Back to Africa Check

‘Saving face’ and the subsidy that disappeared: Fact-checking Kenyan deputy president Gachagua's media claims

Did officials take president William Ruto's budget out of spite? And did someone steal money meant to make Kenya’s staple food of maize flour cheaper? We took a closer look.

This article is more than 1 year old

  • Gachagua is correct that the deputy president’s budget was cut under the previous regime, but exaggerated by how much. There is no evidence that the budget was ever KSh4 billion.

  • The deputy president was also right that KSh4 billion was released to subsidise the price of Kenya’s staple unga, or maize flour. And while exact figures are hard to come by, the millers promised this money have not received all of it. 

  • However, it’s not true that maize is in short supply internationally, and it can’t be proven how many new teachers have been employed under Ruto.

Kenyan deputy president Rigathi Gachagua gave a media interview on 12 March 2023 in which he addressed concerns about media freedom, the cost of living, governance and education. 

The interview came against the backdrop of allegations that Gachagua had requested KSh1.59 billion (US$12.3 million at current rates) for his office soon after his inauguration, despite claiming to have inherited empty coffers.

Gachagua and his boss William Ruto have been in office since September 2022. Ruto was deputy to his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta, with whom he had a falling out while in office.

Gachagua said the funding request came from the former comptroller of State House, Kinuthia Mbugua, not his office. In the interview he spoke about the budget cuts suffered by the deputy president’s office ahead of the 2022 elections. 

He also talked about controversial maize subsidies and the government’s move to import maize to curb the high cost of living which has led to protests

But did Gachagua get all his facts right? We looked at five claims he made.


“[Officials in the Kenyatta administration] cut off funds to the office of the deputy president … The previous year the budget of the office of the deputy president was KSh4 billion, they went ahead and cut KSh1.5 billion.”



Gachagua claimed that Mbugua and former finance minister Ukur Yatani initiated the budget cuts in the 2022/23 financial year. He said:

“For four years, president William Ruto, then deputy president, fuelled GK [Government of Kenya] cars from his pocket. For four years, he bought tea for his office. For four years, he paid electricity bills for his office. For four years he paid allowances to staff accompanying him across the country. And when he became the president-elect, these two officers … sought to undo the damage of what they had done to save their face.”. 

Allegations that Ruto was personally paying some official bills have been carried in the mainstream Kenyan media, including the Nation in March 2022 and the People Daily in June

Both articles quoted Emmanuel Talam, then the deputy president's communications director and now the president’s press secretary. Talam said the budget cuts had been in place since September 2021. Kenyatta’s spokesperson at the time declined to comment on the matter, and Yatani referred media questions to the comptroller.

No evidence for KSh4 billion figure

For proof of Gachagua’s claim, we contacted his office. Njeri Rugene, his head of communications, said Gachagua's reference to KSh1.59 billion was his interpretation of the request made by those who had previously cut the budget – Mbugua and Yatani. 

Kinuthia was appointed as auditor in January 2018. Yatani was designated as acting cabinet secretary for the national treasury in July 2019, and confirmed in the position in January 2020.

Budget allocations to ministries are contained in the Appropriations Act, which authorises the spending of public funds, John Kinuthia told Africa Check. He is a senior programme officer at the Kenya office of the International Budget Partnership, a global budget transparency organisation.

We reviewed national budget estimates, appropriation acts and expenditure reports from the 2019/20 financial year, when Yatani and Mbugua were both in office, to the 2022/23 fiscal year, the most recent.


Sources: Budget estimates; appropriation acts, national treasury sector reports (2019-2022)

(Note: Actual spending exceeds the amount in the appropriations acts, because there were supplementary appropriations acts – laws authorising reallocations within the financial year – which we haven’t been able to find publicly.)

In as far as his claim that the budget was whittled, Gachagua was right. 

The data shows that the budget for the deputy president's services, the spending unit for activities related to the office of the deputy president, was cut from KSh2.68 billion in 2019/20 to KSh1.5 billion in 2020/21.

The cuts amounted to about KSh1.2 billion.

In budget reallocations in January 2023, with Gachagua in power, the office was allocated KSh2.63 billion.

But there's no data to support the claim that the budget for the office of the deputy president was ever KSh4 billion during Mbugua and Yatani's tenure.

We therefore rate Gachagua’s claim exaggerated.– Alphonce Shiundu


“KSh4 billion was released from the national treasury to subsidise unga.”



Gachagua said the treasury had released KSh4 billion to subsidise unga, which is Kiswahili for flour. 

Rugene told Africa Check the deputy president was referring to the maize flour subsidy programme announced in July 2022 to protect the Kenyan public from the high prices of the staple food.  

At the time, the minister for agriculture Peter Munya said the government had “set aside KSh8 billion to fund the programme”. 

A subsidy is a financial benefit given by a government to individuals or businesses to make particular products or services more affordable to the public. The main intention is to protect citizens from adverse economic conditions.

The subsidy programme aimed to reduce the retail price of a two-kilogram packet of maize flour to KSh100. At the time, a packet was selling for at least KSh205 on the open market. 

The government reportedly suspended the programme in August 2022 due to insufficient funding from the treasury. 

On 20 February 2023, the Cereal Millers Association (CMA), the main industry lobby, said the programme ran from 21 July to 17 August 2022. 

The treasury “opened a special account and credited it with KSh4 Billion [$34 million at the time], which was part of the estimated KSh8 billion required for the programme”, the CMA said in a statement.

On 28 February 2023, the budget and appropriations committee of Kenya's national assembly released a report showing that on 4 August 2022, the treasury paid KSh4 billion for the subsidy programme. This was four days before the 9 August 2022 elections. 

By law, the release of public funds to spending units must be authorised by the Office of the Controller of Budget.

The latest report by the controller of budget on the implementation of the budget for the first half of the 2022/23 financial year, was published in February 2023. It showed that on 4 August 2022, the office approved KSh4 billion for the maize flour subsidy. 

There’s publicly available evidence to support Gachagua’s claim that KSh4 billion was disbursed for the maize subsidy programme. We therefore rate the claim correct. – Makinia Juma


“… those millers are demanding money from us, they only received KSh1.7 billion…”


Mostly Correct

Gachagua claimed that while KSh4 billion was disbursed, maize millers “only received KSh1.7 billion [while] KSh2.3 billion was stolen”. 

“[The millers] are saying they did not receive the money and [yet] the money left the national treasury,” he said

On 20 February 2023, the Cereal Millers Association reported selling maize flour worth KSh4.3 billion under the subsidy programme. But the lobby also said that only KSh1.7 billion had been paid to it, leaving an outstanding bill of KSh2.5 billion. 

The CMA repeated this to the national assembly’s agriculture committee in March.

But a report by the budget and appropriations committee presented to the national assembly on 28 February said that the total amount spent on the subsidy programme was KSh7.3 billion. Of this KSh4 billion was disbursed, and KSh3.3 billion was outstanding.

Why the difference in figures between the committee and the lobby? This is because data from the small and medium-scale millers is not available to the CMA, Stephen Ogallo, the operations manager of the millers’ association, told Africa Check. 

Contacted on 16 March to find out if the figures had changed, the association told Africa Check that two more companies that had participated in the subsidy programme had joined the lobby in the last four months.

“The CMA members were only paid KSh1.9 billion, part of the initial KSh4 billion,” Ogallo said. “The CMA can only support the KSh2.5 billion balance owed to its members.”

‘Awkward situation’ says agriculture minister

The amount will rise when interest is included, Ogallo added. 

The CMA represents the country’s largest millers. The lobby told Africa Check that while it had about 50 “millers and traders” in its ranks, only 29 took part in the subsidy programme. 

Smaller millers are represented by the United Grain Millers Association. UGMA chair Kennedy Nyaga told Africa Check that there was a “difference” between what the government paid and what the millers received.

He however would not say how many members of his association were paid, how much and what the outstanding amount due to the UGMA was. 

According to parliament they are owed about KSh400 million. The agriculture committee is now investigating claims that the two groups of millers were given different terms under the same subsidy, a situation agriculture minister Mithika Linturi described as “awkward”.

The deputy president’s claim of outstanding dues is largely supported by the evidence, although only the outcome of the investigation will determine if this money was stolen. – Dancan Bwire


“Maize is not available anywhere in the world.”



In December 2022, Kenya exempted importers from duty on 900,000 tonnes of maize and 600,000 tonnes of rice in a bid to curb rising prices

This exemption would be in place for six months, from 1 February to 6 August 2023.  

However, consumer prices have remained high. When asked about this, Gachagua claimed there was a global shortage of maize and that importers were competing with other governments for the grain. 

“The maize is not available anywhere in the world,” he said. Kenya's agriculture minister had been to Zambia, one of the countries from which Kenya imports maize, but “there was no maize available”, he said.

Kenya imports maize from Uganda and Tanzania, and has previously bought from Zambia, Mexico and South Africa.

“The only maize available is in South Africa, and we are in competition with Angola and Rwanda for the same maize,” said Gachagua. The landing cost for maize in Brazil is “too high”, he added. 

But is there a global shortage of maize, or even of cheaper maize?

‘In another … month, we will have flooded this country with maize’ – minister 

“There are decent supplies of grain in the world market,” said Wandile Sihlobo, chief economist at the Agricultural Business Chamber of South Africa, an agribusiness thinktank and lobby.

Sihlobo has studied the grain market in Kenya and has also written on global grain production. He lectures in the department of agricultural economics at Stellenbosch University in South Africa and is a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand’s school of governance, in Johannesburg, South Africa. 

He directed Africa Check to his February 2023 article which referenced data from the US department of agriculture. The data is contained in the monthly global report showing agricultural supplies and demand. 

At the end of February, world stocks of maize stood at 295.3 million tonnes. By the beginning of March, this figure had risen to 305.7 million tonnes, with the majority of these in China.

The data shows major maize-exporting countries, including Brazil, Russia, South Africa and Ukraine, all had maize stocks of at least 13 million tonnes in February and March. 

The International Grains Council, the intergovernmental organisation for cereals, also published data in March showing that at the end of 2022, major importers, including the US and Canada, had 49 million tonnes of stocks in 2021/22. The council expects this to rise to 50 million tonnes.

On 16 March 2023, four days after Gachagua spoke, agriculture minister  Mithika Linturi said importers were expected to deliver grain. “In another one month we will have flooded this country with maize,” he said. 

What’s the cost of maize?

In Kenya, the average maize price was KSh6,000 ($46.55) for a 90-kilogram bag in February 2023. For a tonne, that works out to $517.19. (Note: US$1 exchanged at KSh128.9 on 10 March 2023, the week before Gachagua spoke.)

“Globally, the average maize price is about $281 per tonne,” said Sihlobo, citing data from the International Grains Council. 

A March bulletin from the US department of agriculture shows that world maize prices have dropped due to a “weak global demand”.

Therefore there are maize stocks on the international market. Kenyan media have reported that the delays in importing maize are due to pricing disputes, with the government seeking lower prices. 

Gachagua’s claim of a world shortage is unsupported by the evidence. Grace Gichuhi


“We have employed 35,000 teachers, so that we can start bridging the gap.”



To address Kenya's teacher shortage, the deputy president said the country had employed 35,000 teachers. 

Gachagua said his party's manifesto included a plan to recruit 116,000 new teachers in two financial years.

The Teachers Service Commission is the country's largest public service employer.  In December 2022, it advertised 35,550 teaching posts. The deadline for applications was 16 December.

When contacted, the country’s education ministry asked Africa Check to verify the status of the recruitment with the commission, in particular whether it had been completed and whether the teachers had been placed in schools.

The commission asked Africa Check to write a formal letter. We have done so. While we wait for a response, we rate the claim as unproven. – Tess Wandia

Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.