Kenya doesn’t owe China KSh 11.2 trillion, as Gachagua claims in Inooro interview

  • Deputy president candidate likely misquoted interest payment of KSh 11.2 billion paid to China

When Rigathi Gachagua was interviewed at Inooro FM in May 2022, he spoke about the “bottom-up” approach that his party, the United Democratic Alliance, is taking to economic management. 

Gachagua is a candidate for the post of deputy president in Kenya’s August 9 2022 election, running alongside William Ruto who is the party’s presidential candidate. Ruto is leading a coalition of parties called the Kenya Kwanza coalition.

Near the beginning of the interview, Gachagua mentioned a figure of KSh 11.2 trillion and China. Did he mean that Kenya owed China KSh 11.2 trillion? We asked a linguist to help us confirm if this was true.

Dr Phyllis Mwangi is a senior lecturer in Kenyatta University’s department of Literature, Linguistics and Foreign Languages. She has written a number of papers on the Kikuyu language in addition to translating from English to Kikuyu. Mwangi told the KEG Fact-checking desk that Gachagua did indeed say that Kenya owed debts of KSh 11.2 trillion to China.

Interest payments to China

The Quarterly Economic and Budgetary Review for the third quarter of 2021/2022 dated May 2022 was published by Kenya’s National Treasury. It shows that as of March 2022, Kenya owed China $6.84 billion (KSh 783.3 billion with an exchange rate of $1=KSh 114.6).

At the same time, Kenya had spent KSh 73.5 billion on debt service payments to China, of which KSh 50.9 billion was principal and KSh 22.6 billion was interest.

However, the previous quarter’s Quarterly Economic and Budgetary Review shows that as of December 2021, Kenya had paid China KSh 11.2 billion in interest. Given that Mr Gachagua mentioned the figure of “11.2”, this interest could be the figure he was mistakenly referring to. 

In 2021, Kenya’s gross domestic product, a measure of the size of its economy, was KSh12 trillion, according to the 2022 Economic Survey. This means that according to Mr Gachagua, Kenya’s debt to China was almost as large as Kenya’s economy.

Kwame Owino, the chief executive officer of the Institute of Economic Affairs told the KEGFact checking desk that the claim was “plainly incorrect” and that KSh 11.2 billion “was the interest payment due for the year identified. The total debt owed to the People’s Republic of China is about $6.8 billion but the nominal value in Kenya shillings fluctuates with the exchange rate.”

Owino concluded that if indeed Gachagua stated that Kenya owes KSh11.2 billion without qualifying that this was a part of the payment for interest, then he was plainly wrong. Given that he actually said KSh11.2 trillion, he was most definitely wrong.

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