Businesses in 35 counties choke on tear gas, demos

A demonstrator holds a Kenyan flag as police use tear gas to disperse protesters during a demonstration against Kenya's proposed Finance Bill 2024 in Nairobi on June 25, 2024.

Photo credit: Reuters

Even before the crack of dawn Tuesday, a majority of businesses within the Nairobi Central Business District (CBD) were closed and the few that gambled to open shut before 9am, as youth-led protests against the Finance Bill, 2024 started.

And so enterprises within the CBD, several other parts of Nairobi and towns in more than 35 counties where the protests were held remained shut, as did the public transport system in many places, with matatus and other vehicles parked.

Shops, supermarket outlets, restaurants and even hawkers who sell on the streets stayed away as Kenyans took over the streets, engaging police in running battles from dawn to dusk.

At the Nairobi Securities Exchange (NSE), the market capitalisation dropped by Sh15 billion to Sh1.746 trillion at close of trading, though trading closed before impact of the worst side of protests – protesters breaching parliament premises – could be seen. Shares traded, however, increased from 6.16 million on Monday, to 9.23 million.

That was the economic overview across the country throughout Tuesday as the economy, yet again, took a hit amid protests over a Bill proposing to introduce economic measures that have widely been rejected.

But even as the protests took a toll on businesses, heads of different sectors of the economy remained firm that the government must listen to the issues Kenyan youth have raised, noting that firms continue to struggle under taxation measures introduced last year.

The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE), noted that the closure of businesses in Nairobi and other major towns would not only affect the livelihoods of business owners and their employees, but also the economy.

“Businesses have not fully recovered from the effects of Covid-19 and the Finance Act 2023, which had a far-reaching impact on their operations. The current protests exacerbate these challenges, creating an environment of uncertainty and anxiety among employers, employees and Kenyans as a whole. The disruption is affecting business continuity and productivity, with many workers unable to access their workplaces safely, leading to delays and potential financial losses,” said FKE executive director, Jacqueline Mugo.

The FKE called on government to listen to calls by protesters and reconsider the Finance Bill, 2024, which the Opposition has vowed to reject in its totality.

“The concerns and voices of our young people and Kenyans must be heard and considered. We urge the government to reconsider the contentious Finance Bill. Constructive dialogue and engagement is key to resolving the issues at hand and moving forward in a manner that benefits all Kenyans,” Ms Mugo added.

The FKE also criticised the government over use of excessive force on protesters, indicating that their right to peaceful protests “must be respected and protected.”

The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) termed the situation volatile noting that many businesses had closed operations, but noted that for business owners it was balance of whether to lose business for a short period and achieve better outcomes in the long run.

“This is a tight balance because when this happens, many people will not carry out their duties, but again since the conversation is about economic issues that affect businesses, it’s a balance of losing business today and what is to be achieved in due course, depending on the point from which different people are looking at it,” Mr Antony Mwangi, the KAM CEO, said.

KAM said the situation would not have exacerbated to levels witnessed Tuesday, had Treasury and Parliament listened to views by stakeholders from different sectors of the economy, and considered them.

The public service transport (PSV) sector also termed the protests “noble”, noting that issues being raised are legitimate concerns for businesses, since they would raise operation costs.

Mr Dickson Mbugua, national chairman of Matatu Welfare Association said that proposed taxes in the Finance Bill, 2024, were coming even before PSV operators could absorb the impact of taxation measures introduced last year.

The overall sentiment from heads of different sectors was that concerns on proposed Finance Bill proposals were legitimate, and should be addressed to prevent the same from recurring.

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