Two dead in Kenya youth protests

The protests have been galvanised by widespread anger over President William Ruto's economic policies (LUIS TATO)
The protests have been galvanised by widespread anger over President William Ruto's economic policies (LUIS TATO)

A 21-year-old man has died after being hit by a tear gas canister during protests in Kenya this week, a human rights official and the victim's relative said Saturday, in the second fatality resulting from the youth-led demonstrations.

Led largely by Gen-Z Kenyans who have livestreamed the demonstrations against tax hikes, the protests have been galvanised by widespread anger over President William Ruto's economic policies.

Thursday's demonstrations in the capital Nairobi were mostly peaceful, but officers fired tear gas and water cannon throughout the day in an attempt to disperse protesters near parliament.

According to a Kenya Human Rights Commission official, 21-year-old Evans Kiratu was "hit by a tear gas canister" during the demonstrations.

"He was rushed to hospital around 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Thursday...and died there," Ernest Cornel, a spokesman at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, told AFP.

"It is tragic that a young person can lose his life simply for agitating against the high cost of living."

The victim's aunt told national broadcaster Citizen TV that her nephew had died in hospital before she was able to see him.

"We are demanding justice for my nephew," she said.

The rallies began in Nairobi on Tuesday before spreading across the country, with protesters calling for a national strike on June 25.

Kiratu's death comes on the heels of another fatality reported on Friday, when a police watchdog said it was investigating allegations that a 29-year-old man was shot by officers in Nairobi after the demonstrations.

The Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) said it had "documented the death... allegedly as a result of police shooting" on Thursday.

According to a police report seen by AFP, a 29-year-old man was taken to hospital in Nairobi at around 7:00 pm (1600 GMT) on Thursday "unconscious with a thigh injury" before "succumbing" to his injuries, without giving further details.

Several organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya, said that at least 200 people were injured in Nairobi after Thursday's protests, which saw thousands of people take to the streets across the country.

- Piling pressure -

Following smaller-scale demonstrations in Nairobi earlier in the week, the cash-strapped government agreed to roll back several tax hikes laid out in a new bill.

But Ruto's administration still intends to increase some taxes, defending the proposed levies as necessary for filling its coffers and cutting reliance on external borrowing.

The tax hikes will pile further pressure on Kenyans, with many already struggling to survive as the cost of living surges and well-paid jobs remain out of reach for young people.

Organised largely through social media, the protests have caught the government by surprise, with demonstrators now calling for a nationwide shutdown.

"Tuesday 25th June: #OccupyParliament and Total Shutdown Kenya. A national strike," read a poster shared widely online, adding that "Gen Z are granting all hard working Kenyans a day off. Parents keep your children at home in solidarity."

After the government agreed to scrap levies on bread purchases, car ownership as well as financial and mobile services, the treasury warned of a 200-billion-shilling ($1.5-billion) shortfall.

The proposed taxes were projected to raise 346.7 billion shillings ($2.7 billion), equivalent to 1.9 percent of GDP, and reduce the budget deficit from 5.7 percent to 3.3 percent of GDP.

The government has now targeted an increase in fuel prices and export taxes to fill the void left by the changes, a move critics say will make life more expensive in a country battling high inflation.

Kenya is one of the most dynamic economies in East Africa but a third of its 51.5 million people live in poverty.