Police in Nairobi, Kenya, said on Tuesday they arrested over 200 people protesting against proposed tax increases in a finance bill.

Protest organizers vowed to continue their activities despite the arrests, and demonstrations did indeed continue in Nairobi and other cities, prompting the police to escalate to tear gas and water cannons on Thursday.

The controversial finance bill, currently under debate before the legislature, would raise $2.7 billion for the broke and heavily indebted Kenyan government, with the goal of reducing its budget deficit from 5.7 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to 3.3 percent.

Several of the tax increase proposals in the bill were dropped after Tuesday’s protests, including a 16 percent value-added tax (VAT) on bread and a 2.5 percent tax on motor vehicle insurance. A proposed tax on environmentally harmful products was also changed so that it would only apply to imported goods.

Last year’s finance bill burdened Kenyans with a 1.5 percent “housing tax” on gross salaried incomes and doubled the VAT on petroleum products from eight to 16 percent.

Nairobi police on Tuesday pointed out that the right to hold peaceful protests is protected by the Kenyan constitution, but permission must be obtained from the authorities in advance, and the organizers of the huge anti-tax-increase marches did not take that step.

Tuesday’s concessions did not mollify the demonstrators much, so the protests resumed, and on Thursday, the police response was even more forceful.

Several organizations, including Amnesty Kenya and the Kenya Law Society, said their members were unreasonably detained or tear-gassed while observing the protests. The Media Council of Kenya complained that journalists were subjected to “arbitrary arrests and attacks” while covering the event, despite being clearly identified with press jackets and badges.

Police blocked roads leading to parliamentary headquarters and made shows of force in other cities with crowds of demonstrators, including Mombasa and Kisumu, which are political strongholds for Kenya’s opposition parties.

Several observers noted that this week’s demonstrators tended to be young and tech-savvy compared to the crowds that turned out in previous years to protest the high cost of living. The BBC dubbed them “Gen Z anti-tax revolutionaries” whose anger on social media boiled over into “revolt,” without much in the way of conventional political organization.

The spontaneous nature of the youth tax revolt is purportedly one reason why demonstrators did not secure permission in advance from the police, while earlier protests were carefully shepherded by opposition political leaders who took care of all the paperwork.

When police tried to break up the illegal demonstrators, they found thousands of smartphone cameras pointed at them and images of police abuse quickly flooded social media. Kenya has one of the highest rates of TikTok usage in the world.

It should be noted that the Chinese Communist Party has a history of using TikTok to influence youth movements, and President William Ruto ran in 2022 on an anti-China platform. Independent analysts in 2022 accused TikTok of spreading “hate, incitement, and other political disinformation,” including videos that accused Ruto of stoking tribal hatreds for political gain.

“We are the Gen Zs, we were able to mobilize ourselves. We use TikTok as a space to be able to not only have young people come to protest but to educate them on the why,” one of the young protesters told reporters.

“I’m here slaving for a country I love. It is the first time I’m doing this because my parents are old and they cannot do it any more,” said another.

“Police were firing teargas at us and we had to run into a nearby café to seek shelter. But it was imperative we made our voice heard as this is our future, our Kenya, and it is us who will be paying this price,” 22-year-old student protester Stella Njoki told ABC News on Thursday.

The BBC noted that while Nairobi business owners closed their shops and voiced concerns about vandalism, and the U.S. Embassy issued a warning to American citizens about potential street violence, there has not been much “looting, destruction of property, and stone-throwing” from the anti-tax revolutionaries compared to previous protests.

Protest organizers initially told their followers to wear black clothing to the demonstrations, but on Thursday they changed tactics and called for brightly-colored clothing instead, presumably hoping to look less ominous and militant when they were confronted by the police.

The demonstrators have also largely refrained from appeals to political or ethnic tribalism, a perennial feature of Kenyan politics. Their social media hashtags stress bringing all Kenyans together to oppose more tax demands from a government that gives them very little value for their money. In one of the strangest twists of the saga, protesters asked opposition leader Raila Odinga to stay away from the demonstrations, so they would remain free of partisan politics — and he complied with their request.

Another of their online tactics has been encouraging people to “unfollow Ruto,” demonstrating their displeasure with President Ruto by reducing his social media follower counts. Some lawmakers said their phones have become essentially unusable as their inboxes fill with tens of thousands of text messages urging them to reject the finance bill entirely.

“We are going to end up with a product in Parliament that came from the Executive and has been interrogated by the Legislature. Through public participation, the people of Kenya have had a say,” Ruto’s office said on Tuesday. His attempt to ride the wave of protests did not seem to work, as the protesters continued to call for his resignation.

“They need to reject the bill, not edit it. It appears that they think we are vocal on social media and will get tired,” a defiant student protester told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday as demonstrators once again marched in the streets.

“As Mr. Ruto has raised taxes and cut back on spending, his government has been dogged by major corruption scandals. His global trips and his penchant for expensive shoes and watches have also drawn ire on social media. Many Kenyans call him ‘Zakayo,’ in reference to Zacchaeus, the biblical tax collector,” the New York Times (NYT) noted on Tuesday.

The Kenyan parliament is currently scheduled to vote on the finance bill on June 27. Some of the remaining unpopular proposals include tax hikes on phone and Internet usage, higher fees for money transfers and financial services, and higher taxes for online businesses like ridesharing services.