the rule of Ruto, the IMF, and their system.

While the masses were raising the slogan, “reject, not amend,” the leadership of COTU-K was hailing parliament for its minor concessions. Worse still, COTU-K General Secretary Francis Atwoli even came to the defense of the government:

We should not worry, “Why are Kenyans being taxed?” People are being taxed everywhere. And indeed, if we pay tax and the money is spent properly, we will evade the issue of borrowing money.

These scoundrels must be cleared out of the trade unions. But until that time, they will paralyze these potentially powerful organizations, and prevent them from giving an organized expression to the movement. As such, the masses must improvise. In order to give the total shutdown the broadest possible scope, the youth must organize strike committees.

In every neighborhood and workplace, the youth must form committees to coordinate the strike, by calling mass assemblies in every factory, workplace, and community—connecting with older and more conservative layers to win the masses to their program of action.

These committees could also serve a dual role: organizing self-defense against further police violence.

And by connecting up on a citywide, regional, and national basis, they could pose as an alternative power, such that we could truly sweep aside Ruto and the MPs, not to be replaced by a new parliament, a new cabinet, and a new president, but by organs of power of the working class, the poor, and the youth.

For a socialist Kenya and a socialist Africa!

There has been much talk of replicating in Kenya what happened in Sri Lanka in 2022. But it must not be forgotten that once the Sri Lankan president was swept aside, a new one was simply found to replace him. And he is a puppet of the same old ruling clique.

It is no exaggeration to say that in the last two years, life has become hell for Sri Lankans, who look up to the sky on this small island nation with despair. Once called “paradise island,” today the masses refer to Sri Lanka as “slave island.”

The system was not broken at the root during the Sri Lankan revolution. And now, the masses are being made to pay for the crisis of capitalism. In order to avoid such an outcome in Kenya, it is necessary to break the old capitalist state and expropriate the capitalist class: to smash capitalism.

Kenya had been praised to the heavens by the West in yesteryear: it was a beacon of hope and prosperity; East Africa’s most prosperous nation; a success story of capitalism and “development”; and (most important of all) a bulwark of the West amidst encroaching Chinese influence on the continent.

These events expose the true state of affairs. Kenya is a playground for the rich—literally. The country’s major source of foreign currency revenues is the lucrative tourism industry as wealthy jet-setters safari over the countryside. Even before the crisis, the richest 0.1% of Kenyans alone owned the same amount of wealth as the poorest 99.99 percent. Consider that figure! This is not a poor country, but a rich country plunged into poverty by imperialism and a rapacious ruling clique at its service.

Since 2020, even this “celebrated” model has collapsed. Not only did tourism collapse, and along with it foreign currency reserves, but the masses have been squeezed by high inflation and unemployment, while a strengthening dollar and rising interest rates have pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy. Which class will pay for this crisis? That is the key question.

There is no future for the masses under capitalism. This system must be smashed and replaced with a democratically planned socialist economy. Only along this road will the masses find a future worthy of human beings.

Once the Kenyan workers are in power, it would be possible to cancel the debt, to nationalize the assets of big business and foreign capital, and the huge natural wealth of the country, and to plan the economy to dramatically improve the living standards of all. Such a socialist workers’ republic in Kenya would become a beacon for the downtrodden masses of the whole continent and the whole world. That would be a real revolution that would soon spread to East Africa and far beyond.


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