Riots in Kenya: The Church Calls for Peace

Source: FSSPX News

The bishops of Kenya

Kenya’s Catholic bishops are seeking to mediate in the unprecedented youth-led protest movement that has swept the country in less than two weeks, taking President William Ruto’s government by surprise. At least 22 people have been killed so far, including 19 in Nairobi, the capital, and more than 300 others injured.

The revolt emerged on social media networks shortly after the presentation to Parliament, on June 13, 2024, of the budget for the year 2024-2025. People were “predicting the establishment of new taxes, including a VAT of 16% on bread and an annual tax of 2.5% on private vehicles,” Le Figaro explains. Tensions abruptly rose on Tuesday, June 25, when those opposed demonstrated for the third time in eight days.

Le Monde reports that, “According to several NGOs, the police shot real bullets to contain the crowd, which had forced the security barricades aside to enter the complex housing the National Assembly and the Senate.” Buildings were ransacked and partially set on fire, especially in Eldoret, “in the heart of the Rift Valley, [...] known as a stronghold for President William Ruto.” Looting also took place in Nairobi and in several cities.

“’It was a real popular protest, initially peaceful, even if provocateurs and thugs mingled with the demonstrators’, Father Alfonso Poppi, of the Priestly Fraternity of the Missionaries of St. Charles Borromeo, from Nairobi told Fides [Agenzia Fides].”

“Now the situation seems to be calm again,” the religious said on June 26, adding: "It should be emphasized that for the first time, the Kenyan people have not taken to the streets at the behest of a political leader, but spontaneously, following calls on social media."

The Archbishop of Kisumu and Vice Chairman and Principal Administrator of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB), Maurice Muhatia Makumba, urged the protestors not to give in to calls for violence, Agenzia Fides reports, and to beware of provocations orchestrated on social media networks: “’Do not be influenced by people who have ulterior motives and want to create chaos,’ he said in his sermon at the mass last Sunday, June 23.”

The KCCB intervened by issuing a call for peace: "The government must listen to the suffering of citizens. Ignoring them only means increasing tensions in the country and plunging the youth and citizens into despair. We call on the President to listen to the voice of the many suffering people and to respond concretely to the current situation caused by the financial law,” the Kenyan prelates stated on June 26, according to Agenzia Fides.

Shortly afterward, the Kenyan Head of State, who had at first stated “that he wanted to firmly suppress ‘violence and anarchy,’” Le Figaro writes, “finally announced on Wednesday the withdrawal of the budget bill, saying he wanted to establish a national dialogue with young people.” Although the tension has eased somewhat, the situation remains strained in the capital, where everything could again change dramatically.

William Ruto, who had made himself the spokesman for the poorest during his electoral campaign, raised income tax and health contributions, and doubled VAT on gas in order to try to alleviate the economic difficulties linked to the war in Ukraine: Kenya imports a large portion of its gasoline and wheat from Russia.

Despite its dynamic economy, Kenya “recorded in May an inflation of 5.1% over one year, with an increase in the prices of food products and fuel of 6.2 and 7.8% respectively, according to the Central Bank,” Le Figaro notes. And if growth is expected to reach 5% in 2024, the public debt amounts to around 70 billion euros—around 70% of the GDP.

The coming weeks will tell whether the KCCB will manage to pacify a country now once again prey to the old demons of division.