GeoPoll Research -
Youth Protests in Kenya

FRANKLINE KIBUACHA | JULY. 05, 2024 | 8 MIN. READ

The Kenya Finance Bill 2024 has catalyzed significant political and social unrest in Kenya, leading to widespread protests, predominantly spearheaded by the youth. The bill proposed substantial tax increases on essential items and services, including internet data, fuel, and bank transfers, which the government argued were necessary to manage the national debt and reduce the budget deficit. However, these measures were perceived as punitive by many Kenyans already struggling with a high cost of living and economic hardships.

The protests began on June 18, 2024, following the public release of the bill, and quickly spread from Nairobi to other parts of the country. Despite resistance from the government and attempts to quell the unrest, the protests intensified, leading to violent clashes that sadly caused several deaths and destruction of property including parts of the parliament that were set on fire.

In response to the escalating situation, President William Ruto announced the withdrawal of the Finance Bill on June 26, 2024. However, the protests did not cease. The youth continued to mobilize online and in the streets, driven by broader grievances such as unemployment, corruption, and the high cost of living. These ongoing demonstrations highlight the deep-seated discontent among Kenyans, particularly the younger generation, towards the current economic and political environment​. 

It is against this background that GeoPoll conducted a nationwide survey to capture the sentiments and perceptions of Kenyan youth regarding the state of the country and the ongoing protests. This report provides a detailed analysis of these findings, highlighting important demographic insights where relevant.

Summary Findings

  1. High Participation in Protests: 62% of respondents reported participating in the protests, with the highest involvement among the 25-34 age group. Most (89%) believed the protests reflected a general dissatisfaction with the government.
  2. Widespread Dissatisfaction with Finance Bill: 87% of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the Finance Bill 2024 with 71% believing the bill would significantly increase their financial burden.
  3. Primary Reasons for Protesting: High cost of living, corruption, unemployment, poor governance, political distrust and government extravagance were the most cited reasons for the continued protests, even after the Finance Bill’s withdrawal.
  4. Expected Impact of the Protests: Most believe the protests will have a positive impact on public engagement gpimg forward, policy revisions by the government, greater accountability,  and economic adjustments. There are also negative impacts expected such as economic disruption, political instability and harsh rebuttal from the government. 
  5. Widespread dissatisfaction with the government: 74% say the government doesn’t adequately address youth issues, with 65% saying the government doesn’t listen to their voices.
  6. Issues that must be solved: Unemployment, public participation, better, more affordable education, economic and anti-corruption measures stood out as the issues the youth need sorted immediately.
  7. High Expectations for Brands: Majority of the respondents (85%) think it is important or very important for brands to engage in social causes, with the majority (67%) valuing corporate transparency. 
  8. Media: Media coverage of the protests was lauded mostly as very good (47%). Television is the most trusted source of information (79%) on the protests with 50% and 38% looking to Twitter (X) and Tiktok respectively, where most of the mobilizing has been conducted. Most respondents (60%) say media coverage has significantly influenced their views on the protests and the Finance Bill.
  9. Strong Voting Intentions: There’s likely to be implications of the heightened youth participation, with 84% expressing a strong intention to vote in upcoming elections. This will be an improvement from the last election where 22% said they didn’t vote even though they had attained voting age.

Demographic Overview

The survey gathered responses from a diverse group of young Kenyans. Most respondents were aged 18-24 (62%), with a balanced representation of females (51%) and males (49%). A majority held college degrees (66%), while 52% were unemployed, and 20% owned small businesses. Respondents were predominantly from urban (48%) and suburban (25%) areas.

Key Findings

Mood and Current Feelings on the State of the Nation

We started by asking the respondents how they felt at that point (28th and 29th June). The findings point to a range of emotions with the majority neutral (37%) or positive (27%), and a smaller proportion expressing negative (20%) or very negative (13%) sentiments. Among the ones with positive feelings, the respondents said they were mostly hopeful (46%), happy (24%), empowered (14%) or excited (12%). Those who had negative feelings said they were feeling concerned (37%), sad (19%), or helpless (19%).

Biggest Concerns

Asked about their three biggest issues of concern in the country, unemployment (89%), corruption (84%) and cost of living (82%) stood out, followed by healthcare (28%), education (24%) and security (18%).

The Kenya Finance Bill 2024

The root of the ongoing protests was the Kenya Finance Bill 2024 which has been consequently withdrawn. The national conversations have been so widespread that almost all Kenyans (98%) are aware of the Finance Bill 2024.

 Asked how they believe the bill would have impacted their cost of living, majority of the respondents (71%) say it would have significantly increased the cost of living and an additional 11% say it will increase slightly. Only 15% thought the Bill would have reduced the cost of living by any degree, highlighting a widespread dissatisfaction with the Finance Bill.

The bill faced widespread discontent, with 87% of respondents expressing dissatisfaction. This sentiment was more pronounced among older respondents, peaking at 94% in the 35-45 age group. Males showed slightly higher dissatisfaction (90%) compared to females (88%). Higher education levels correlated with greater dissatisfaction, with 91% of college graduates disapproving of the bill.

Protests

A significant 64% of respondents reported participating in the protests. This trend was particularly strong among the 25-34 age group, with 67% involvement. Both genders had similar participation rates, and those with higher education levels, such as degree holders, were more likely to participate (71%).

Most (89%) believed the protests reflected a general dissatisfaction with the government.

When asked to rate the justification for the protests out of ten, 66%  give it high scores above 7/10, with over half saying the protests are absolutely justified (10/10).

Reasons for Protesting

Despite the President withdrawing the Finance Bill, protests have persisted. Respondents provided a range of reasons for continuing their protests, which reflect deep-seated issues and frustrations with the government. The government’s response to these concerns will be crucial in determining the future stability and progress of the nation. Addressing the high cost of living, combating corruption, creating job opportunities, improving governance, and ensuring accountability are essential steps to meet the protesters’ demands and restore public trust. Here is an analysis of the key themes that emerged from their open ended responses:

  1. High Cost of Living – A dominant theme among the responses is the high cost of living, which encompasses the increasing prices of essential goods and services such as food, healthcare, education, and other basic needs. This economic strain has led to widespread dissatisfaction and is a primary driver of the protests.
  2. Corruption – Corruption is another significant issue that respondents highlighted. They expressed frustration with corrupt leaders, government officials, and the misuse of public funds and this perceived lack of integrity and accountability has fueled public anger and mistrust.
  3. Unemployment – High levels of unemployment, especially among the youth, were frequently mentioned. Many respondents feel that the government has failed to create sufficient job opportunities, leaving a large portion of the population without stable employment. 
  4. Poor Governance – Respondents cited poor governance and bad leadership as key reasons for their discontent. This includes criticism of the President, government advisors, and other political leaders. Issues such as mismanagement of resources, incompetence, and a lack of transparency in decision-making processes were variously cited as exacerbating public frustration.
  5. Political Issues and Distrust – There is a notable lack of trust in the government and political leaders. Respondents mentioned political differences, dissatisfaction with the executive and parliament, and the belief that the President and his administration are not listening to the people’s concerns. This distrust is compounded by unfulfilled promises and the perception of a disconnect between the government and the citizens.
  6. Extravagant Government Spending – Many respondents are upset about what they perceive as extravagant government spending and wastage of resources. They feel that while the government spends lavishly, the average citizen struggles to make ends meet.
  7. Police Brutality and Deaths – The death of protestors and instances of police brutality have also been significant motivators for the continued protests. Respondents mentioned the killing of innocent Kenyans and the harsh treatment of demonstrators as critical issues that need to be addressed.
  8. Desire for Change and Accountability – Respondents strongly desire a change in government and greater accountability. Many are calling for the President to resign, citing incompetence and a failure to address the population’s needs. 

Expected Outcomes from the Protests

The GeoPoll survey sought to understand how the ongoing protests might influence government policies. Respondents provided a range of perspectives, highlighting both potential positive and negative impacts. Here is an analysis of the key themes that emerged from their responses

External Intervention

There have been calls by the international community including the UN, the AU and several countries’ ambassadors for a better response to the ongoing protests. Consistent across the age groups, genders most the respondents (82%) believe that the international community should intervene in response to the protests.

What the Youth Want: Preferred Government Actions

Most of the youth interviewed (74%) feel the government is not addressing their needs. Despite the survey running after the president’s withdrawal of the Finance Bill, 65% of the respondents feel that their voices were not being heard by the government. 

Do you feel the government is addressing the needs of the youth?

No Data Found

Do you feel that your voice is heard by the government?

No Data Found

When asked to list actions they would like the government to take in order to better support the youth, young people in Kenya are calling for practical solutions that address their immediate and long-term needs. From the open-ended responses in the survey, several key themes emerge regarding what the youth believe the government should do to support them better. Here are the most commonly mentioned responses.

  • Employment and Small Business Support: Majority of the respondents emphasized the need for job creation and suggested providing employment opportunities locally and internationally. They also called for support for small businesses and funding to help young people start and grow their enterprises.
  • Engagement and Inclusion in Decision-making: Respondents want real public participation and stressed the importance of the government actively listening to the youth. Several of the respondents called for youth involvement in policy-making and for youth representatives in government to advocate for their interests, and the formation of youth forums for engagement and involvement in decision-making processes.
  • Education and Training: There were calls for better educational and vocational training opportunities, reduction of higher education costs, and increased funding for educational initiatives.
  • Economic Measures: Suggestions included measures to reduce the cost of living, lower taxes on small businesses and startups, and create a conducive environment for economic growth.
  • Anti-Corruption Measures: Respondents emphasized the need for strict anti-corruption measures to ensure resources are directed towards meaningful youth support.
  • Youth Empowerment Initiatives: Respondents called for providing resources and support for young entrepreneurs and opportunities in the digital and online sectors to empower youth through entrepreneurship support and digital opportunities.

Role of Brands and Businesses in Social Causes

In the heat of the protests and the following conversations, there were strong sentiments on various companies based on their conduct during the protests. Some brands were roundly criticized while others were highly praised. In the survey, we sought to understand the youths’ perceived role of brands and businesses in social causes. 

“Majority of the respondents (85%) think it is important or very important for brands to engage in social causes.

Actually, the youth value values such as transparency (67%), customer service (49%), ethical practices (45%) and corporate social responsibility (32%) if they are to trust a brand. Quality of products and services (65%) also ranks high.

We also asked them to name brands they believe are doing a good job in supporting social causes. Get the full, raw list for free by contacting us.

Trust in, and the Impact of Media

Media Sources and Coverage

The biggest push and organization of the “leaderless, tribeless, and partyless” demonstrations has been done online, with record breaking X space attendances and impressions on Tiktok. It was therefore not a surprise that most respondents cited social media as the most relied on for information about the protests (80%).

The dichotomy between mainstream media and social media was evident in the survey responses. Television (79%) was cited as the most trusted channel followed by Twitter (50%) and TikTok (39%).  Overall, mainstream media, trusted by 60% of respondents, was seen as more reliable for factual reporting. In contrast, social media, trusted by 80%, was valued for its immediacy and the ability to mobilize and organize protests. This contrast highlights the complementary roles these media sources play in information dissemination and public engagement.

Mainstream vs Social

Comparing mainstream and social media, there was more trust in the former. The majority said they had “a lot of trust” in the mainstream, while a majority said they have “some trust” in social media. 

Reliability of news and information

During such times, there is a high likelihood of minsinformation spreading. The youth in Kenya seem to be cognizant of that fact, because when we asked if the respondents verify the news and information they consume, majority (46%) said they “Always” do while 17% said they “Often” verify news and information, highlighting a proactive approach among the youth in ensuring the accuracy of the information they receive.

Overall, ratings for the media’s coverage of the protests were mostly positive, with the majority of repondents saying it was very good (47%) or good (30%). 

"93%

So integral has the media been that 93% of the respondents say media coverage has either significantly or moderately influenced their views on the protests and the Finance Bill.

What Does the Future Hold?

More youth will vote in the next election

A common observation in several elections, not just in Kenya but many countries, is voter apathy among the youth. Asked if they voted in the last election, 22% overall said they had not even though they were eligible to vote, especially in the 18-24 age group (28%).

Current circumstances have driven the youth into a heightened sense of civic responsibility as evidenced by their active involvement in demonstrations and articulation of desired government actions. This new commitment is likely to be felt in the next elections, with 84% saying that they will vote in the next election to influence future political outcomes.

Those in leadership will be kept on their toes

In our survey, we asked Kenyan youth to share their hopes and aspirations for the country over the next six months. The responses pinpoint to a population that will be actively involved in checking the government and demanding for improvement especially in matters cost of living, governance, corruption and overall decision-making. 

The future is bright

In response to the question “How optimistic are you about the future of the country?” the majority of the respondents (36%) expressed optimism. However, it’s important to note that 27% were neutral and only 22% were very optimistic. Despite this guarded optimism, the youth, who have found their collective voice, believe that things will be better for Kenya in the future.

About this Study

This survey was conducted using the GeoPoll Application on June 28th and 29th, 2024. The survey included 1,049 respondents targeting Kenyans aged 18-45, predominantly the youth (62% aged 18-24 and 27% aged 25-34). Gender distribution was balanced, with 51% females and 49% males. Education levels varied: 66% had college degrees, 14% had secondary education, and 12% had vocational training. Geographically, the sample was nationally representative across all 47 counties.

Data was analyzed using statistical methods to identify trends and demographic differences, providing a nuanced understanding of youth perspectives. Qualitative responses were thematically analyzed, offering deeper insights into motivations and sentiments.

Get the Full Raw Data

This report is a summary of the full findings. If you would like to request the full raw data for your own analysis, a tailored report, or to conduct follow up surveys, please contact us.