NAIROBI — Hundreds of angry Kenyans demonstrated in the streets of the capital Tuesday, outraged by legislators' recent decision to award themselves $110,000 each in a special pay package amid a struggling national economy and government pay demands from public workers.
It has been less than a week since lawmakers granted themselves a sum of more than $24 million and unanimously endorsed a proposal to levy a 10-percent tax on mobile money transfer services to fund it, which means Kenyans will have to foot the bill.
According to The Associated Press, the country's 222 legislators are each paid about $120,000 annually, "one of the highest pay packages in the world when compared to what the lawmakers' constituents make — around $5 a day for the average Kenyan."
Groups of chanting protesters decried members of parliament for burdening ordinary Kenyans by taxing services they rely on.
"We’ve really set a precedent in disproving the notion that Kenyans are pathetic," said Muthoni Maingi, an entrepreneur who helped to organize the demonstration. "Kenyans from all walks of life are completely together in solidarity with the fact that we cannot allow our MPs to impose policies on us that only benefit them.
"It’s about time they pay doctors, teachers, nurses — [that they] did better by us," she added. "In terms of institutions, our children go to school without libraries."
Last month Kenya faced a wave of strikes by public workers demanding pay raises.
Kenyan blogger Robert Alai, who also led Tuesday's protest, said no workers decide how much they should get paid, and that members of parliament should be no different.
“How many of Kenyan workers, the public servants, civil servants, get to decide on how much [they] want to be paid?" he said. "The MPs decide that 'today I am going to get away with 9 million after working for five years.' How many of Kenyans get to away after five years? They got to go home with a bonus of 10 million.
“The middle class Kenyans, the working class Kenyans, the Kenyans of social media — we’ve never got a way to voice our concerns about the MPs," he added, describing the protest as unprecedented. "The MPs have to hear this."
The amended bill to tax mobile services to cover the legislators' bonus has been submitted to Kenya's attorney general and is awaiting the president’s signature.
President Mwai Kibaki, who has not indicated whether he will sign the bill, left the country on Monday to attend two days of talks with his Ugandan counterpart.