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#RejectFinanceBill2024: Kenyan Citizens Protest Amid Fears of Internet Shutdown

Kenyan streets have become arenas of fervent protest as citizens voice their disapproval of the proposed Finance Bill of 2024, which aims to increase taxation to bolster government revenue. However, citizens and several civil organisations argue that the bill exacerbates corruption, unaccounted government spending, and stifles business under the weight of excessive taxation. Read this proper breakdown on the bill, and why Kenyans reject it in its entirety. Today, Tuesday 25th, is set to witness the largest of these protests, with a planned total shutdown of services across the country. You can follow the conversation online using the hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024.

With the rising fervour, and more people taking to the streets, concerns have emerged over a possible government-enforced internet shutdown, which critics say could silence dissent and obscure the handling of the demonstrations. These fears were ignited following reports of police abductions of peaceful protestors, raising alarm about the measures the government might take to control the narrative. The Kenya Human Rights Commission has voiced itself against the abductions in this article.

International and Local Bodies Rally Against Potential Communication Blackouts

A collective of 27 international and local bodies, including human rights defenders, legal associations, and medical professionals, released a statement on June 24, emphasizing the critical role of the internet and mass media in democratic discourse. The groups highlighted that any attempt to disrupt internet connectivity or media access would constitute a “gross violation of fundamental human rights,” severely hindering citizens’ rights to organise and express dissent. The statement stressed that such actions would not only infringe on rights but also “choke the timely deployment of emergency medical services and tracing of missing persons.”

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The collaborative statement, endorsed by entities such as Access Now, Amnesty International Kenya, and the Kenya Medical Association, underscores the importance of maintaining open communication channels during the protests. The #RejectFinanceBill2024 hashtag, as noted by the group, is more than a social media trend; it is a vital part of citizen organisation and dialogue concerning the implications of the Finance Bill on the nation’s economy and individual livelihoods.

Economic Implications of a Potential Internet Shutdown

Further exacerbating concerns, the KICTANet, Paradigm Initiative, and Internet Society Kenya Chapter issued a joint statement outlining the dire economic consequences of an internet blackout. They detailed that such a shutdown could cripple Kenya’s burgeoning e-commerce sector, valued at approximately KES 269.8 billion ($2.1 billion), and potentially cost the economy KES 810 million ($6.3 million) daily. Additionally, the mobile money industry, a critical component of daily transactions in Kenya, would face paralysis, severely affecting banks and millions who rely on services like M-Pesa.

The groups also highlighted the potential setbacks to Kenya’s digital startup sector and the tourism industry, crucial components of the national GDP that heavily depend on internet connectivity.

Government’s Stance on Internet Access

In response to the swirling rumours and growing unease, the Communications Authority of Kenya issued a reassuring statement on June 24. David Mugonyi, Director-General of the Communications Authority signed the statement, asserting that there were no plans to shut down internet services on the upcoming Tuesday, branding such actions as contrary to the constitution and detrimental to Kenya’s digital economy and democratic ethos. Mugonyi urged Kenyans to utilize digital spaces within legal confines and with respect for all.

As the situation develops, the eyes of the world, as well as numerous digital rights organizations, remain fixed on Kenya. They call for the Kenyan government to uphold democratic principles and maintain open lines of communication, not only as a means of respecting citizen rights but also as a crucial strategy for navigating through the current crisis without undermining the country’s democratic and economic progress.

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