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No evidence Kenyan president Ruto threatened to arrest those who call him ‘Zakayo’ after the biblical tax collector

IN SHORT: Captions to a TikTok video claim that Wiliam Ruto said anyone calling him “Zakayo” would be arrested and that it was better for Kenyans to sleep hungry, provided they paid their taxes. But there's no evidence for these quotes.

A video clip posted on TikTok on 21 July 2023 shows part of a speech by Kenyan president William Ruto. 

The video has a caption at the top in Kiswahili that reads: “Ruto: Nikiskia tena mtu akiniita Zakayo utalala ndani, mimi ni rais sipendi upuzi, hii Kenya ntapange mpende msipende, heri mlale njaa na mmetoa ushuru.”

This can be loosely translated as: “Ruto: If I hear someone calling me Zakayo, you will be arrested. I am the president. I don’t like nonsense. I will manage this Kenya whether you like it or not. It is better for you to sleep hungry as long as you’ve paid taxes.” 

The video has received at least 267,000 views, 300 shares, and 600 comments.

Since becoming president, Ruto has launched a major and often unpopular push to collect more taxes. This is to fund a KSh3.6 trillion budget (US$25.3 billion at current rates), the largest in the country’s history. 

His push for tax collection has led some users on social media platforms to disparagingly nickname him Zakayo, which is Kiswahili for Zacchaeus, the tax collector of the Christian Bible.

However, Ruto has openly admitted that he is aware of the Zakayo nickname and has even appeared to embrace it.

After cost-of-living protests in July 2023, several people were arrested for posting critical comments about the Ruto government on social media.

A popular opposition blogger was arrested shortly after posting a tweet about alleged police brutality during the protests. A court released her on a free bond.

Another Kenyan was arrested and charged with subversive activities for posting tweets predicting a military takeover. Peaceful protesters have also been arrested, drawing condemnation from human rights groups.

If Kenyans were arrested for calling Ruto “Zakayo” serious concerns about freedom of expression would be raised and this could be seen as an attempt to stifle dissent and criticism of the government.

But did Ruto really threaten to arrest those who call him this and say it's better for Kenyans to go without food as long as they've paid taxes? We checked.


Caption doesn’t match audio

The caption on the 40-second video clip doesn’t match what Ruto says in the video itself or in the extended version

In the video clip, speaking in Kiswahili, Ruto says that some have started calling him Zakayo because he “refuses to borrow”. He says the country can’t be run on debt but on tax collection. He goes on to defend aggressive taxation by claiming that even the Bible agrees that a country is run on taxation. The clip ends with him thanking the audience.

Ruto casually refers to Zakayo's name without making any threats about its use.

There is also no evidence to support the claim that he spoke of Kenyans going hungry as long as they paid their taxes. Such statements would have been widely reported by credible media and there would be verifiable video or audio evidence. But we found no examples of this. 

The allegations that Ruto threatened to arrest those who called him Zakayo and said that it was better for Kenyans to go to sleep hungry as long as they paid taxes are false.

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