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Fact-checking Kenya’s president, foreign minister on Africa policy talking points

President William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi have been echoing each other on Africa's troubling issues. We took a look at some of the statistics that underpin their latest talking points.

  • Mudavadi was correct that Ruto’s state visit to the US was the first by an African leader since 2008, about the number of African children out of school across the continent – some 98 million – and that there are 16 landlocked countries in Africa.

  • The two leaders are also largely on the money about foreign remittances by Kenyans abroad and how this amount grew by around US$200 million from 2022 to 2023. 

  • They have been on the shakiest ground when discussing the pressing issue of forcefully displaced people in Africa, how many face acute food insecurity and how many people live in conflict-affected countries.

Kenyan president William Ruto is in the US on a state visit, where he met president Joe Biden on 23 May 2024. 

The trip, Ruto’s fifth state visit in four months, marks 60 years of close Kenya-US relations. In recent weeks, he has been to Japan, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau and Zimbabwe, where he has spoken about trade, peace and security in Africa.  

His foreign minister Musalia Mudavadi has regularly been by his side. At a public lecture in March, Mudavadi shared statistics that are informing Kenya’s foreign policy, which he described as the country’s “grand strategy in an evolving global arena”. 

Ruto’s speech in Ghana on 3 April, and at other times since, reiterated Mudavadi’s points. The two have made claims about forced displacement, conflict deaths, Africa's population and diaspora remittances, among other issues. 

In this report, we fact-check some of the statistics Mudavadi used to make the case for Kenya's leadership on the continent. We had to wait weeks for some of the data, which finally arrived in mid-May.

Claim

“Kenyan president’s US state visit is the first for an African leader since 2008.”

Verdict

Correct

In his public lecture at the United States International University-Africa in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, Mudavadi said that Ruto’s invitation from Biden for a state visit was “the first for an African leader since 2008.” Is he accurate? 

The office of the historian of the US State Department preserves, researches, and disseminates historical information about American foreign policy.

The last state visit by an African leader was by Ghana’s John Kufuor in 2008. He was hosted by president George W Bush. 

Several other African leaders have since been to the US, but these have been working or official visits focused on specific policy discussions and negotiations. This included Ruto’s predecessor, Uhuru Kenyatta, in 2018.

State visits are highly formal, with elaborate ceremonies. They are designed to honour and strengthen official diplomatic relations.

Kenya’s other two presidents have been accorded state visits by the US. President Jimmy Carter received Daniel arap Moi, Kenya's second president, for a state visit in 1980.

Bush hosted Mwai Kibaki, Moi's successor, on a similar visit in 2003. 

So yes, Ruto’s state visit is the first for an African leader since 2008.

Claim

“Remittances by Kenyans abroad in the 12 months to November 2023 was at US$4.19 billion.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya are the main recipients of remittances to sub-Saharan Africa. Although they are private funds, remittances surpass official development aid in the region.

The US accounts for more than half of the total remittances to Kenya. Ruto met with some of the Kenyan diaspora in the US during his visit to the US.

The Central Bank of Kenya defines remittances as “money sent by a person in a foreign land to his or her home country”. The bank keeps a monthly record of remittances in US dollars. 

From December 2022 to November 2023, the period mentioned by Mudavadi, the total was $4.175 billion, close enough to the claim. 

If you are interested, the difference of $15 million is about KSh2.28 billion –enough to fund Mudavadi’s office for a year. He also doubles up as the prime cabinet secretary.

Claim

“... [the remittances as of November 2023 were] up from $4.028 billion in the same [12-month] period in 2022.”

Verdict

Mostly Correct

The “same period”, as used by Mudavadi, means December 2021 to November 2022.  

According to central bank data, remittances totalled $4.021 billion in the 12 months to November 2022.

(Again, if you like this sort of thing, the $7 million difference with Mudavadi’s  figure is about KSh1.064 billion, equal to the annual budget of the state department of performance and delivery management.)

Claim

“As of 2023, over 37 million people had been forcefully displaced in Africa – that is 37 million people just last year.”

Verdict

Understated

Mudavadi argued that the continent's conflicts needed to be treated as seriously as other "priority" conflicts, which he listed as Gaza and Ukraine.

But when contacted, his office told Africa Check they couldn’t pinpoint the source of the data used to make the claim. Ruto repeated the claim in Ghana. 

Wendy Williams is an associate research fellow at the Africa Centre for Strategic Studies, a US government thinktank housed at the US defence department. She has studied population movements in Africa.

The centre estimated that African conflicts had displaced 40 million people by June 2023. 

For reliable data, Williams referred Africa Check to the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Norwegian Refugee Council’s internal displacement monitoring centre (IDMC).

Over 43 million people forcefully displaced in Africa

The UNHCR defines forcefully displaced people as those forced to leave their homes due to events such as armed conflict, violence, human rights abuses, natural or man-made disasters or development projects. They include refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced persons.

Africa Check contacted the refugee agency, who sent us a link to a data portal covering three regions in sub-Saharan Africa – East and Horn of Africa and the Great Lakes region, Southern Africa and West and Central Africa.

Ruto and Mudavadi appeared to be referring to the internally displaced people, who numbered 37.6 million as of December 2023. But all forcefully displaced people, including IDPs, refugees, and asylum seekers, totalled 46.1 million. (See our working here.)

Therefore, given the data that Mudavadi should have had in March 2024, and Ruto in April, the claim is understated. It is “over 37 million” but still quite short of 46 million.

On 14 May 2024, the IDMC published new data. It showed that 34.8 million people were internally displaced in sub-Saharan Africa at the end of 2023. This does not include refugees and asylum seekers. 

Since the UNHCR puts the number of refugees and asylum seekers at 8.5 million, the total number of forcefully displaced people is 43.3 million.

Claim

“It is estimated that 121 million Africans are facing severe acute food insecurity.”

Verdict

Understated

For data on this claim, Williams directed us to the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), a widely used “international standard for classifying food insecurity and malnutrition”.

The IPC has three scales:

The acute insecurity scale has five categories of severity, called “phases”, focusing on food consumption, availability, access and nutritional status. 

Phase 1 has minimal or no severity, where food consumption is adequate and sustainable. Phases 2, 3, 4 and 5 are labelled “stressed”, “crisis”, “emergency” and “catastrophe/famine”. 

Phases 3 to 5 often require urgent action to protect jobs, ensure people have enough to eat, save lives and prevent widespread deaths and loss of livelihoods.

How many people in Africa face acute food insecurity? 

The IPC data on acute food insecurity covered 21 out of 55 countries in Africa. The total number of people facing phase 3 and above was 92 million. For three countries – Ethiopia, South Africa and Zimbabwe – the most recent data was from 2021, while Angola had data from 2022.

For more comprehensive data, Williams drew our attention to surveys by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), both global agencies concerned with food security. 

FAO, WFP and 14 other agencies jointly publish the global report on food crises. The most recent shows the number of people in Africa facing acute food insecurity, phase 3 and above in the IPC classification, fell by 145.7 million in 2022, to an estimated 119 million in 2023. 

Ethiopia, Cape Verde, Congo and Zimbabwe, whose data was included in the 2022 report, were not analysed in 2023. However, other UN agencies noted that at least 15.4 million people in Ethiopia were food insecure in the second half of 2023. Adding this number brings the figure to 134.25 million.

FoodInsecurity

Mudavadi's figures are significantly underestimated, given the available data and the reported gaps.

Claim

“82% of this number are in conflict-affected countries.”

Verdict

Incorrect

The 2023 global report on food crises identified conflicts as the major driver of food insecurity in Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Somalia, DRC, Mali, Chad, Central African Republic and Mozambique.

FoodInsecurity

The total affected population is 99.5 million or 74% of all acutely food insecure people in conflict-affected countries.

While conflict-affected countries account for a large proportion of the acutely food-insecure, the number is smaller than Mudavadi's figure.

Claim

“An estimated 98 million children in Africa [are] out of school, 98 million children.”

Verdict

Incorrect

“The crises on the continent have led to the damage and closure of thousands of schools, translating into an estimated 98 million children in Africa being out of school, 98 million children,” said Mudavadi. 

According to the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco), out-of-school children are those “in the official primary school age range who are not enrolled in either primary or secondary school”

The Unesco Institute for Statistics has extended this definition to include all children within the official age range for a given level of education who are not enrolled in pre-primary, primary, secondary or higher education.

The most recent Unesco update is from September 2022. It showed that there were 98 million out-of-school children in 48 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2021.

Claim

“There are 16 landlocked countries in Africa.”

Verdict

Correct

Landlocked countries in Africa are an inevitable basis for intra-African cooperation, Mudavadi said, giving their number as 16. 

These are countries without coastlines, oceans, or seas; they are completely surrounded by land. They often rely on their neighbours for access to ports and international trade routes. 

According to MapsofWorld.com, there are 16 landlocked countries in Africa: Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Ethiopia, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, South Sudan, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Claim

“[The landlocked countries have] a combined estimated population of 378 million people … basically, 400 million are landlocked.”

Verdict

Incorrect

Reliable population data can be found in the World Population Prospects, as Dr Thomas Spoorenberg, a demographer in the UN population division, previously told Africa Check.  

The data puts landlocked populations at 365.9 million in 2022.

We checked with the World Bank for more recent data. This projected the population of landlocked countries at 375.7 million in 2023 and 385.7 million in 2024. 

Mudavadi’s figure of 378 million is in the ballpark, but when he rounded it up to 400 million, he inflated the figure by as much as 34 million.

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