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Chinese money accounts for 19% of Kenya’s external debt, not 67% as Voice of America reported

In January 2022 China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, visited Kenya, where he held talks with Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta in the coastal city of Mombasa. On the same day, Wang also met Kenya’s foreign minister, Raychelle Omamo.

A day later, on 7 January, Africa Check’s artificial intelligence (AI) tools picked up a claim in a news report about the visit published in the Kenya Star, a news website owned by an Australian online news network.

Part of the claim read: “Chinese money accounts for 67% of Kenya's external debt.” .

The Kenya Star cited Voice of America (VOA), the US government’s international broadcaster, as the source of the story. We found the same article published on the VOA website.

A Twitter user also alerted Africa Check to a similar claim posted by former majority leader in Kenya’s national assembly, Aden Duale. He tweeted: “China owns around 72% of Kenya's external debt which stands at $50 billion.” 

He was responding to a news story where Wang was quoted saying his country “was not trapping Africa in debt”.

Africa Check has previously checked similar claims, including one about the portion of external debt that Kenya owes China. In 2018, we found that China owned 21.3% of Kenya’s external debt and 72% of the bilateral debt, or debt loaned by one state to another state.

Have these numbers changed in 2022 as reported by Voice of America? We checked.

Voice of America recycled sources

A VOA publicist told Africa Check the source was the public debt status report that the Kenyan central bank governor presented in the country’s senate on 15 September 2021.

The publicist also sent us two links. The first was to an article published by the Kenyan daily Daily Nation with the headline “China claims 70% of Kenya's Debt, Says CBK”. 

The second link was to an article published by Capital FM, a Kenyan radio station, with the headline “67% of Kenya’s bilateral debt owed to China up from 13% in 2011”.

We have yet to hear back from Duale and will update this report when we do.

External debt vs bilateral debt

External debt is the total public and private debt that a country owes foreign creditors, experts have previously told Africa Check. It covers bilateral debt, multilateral debt and commercial debt.

Multilateral debt is owed to international financial institutions such as the African Development Bank, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Commercial debt is owed to commercial enterprises or banks.

John Kinuthia, a senior programme officer with the Kenya office of the International Budget Partnership, a global budget transparency organisation, told Africa Check that the best source for this data was the national treasury.

He directed us to the most recent quarterly economic and budgetary review, published in November 2021. Covering July to September 2021, it showed the total external debt was KSh4.06 trillion or US$36.7 billion and bilateral debt was KSh1.15 trillion or US$10.4 billion.

China’s portion of external debt is 18.9% – not 67%

Kenya owes China US$6.92 billion. As a percentage of the African country’s total bilateral debt it works out to 66.5%but as a portion of external debt it is 18.9%.

“China's debt is 67% of the first category of external debt which is bilateral or government-to-government debt. However, it’s only 19% of the total external debt,” Kinuthia said. 

China is the leading bilateral creditor, followed by Japan at 14.1%, France at 8%, Italy at 3.5% and Germany at 3.2%.

The largest source of Kenya’s external debt is the World Bank, through the International Development Association, an organ of the bank that deals with the world’s poorest countries, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The World Bank is owed 27.6% of all of Kenya’s external debt and 65.9% of the multilateral debt.

The most recent publicly available data shows that Kenya owes China 67% of its bilateral debt and 19% of the total external debt. News organisations claiming otherwise are incorrect.

Further Reading

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