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‘Battle of Chatham’? Checking four claims by Kenyan presidential hopeful Odinga at London thinktank

The two leading contenders to be Kenya’s next president both spoke in the British capital in March. We put four of Raila Odinga’s claims under the microscope.

  • Odinga shone the spotlight on the repercussions on the Kenyan economy of recent international sanctions imposed on Russia but made a hash of both import and export numbers between the two.

  • He also overshot Kenya’s public debt by at least US$27 billion.

  • Odinga applauded the recent inclusion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the East African trading bloc but his estimate of population figures for the region did not add up.

The frontrunners in Kenya’s August 2022 presidential election recently publicised their agendas to an international audience, making a beeline for Britain’s Chatham House.  

On 16 March former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga spoke at the thinktank in London, just a week after deputy president William Ruto. (Note: Find our fact-check of Ruto’s speech here.

Both men seek to succeed president Uhuru Kenyatta, who is serving his final term. 

Odinga made a number of claims, including about Kenya’s bilateral trade with Russia, the size of Kenya’s public debt, and the size of the population in the East African Community. We examined them for accuracy.

Claim

“In Kenya, we stand to lose about KSh10 billion worth of exports to Russia as a result of sanctions.”

Verdict

Exaggerated

A campaign spokesperson promised to get back to us with the evidence for Odinga’s claims. We will update this report with his response. 

Odinga said Kenya exports coffee, tea, tobacco, spices, trees, cut flowers, nuts and melons to Russia and Ukraine. Exports to Russia are estimated at KSh10 billion or US$100 million, he said. This was the same figure cited by Kenya’s Business Daily newspaper on 4 March. 

Do Kenyan exports to Russia reach this value? In 2019 government thinktank Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis in 2019 used data from the national statistics bureau to give the value of exports to Russia as between KSh7.1 billion and KSh8.6 billion. This was between $69.6 million and $84.3 million at 2019 exchange rates.   

The World Bank’s trade database, the World Integrated Trade Solution, shows that in 2019, the most recent year for which there’s data, Kenya’s exports to Russia added up to $62 million, a drop from $84.6 million in 2018

Dr Samuel Ramani teaches politics and international relations at the University of Oxford in the UK, specialising in Russian foreign policy. He has authored a 2022 book, Russia in Africa: Resurgent Great Power or Bellicose Pretender?

For the value of Russia-Kenya bilateral trade he asked us to look at data from national statistics offices. 

The most recent data from Kenya’s national statistics bureau shows that the country exported KSh8.6 billion worth of goods in 2018 to Russia. In 2019 this dipped to KSh6.3 billion. The provisional estimates for 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic put the total exports to Russia at KSh8 billion, or $75 million at 2020 exchange rates.

We have not seen any data that supports Odinga’s figure. Therefore, we rate the claim exaggerated. Alphonce Shiundu

Do the sanctions have any effect on Russia’s trade with Kenya?

The 4 March 2022 Business Daily article quoted top Kenyan exporters warning that international sanctions on Russia as a result of the country’s invasion of neighbour Ukraine had hampered trade logistics. The article said three shipping companies had suspended deliveries to and from Russia.

On 16 March, the same day Raila Odinga spoke in London, president Uhuru Kenyatta’s spokesperson Kanze Dena blamed the Russia-Ukraine conflict for rising food prices. The Russian embassy protested, blaming the sanctions. The German embassy in Nairobi also waded in, siding with Dena. 

University of Oxford scholar Dr Samuel Ramani said the sanctions were unlikely to affect the commercial ties between Russia and African countries “simply because no African country has subscribed to those sanctions”. 

“In general, it seems as if the US, Japan and the European nations are applying those sanctions more towards their own markets and less in a blanket secondary fashion,” Ramani told Africa Check.  

On 7 April, Russian ambassador to Kenya Dmitry Maksimychev argued that the sanctions had isolated Russia from the global financial system, imposed a trade blockade, and illegally restricted his country’s capacity to pay and receive payments leading to a rise in food prices. Russia is a leading food exporter in the world. 

Food, medicine, agricultural produce and humanitarian goods are exempted from the sanctions.


Claim

“In 2020 we imported wheat, maize, and fertiliser worth about $406 million from Russia.”

Verdict

Incorrect

The World Integrated Trade Solution has data up to 2019. For 2020 data, we checked the United Nations Comtrade database, a free access repository of all official data on global trade. 

The data showed that Kenya did not import maize from Russia in 2020. The country imported wheat valued at $145 million and fertiliser valued at $42.7 million. The total value for these was $187.7 million. 

Other data from the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC) also shows Kenya didn’t import maize from Russia in 2020. However, Russia exported wheat worth $127 million and fertiliser valued at $43.4 million to Kenya. 

The OEC cites UN Comtrade as the source of its data. (Note: We did not explore the reason for the discrepancy in the value of imports.)

The OEC records show that Kenya imported maize from Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa, Mexico, Serbia, Ukraine, Romania, the US, Canada, Egypt and Zimbabwe. The observatory does not record any maize exported from Russia to Kenya in 2020.

The publicly available data shows imports of wheat and fertiliser to Kenya from Russia had a value of between $170 million and $187 million in 2020. Russia did not export maize to Kenya in that year. Therefore, we rate Odinga’s claim as incorrect.  Grace Gichuhi

Claim

“Kenya is now approaching US$100 billion in public debt.”

Verdict

Incorrect

Odinga promised that, if elected, his government would renegotiate Kenya’s debt with its creditors, and vowed to audit the borrowing “to establish its actual size”. Kenya’s public debt is much debated in the country.

But how close to $100 billion is the country’s borrowing? 

As of June 2021, Kenya’s national treasury estimated the public debt to be KSh7.7 trillion or $71.4 billion using the June 2021 exchange rate of $1 for KSh107.85.

The most recent debt update prior to Odinga’s 16 March speech was published in February 2022 and it put the total public debt at KSh8.2 trillion or $72.9 billion by December 2021. The exchange rate then was $1 for KSh112.6

Odinga’s estimate was at least $27 billion off the mark. We therefore rate his claim incorrect. Tess Wandia

Claim

The entry of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the East African Community increases the population of the regional bloc to “over 300 million”.

Verdict

Exaggerated

Odinga was optimistic about the future of the East African Community (EAC), the regional political and economic bloc with six partner states: Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. 

In January 2022 the EAC announced that the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was in the final phase of the admission process to the bloc.

“We are talking about over 300 million people with a lot of resources,” said Odinga. 

The DRC formally joined the community on 7 April. 

EAC data shows that in 2019, there were 177 million people in the six member countries. 

Population data from the individual national statistics offices shows these countries have 272.82 million people. But they are from various years - 2020 and 2021.

To compare a single year, we looked up the UN Department of Economics and Social Affairs 2021 population projections:

  • Burundi -  12.26 million
  • Rwanda - 13.28 million
  • Kenya - 54.99 million 
  • Uganda - 47.12 million
  • Tanzania - 61.5 million
  • South Sudan - 11.38 million
  • DRC - 92.38 million

These estimates add up to about 293 million people. As Odinga’s claim was of “over” 300 million, we rate it as exaggerated. Tess Wandia

 

Further Reading

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