The events that led William Ruto to abandon his budget might in time be seen as a milestone moment – not only for Kenya’s president but also for the power of youth on the world’s youngest continent.

Through the potency of protest, organised largely organically, a movement initiated by young people on social media has forced one of Africa’s most internationally regarded leaders to junk his flagship policy.

William Ruto

It is not that Mr Ruto now realises he had been wrong to push for the tax hikes which caused so much anger across Kenya. In fact he began his address to the nation on Wednesday with a robust and detailed explanation of exactly why he believed they were needed.

His government, he said, had made the tough choices necessary to stabilise the economy and to help ease Kenya out of a debt trap which forces it to spend 61 cents of every tax dollar on repaying its loans.

The finance bill was essential, he claimed, to “redeem our country from the discomfort of debt and assert our sovereignty”.

That makes it all the more astonishing that the turmoil of recent days has forced the embattled president to change course so completely.

Instead of raising extra revenue, Mr Ruto now intends to balance the books by introducing a new programme of public austerity.

It will notably include a cut to spending in his own office – a clear nod to the fury heard from many on the streets about perceived corruption and government largesse.

And in an attempt to reach out directly to Kenya’s youth, the president promised to engage and listen to them.

Mr Ruto spoke in front of an audience of his own MPs, whom he thanked for having backed his bill. Many might now be forgiven for wondering where his U-turn leaves their credibility.

There is no doubt that the last two days have been severely bruising for the president.

His security forces were roundly condemned for a brutal response to Tuesday’s demonstrations in which at least 22 people are reported to have died, several shot by police.


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