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IMF and Kenya: Protests, Debt, and the Struggle for Stability

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Kenya, once East Africa’s beacon of economic development and democratic stability, now faces political and financial turmoil.

Massive protests erupted after parliament passed a bill hiking taxes on essential goods, further burdening an already struggling population.

The violent crackdown on protesters and subsequent deaths have deepened the crisis. President William Ruto’s refusal to sign the controversial tax bill to address Kenya’s staggering $80 billion debt has left the country’s future uncertain.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), a key player in Kenya’s economic policies, faces fierce criticism for its austerity measures.

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As Kenya navigates these turbulent waters, questions about its political and economic stability intensify.IMF and Kenya protests

IMF and Kenya’s Debt Crisis

Ruto pushed the bill to address Kenya’s $80 billion debt, with $35 billion owed to foreign creditors, mainly China, the World Bank, and the IMF.

Without repayment, Kenya risks future borrowing challenges, which could worsen unemployment and poverty.

This situation reflects the struggles of many developing nations burdened by debt.

Binaifer Nowrojee, president of the Open Society Foundations, highlighted that over 3 billion people globally live in countries prioritizing debt payments over essential services like education and health.

IMF’s Role and the Finance Bill 2024

The IMF has significant influence over Kenya’s economic policies. It often imposes austerity measures, including tax hikes and spending cuts, as conditions for financial aid.

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These unpopular measures sparked widespread protests in Kenya.

The Finance Bill 2024, part of an IMF-backed program, proposed new taxes. President Ruto’s rejection of the bill increased public scrutiny and anger towards the IMF.

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Julie Kozack, IMF Director of Communications, expressed concern over Kenya’s unrest and emphasized the IMF’s commitment to supporting Kenya’s economic growth and well-being.

Reports suggest the IMF advised the Kenyan government to stand firm on the bill despite expected protests.

Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua criticized Kenya’s intelligence services for failing to foresee the violence.

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IMF and Kenya Protests

Massive protests erupted after parliament passed a bill increasing taxes on essentials like cooking oil, diapers, and bread, adding to the burden of a population already struggling with inflation and unemployment. [Photo: Getty Images]

Kenya’s Path Forward

Kenya faces a murky future both politically and financially. Ruto’s refusal to sign the tax bill means the government must adopt austerity measures to comply with a 2021 IMF loan agreement.

This agreement requires tax increases and spending cuts while protecting the social safety net. Ruto plans to cut government spending, starting with his office’s budget, to align with IMF guidelines.

However, austerity measures could still affect public programs like infrastructure, healthcare, and education, exacerbating inequality and affecting critical services like school meals.

Kenya spends about 60% of its revenue on debt payments, with a third going towards interest. While this pleases creditors, it limits funding for essential services for the population.

Limited Options for Kenya

Kenya has few options to manage its debt. Defaulting on payments could ease the burden short-term but would harm its credit rating and future borrowing ability.

Renegotiating loan terms could help reduce debt payments but would still require austerity measures and possibly higher taxes.

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Maintaining the current course means limited funds for economic development and public services.

The Struggle for Stability

Kenya must find new revenue sources. Any tax increase should target the ultra-wealthy to regain public support, though this may be unpopular among the elite.

Raising capital is a short-term fix; long-term solutions require addressing corruption, waste, and mismanagement. Efforts to reform may anger the wealthy, whose businesses rely on corrupt government relationships.

Kenyans feel their government is not acting in their best interest, fueling protests. This dissatisfaction stems from Kenya’s political culture and international financial institutions that have failed developing countries.

As President Ruto navigates these challenges, the world watches to see if Kenya can emerge stronger or succumb to debt and political instability. The coming months are crucial for Kenya’s economic policy and political leadership.

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