Statement on the Situation in Kenya: Protests and Tax Measures Affecting Vulnerable Citizens


The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), through the Country Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Republic of Kenya, Honorable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso follows with concern recent developments related to a proposed tax bill in the Republic of Kenya. 

The African Commission has learned from reports reaching it that the move by the Government of Kenya for the adoption of  of new tax bill has created serious concern for members of the Kenyan public, precipitating widespread protests. 

The African Commission is concerned that the protests on 18 June have led to the arrest of over 300 individuals and underscores that peaceful protest is protected under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter)

The African Commission reminds the Government of Kenya that when adopting such measures that would directly affect the socio-economic wellbeing of citizens, most notably the most vulnerable sections of society, it is a pre-requisite that affected people are adequately consulted and their concerns are adequately addressed to ensure that such measures are in compliance with the African Charter. The effort to address budgetary constraints and enhance macro-economic stability through revenue generation needs to be balanced with the need to protect people, particularly the most vulnerable including the less well of members of society, from being deprived of the basic minimum socio-economic protection if such measures are to stand the test of proportionality under the African Charter. 

The African Commission also expresses its deep concern regarding provision within the finance bill that seeks to remove section 51 of the Data Protection Act and allow the Kenya Revenue Authority the to have unfettered access individuals' financial records without a warrant or prior notice. Such measures set a dangerous precedent for government overreach and undermine the fundamental principles of privacy and civil liberties critical for ensuring protection of civil and political and socio-economic rights under the African Charter.

The Commission has noted the protests that have erupted in response to these tax policies, reflecting the distress and economic hardship faced by many Kenyans. The increase in the cost of living, stagnant wages, and high unemployment rates have exacerbated the struggles of ordinary citizens, contravening the principles of social justice and equality foundational to the African Charter.

The Commission calls upon the Government of Kenya to take the following actions:

-    Engage in Constructive and Inclusive Dialogue: The government should engage with all stakeholders, including civil society organizations, community leaders, and the affected populations, to address these concerns. A participatory approach is crucial to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard and considered in policy-making processes.

-    Explore Alternative Measures: The government should explore alternative measures to alleviate the financial burden on ordinary citizens. These measures could include targeted subsidies for essential goods, tax relief for low-income earners, and the implementation of robust social protection programs designed to support the most vulnerable segments of society.

-    Respect the Right to Peaceful Protest: The right to peaceful protest is enshrined under Article 11 of the African Charter, which guarantees the right to assemble freely with others. The Commission calls on the Kenyan authorities to respect this right and to ensure that security forces exercise restraint and uphold the highest standards of human rights when managing public demonstrations.

-    Release Those Arrested for Peaceful Protests: The Commission calls for the immediate release of individuals arrested for participating in peaceful protests, with utmost respect for due process of the law under Article 7 of the African Charter.

-    Ensure respect for personal data protection: The government should immediately reconsider and amend the provision that allows the Kenya Revenue Authority to access individuals' financial records without a warrant or prior notice. Upholding the right to privacy is essential to maintaining public trust and adhering to the principles of a human and peoples rights under the African Charter .

The Commission emphasizes that the well-being of ordinary citizens must be at the forefront of any economic policy. The Commission stands in solidarity with the people and the Government of Kenya in their pursuit of social justice and urges the government to take immediate and effective steps to address the pressing issues arising from the recent tax measures and the threat it posses to the socio-economic wellbeing and the right of citizens to privacy. 

Honourable Commissioner Solomon Ayele Dersso
Country Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Republic of Kenya

Done this 18th day of June 2024.