Kenya's Ruto dismisses almost entire cabinet after deadly protests


(MENAFN- AFP)

Kenyan President William Ruto announced on Thursday the dismissal of almost his entire cabinet and consultations to form a "broad-based government" following widespread anti-government protests.

The East African nation was left reeling after peaceful rallies last month over steep tax increases flared into deadly violence with Police firing at crowds who stormed parliament, leaving it partly ablaze.

Led largely by young, Gen-Z Kenyans, the protests plunged Ruto's administration into the most serious crisis of his presidency, forcing him to abandon the tax hikes and scramble to contain the damage.

In the latest move to defuse tensions, Ruto said his decision would extend to all ministers including the attorney-general but excluded prime cabinet secretary and foreign minister Musalia Mudavadi and Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua.

Ruto said he decided on the dismissals "upon reflection, listening keenly to what the people of Kenya have said and after a holistic appraisal of the performance of my cabinet and its achievements and challenges".

Prominent Gen-Z protester Hanifa Adan welcomed the announcement, writing on X: "THE PRESIDENT OF KENYA HAS DISSOLVED THE CABINET!!! THE POWER LIES WITH THE PEOPLE ALWAYS!!!!!"

The largely peaceful rallies have widened into a broader campaign against Ruto and his government, with some demonstrations degenerating into violence that has left dozens dead.

Last week, the Kenyan leader announced sharp cuts to government spending in response to growing anger over his cabinet's travel and renovation budgets while ordinary citizens struggle to cope with a cost of living crisis.

The government will also have to increase its borrowing to pay for some services even as it grapples with massive foreign debt amounting to 70 percent of GDP.

The crisis led US-based Moody's to downgrade Kenya's debt rating further into junk territory, warning of a negative outlook, which will make borrowing even more expensive for the cash-strapped government.

The ratings agency said it was cutting the ratings for Kenyan government debt to Caa1 -- considered to have "very high credit risk" -- with the move reflecting Ruto's "significantly diminished capacity" to raise taxes and reduce debt.

- 'Radical programmes' -

The businessman-turned-politician, who won elections in 2022 on the promise to lift the fortunes of the common man, was caught off guard by the depth of public anger over the proposed tax hikes, which followed an earlier round of increases last year.

Ruto also said Thursday that he will "immediately engage in extensive consultations across different sectors and political formations, with the aim of setting up a broad-based government".

This government would, he said, help him to develop "radical programmes" to deal with the country's huge debt burden, increase job opportunities, eliminate government waste and "slay the dragon of corruption".

In addition to scrapping the annual finance bill which included the tax hikes, Ruto has also sought to engage with some of the protesters, hosting an event on X with young Kenyans last week.

But this has failed to appease some demonstrators, who have continued to call for him to step down, using the hashtag #RutoMustGo and staging smaller rallies across Kenyan cities.

Public debt amounts to some 10 trillion shillings ($78 billion), around 70 percent of Kenya's GDP.

The government's decision to borrow more will result in the fiscal deficit rising from 3.3 percent to 4.6 percent, according to Ruto.

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AFP

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