The Rise of Social Media Activism in Kenya’s Fight Against Finance Bill

Kenya President William Ruto rose on a popular wave of support, promising economic reforms and better governance. His “bottom-up” manifesto resonated with many voters, particularly the youth and lower-income citizens who felt marginalized by previous administrations.

However, in the past two years, his presidency has fallen short of these expectations. Instead, the country has witnessed an unprecedented wave of new taxes, which Ruto argues are necessary to address mounting public debt and achieve fiscal stability.

Yet, recent protests against the 2024 financial bill reveal a disconnect between government policies and public sentiment. For the first time, the Ruto administration faces significant opposition from a demographic once perceived as disengaged from politics: the younger generation.

Generation Z or “Gen Z” as they are popularly known are individuals born roughly between the late 1990s and early 2010s. They constitute 67% of Kenya’s unemployed population, making them the hardest hit by current economic challenges.

But What Is So Significant About These Protests?

Historically, Kenya demonstrations have been predominantly organized by established political opposition parties, trade unions, or civil society organizations. However, the advent of social media platforms has given rise to a new form of activism.

Dubbed “Gen Z” protests, Kenya’s youth are leveraging their digital fluency to scrutinize policies, challenge official narratives, and demand transparency. They bypass traditional media gatekeepers, ensuring their voices resonate directly with peers, policymakers, and the global community.

X (formerly Twitter) Leads the Charge

As of June 27th, the hashtag #RejectFinanceBill2024 had been reposted over 2 million times worldwide, making it one of the top trending topics. Videos of protests, impassioned speeches, and personal threads (stories) flooded timelines, transforming isolated frustrations into a unified call for policy reform.

X provided a platform for instantaneous mobilization, where users could share information about protest locations, disseminate legal advice for those detained, and rally support. Its audio-based feature, X space, allowed young Kenyans to host real-time discussions on the implications of the Finance Bill and strategize on protest actions.

TikTok Defies the Odd

TikTok has often been overlooked as a platform for political discourse in the country. More often, it’s associated with viral dance challenges and comedic sketches. However, during the protests against the 2024 financial bill, the app surprisingly emerged as a powerful tool for advocacy.

Through creative storytelling and skits with biting political commentary, TikTok users dissected complex economic policies into digestible pieces, reaching millions of viewers who might have remained disengaged. Hashtags like #OccupyParliament and #OccupyChurches gained traction, amplifying the message and prompting offline action.

One particularly impactful TikTok video featured a young activist explaining the nuances of the bill in different local dialects, making the information accessible to a broader audience. This grassroots approach educated the public and galvanized empathy offline.

The Role of WhatsApp in Grassroots Mobilization

With over 13.5 million users, WhatsApp is one of the most popular messaging apps in Kenya. During the protests, it played a critical role in mobilizing people at the local level. Unlike the public nature of X and TikTok, its private and encrypted messaging provides a secure space for organizing and strategizing.

This privacy aspect is key, but WhatsApp’s strength goes beyond that. The platform reaches a wide range of demographics, including older generations who might not be familiar with other social media tools. This inclusivity helped build a broad coalition against the Finance Bill.

A powerful example of this mobilization is the “tusalimie Kiongozi” initiative,” which translates to “greet your leader” in Swahili. Kenyans proactively shared the phone numbers of parliamentarians before the bill’s introduction. This aimed to directly engage them, voice their dissent, and remind them to reject the bill.

Beyond the Big Three

While X, TikTok, and WhatsApp emerged as the key platforms for mobilizing and amplifying the message, other social media tools also proved valuable.

One lesser-known but impactful tool was Zello. This app, functioning like a walkie-talkie, facilitated real-time communication, allowing users to share updates and connect with emergency services. Joining was simple: download the app, navigate to the Channels tab, and scan the provided QR code to access the #RejectFinanceBill2024 channel.

Interestingly, established platforms like Instagram and Facebook, despite their wider reach, seemed to have less direct influence on this movement. Nevertheless, they remained valuable for sharing protest updates, news articles, and visual content.



About the Author

Sharon Adisa
Sharon is a writer and editor who strives to continually further both the depth and breadth of her skills as a writer so as to contribute superior work and deliver client and customer satisfaction.

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