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Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta ruled out making any concessions to teachers who have been on strike for a month demanding higher pay, as opposition supporters prepared to back them in protests this week.

 

Kenya’s government can’t afford to pay teachers the up to 60 percent increase they’re demanding because the country’s public-service wage bill already accounts for more than half of total revenue, Kenyatta said in a televised address Sunday in the capital, Nairobi. The East African nation’s teachers are the third-highest paid in Africa, after Morocco and South Africa, he said.

“Paying the award would seriously distort our public finances and grievously hurt our economy,” Kenyatta said.

 

The Education Ministry ordered all primary and secondary schools to close because of the strike, while allowing high-school students who are preparing to write exams to continue with their studies. The opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy plans to hold a rally in Nairobi on Wednesday to back the teachers’ demands, while student activists are also planning a number of protests during the week, according to a statement e-mailed by the Coalition for Constitution Implementation.

Kenyan teachers’ pay is regulated by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission and under the new constitution, increasing their wages would require that other public servants’ earnings also be raised, Kenyatta said.

Based on last year’s revenue, that would boost the public wage bill to 61 percent from 52 percent, he said. The global average for an economy of Kenya’s size is about 35 percent of revenue, Kenyatta said.

Civil servants’ salaries account for about 10 percent of gross domestic product in Kenya, double the average in other middle-income countries, he said.

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