Press Review CW 29/2023: Between resistance and growth
Press Review 14 July 2023 to 21 July 2023

Anti-government protests in Kenya

Since Wednesday, there have been another round of nationwide protests in Kenya against tax increases and high cost of living. These are the third protests this month called by the opposition coalition Azimio La Umoja led by Raila Odinga. The protests were not limited to the capital Nairobi, but also covered large parts of the country, including the regions of Kisumu, Migori and Kisii. There were violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces, particularly on Wednesday, in which a total of six people were killed, many injured and around 300 people arrested. Important infrastructure such as railway stations and the Nairobi Expressway were also damaged. The security forces cracked down on the protesters, using tear gas and water cannons. In the capital Nairobi, schools and many shops remained closed as a result. Human rights organisations, church institutions and representatives of 13 countries, including Germany and the USA, reacted with concern to the violent clashes and urged the government to respect peaceful protests and avoid the use of excessive force. The protests are mainly directed against the tax increases that came into effect on 1 July as a result of the recently passed Finance Act 2023, which includes amendments to various tax laws such as the Income Tax Act, the Value Added Tax Act of 2013, the Excise Tax Act, the Tax Procedure Act of 2015 and the Miscellaneous Fees and Charges Act, among others. Although the implementation of some parts of the Act was temporarily halted by court order, President Ruto’s government increased taxes on petroleum products, leading to a huge increase of costs for transport and food. For example, the government doubled the VAT on petroleum products to 16%, giving fuel prices their highest rate ever. President Ruto, who has been in office since September last year, defends the measures. Only with the help of the abolition of expensive subsidies on fuel, electricity and food could the government’s debt burden be reduced. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) welcomed the law, calling it a crucial step towards reducing Kenya’s debt vulnerability. The East African state’s debt had risen from about 20 billion US dollars in 2013 to 74.1 billion US dollars at the end of December 2022. The IMF was critical of granting additional loans to the Kenyan government in view of this high debt. In addition, Kenya’s economy is struggling with the consequences of the Corona pandemic as well as rising inflation. The latest protests are part of a series of demonstrations since the beginning of the year which, according to experts, have already had an enormous negative impact on the Kenyan economy, especially on the tourism sector and the willingness of international companies to invest. According to a private sector lobby group, the protests have cost the economy more than 20 million US dollars a day this year.

U.S.-Africa Business Summit in Botswana

The 15th U.S.-Africa Business Summit ended last Friday in Gaborone, Botswana. The annual summit, organised by the Corporate Council on Africa (CCA), was co-hosted this year from 11 to 14 July by the Botswana government. Under this year’s theme “Enhancing Africa’s Value Chains“, over 1,000 participants gathered, including the Heads of State and Government of Eswatini, Lesotho, Mozambique, Niger, Zambia and Zimbabwe, high-ranking government officials from the US and Africa, as well as numerous high-ranking representatives from the private sector. Through various panel discussions, roundtables, country forums and closed-door meetings, the summit provided an opportunity for attendees to discuss strengthening US-African cooperation, particularly in the areas of agribusiness, finance, energy, health, infrastructure, information and communication technology, and creative industries. For example, during the plenary session on next steps in strengthening Africa’s health sector in capacity development, prevention, detection and treatment, the US company Ginko Bioworks and Botswana’s Ministry of Health signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on future cooperation in these areas. However, there was also some criticism of US policies from the African leaders present. This criticism was mainly directed against US government subsidies for domestic industries, sanctions against Zimbabwe and especially the uncertainty about the continuation of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), the trade agreement between the US and Africa, which ends in 2025. The agreement came into effect in 2000 and allows some African states cheaper or even tax-free access to the American market for their exports. Thus, thanks to the agreement, more than 46,000 jobs are said to have been created in Africa so far and exports to the USA have been further strengthened. However, not all African countries benefit from the AGOA. Ethiopia, Guinea and Mali are currently excluded from the agreement due to coups d’état and human rights violations; South Africa’s participation is also currently under review after the US accused South Africa of allegedly supplying arms to Russia. At the summit, the African representatives urged for an extension of the agreement in order to give investors long-term security and to prevent a freeze on investment. At the same time, it is hoped that an extension of the AGOA will send a signal to the global business community, which in turn will drive Africa’s industrialisation and participation in global value chains, said Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi. The U.S.-Africa Business Summit follows six months after the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington, D.C. At that summit, those present committed to promoting trade and investment, creating jobs, strengthening relations and enhancing prosperity in Africa and the United States. Since the summit in December last year, 75 new reciprocal trade and investment agreements have already been signed between the US and Africa, totaling US $5.7 billion.

In other news

The Heroine of Health Awards were conferred to twelve women from Africa in Rwanda’s capital Kigali on Wednesday to recognise their contribution to the promotion of sexual and reproductive health and rights. The awarded women from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Senegal, Togo and Uganda work as community health workers, midwives, doctors and nurses and through their work are committed to realising the right to health for women and girls and improving universal health coverage in Africa. The award was launched in 2017 by Women in Global Health to recognise the exceptional work of women in health. This year, the Heroine of Health Awards ceremony took place at the Women Deliver conference, one of the largest international gatherings of activists and policy makers on gender equality. For the first time, the conference was held in Africa and attracted around 6000 participants.

For information

On 20 July, the film Running against the Wind opens in cinemas all over Germany. It tells the inspiring story of two friends who grow up in Ethiopia and fight for their big dreams despite numerous obstacles. With his work, director Jan Philipp Weyl presents a homage to Ethiopia. Viewers can look forward to impressive footage shot at original locations and a guest appearance by Olympic legend Haile Gebrselassie. For more information, please visit: https://wfilm.de/de/running-against-the-wind/kinotermine/

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