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President William Ruto begins online chat with protesters

by editor

Kenya’s President William Ruto has begun a historic public online forum with anti-tax protesters on social media platform X Spaces, saying he is there to listen.

His 31-year-old daughter Charlene Ruto billed it as “the first ever president in the world to hold an online meeting with all Gen Z”.

This is a reference to the young people behind the recent protests that have rocked her father’s presidency.

The demonstrations against his finance bill were organised via X Spaces, a feature that allows users to host live audio conversations with others on the platform formerly known as Twitter.

A section of Kenyans on X has vowed to boycott the president’s chat and has planned a parallel Space to counter the conversation.

They argue that Mr Ruto already knows their demands.

The president’s session started about 45 minutes late, seemingly beset by technical difficulties.

The outrage over the proposed tax increases forced President Ruto to say he would withdraw the legislation, which was intended to help reduce Kenya’s debt burden of over $80bn (£63bn).

A state-funded human rights commission estimates more than 40 people died during the protests, most on the day the bill was passed by MPs last week. The interior ministry says 25 protesters were killed.

The demonstrations have since morphed into calls for Mr Ruto’s resignation and demands that the security forces face justice over the killing of protesters.

Ahead of his X Space session, President Ruto delivered a national address on TV, promising a raft of cuts including:

  • The dissolution of 47 state corporations with overlapping functions
  • Suspending the purchase of new vehicles for state officials for six months
  • Suspending all non-essential travel for state officials
  • Reducing government advisers by 50%
  • Scrapping the budget for first lady and spouses of deputy president and the prime cabinet secretary.
  • Enforcing the retirement of public servants at the age of 60.

President Ruto began his speech by expressing his condolences but said this “difficult time” was an opportunity for the country:

“We are finally having the right conversation, not about our tribes, or personalities, or political formations, but rather issues that affect each and every one of us: issues such as taxation, debt, the budget, corruption, the cost of living, unemployment, and opportunities for our young people.”

His X Space, dubbed #EngageThePresident, was due to last between 11:00 GMT and 14:00 GMT (14:00 to 17:00 local time).

His daughter Charlene had tweeted to publicise the three-hour opportunity to chat directly with the president.

“Young people, the chance of a lifetime awaits you,” she posted.

“I encourage you to use it wisely and engage constructively because you are the ones who will determine the continuity of such levels of discussion for your success.”

Some members of Mr Ruto’s cabinet are also present for the X Space conversation, which is yet to kick off in earnest.

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