Fact-checked: 5 claims by Kenyan President Kenyatta in national day speech

Claims

Five claims about the history of Mombasa, funding to coastal counties, cargo volumes at the port of Mombasa and Kenya’s life expectancy.

Source: President Uhuru Kenyatta (October 2019)

checked

Verdict

One correct, one mostly correct and three incorrect

  • During Kenyan national day celebrations in Mombasa on 20 October 2019, President Uhuru Kenyatta listed some of his government’s achievements.
  • But evidence suggests cargo passing through the port hasn’t doubled since 2013. Coastal counties however have received nearly KSh190 billion from national treasury. 
  • Kenyan life expectancy wasn’t as low as 35 years at independence in 1963, as Kenyatta suggested, but he is right it is now in the high 60s.


Kenya’s coastal city of Mombasa hosted Mashujaa Day celebrations for the first time in 2019. One of three annual national days in Kenya and celebrated on 20 October, this day honours the heroes (or mashujaa in Kiswahili) in the fight for independence from British colonial power.

Speaking at the October 2019 fete, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta listed some of his administration’s achievements. These, he said, showed commitment to “the letter and spirit of devolution” – the country’s decentralised system of government.

We fact-checked some of the president’s claims. We have contacted the president’s spokesperson for the evidence for the claims and will update this report once we receive a response.

Claim

Mombasa is Kenya’s oldest town.

Verdict

incorrect

It was now Mombasa’s “opportunity to showcase itself on the national stage”, Kenyatta said, noting that other counties had hosted national days.

“It is therefore my great pleasure to lead the nation in celebrating the 10th Mashujaa Day from Kenya’s oldest town,” the president said.

But is history-laden Mombasa Kenya’s oldest town? 

Kenya in 2001 claimed Lamu was oldest Swahili settlement

In Kenya’s 2001 application to have Lamu Old Town placed on Unesco’s World Heritage List, the town was described as the “oldest and best-preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa”. 

The Old Town conservation area is located on the north-eastern side of Lamu, an island 340 kilometers north-east of Mombasa. The Lamu archipelago is made up of Lamu, Manda, Pate and Kiwayu islands.

In the successful application to the UN, Kenya estimated that Lamu town dates back to at least the 12th century, and the Old Town to be older than this. 

“In the East African coast, Lamu is among the region’s most ancient Swahili settlements, some of which date to as far back as the 8th Century AD. Manda town ruins for instance, a short distance away from Lamu has been dated by archaeologists to be a 9th Century town,” the application said.

Archaeologists say evidence doesn’t back Mombasa claim

Unesco told Africa Check it did not have further information on the age of towns in East Africa. George Papagiannis, Unesco’s chief of media services, advised us to contact local historians.

Dr George Abungu is an archaeologist and former director of the National Museums of Kenya. He confirmed that “the oldest towns and depending on what you mean by town, were located on the Lamu archipelago”. 

“Mombasa, from the archaeological evidence we have up to now, is not the oldest town in Kenya,” Abungu told Africa Check. He co-authored the positively reviewed book, Lamu: Kenya’s Enchanted Island .

He listed Shanga, Pate, and Manda islands as among the oldest towns in the Lamu archipelago. Abungu referred us another archaeologist,  Prof Chapurukha Kusimba, at the American University in Washington DC.

Manda settlement dates as far back as 600 CE, Mombasa to early 1000s

Kusimba shared preliminary work that declares Manda as “Kenya’s first urban settlement”. 

Kusimba also co-authored a chapter in the 2017 book, The Swahili World, in which the history of many towns on the East African coast is discussed. 

Kusimba wrote: “The ancient polity of Manda was one of more than a dozen settlements that emerged in the Lamu Archipelago during the period c. 600 to 1500 CE.”. (Note: CE refers to Common Era, an alternative date convention to AD.]

In another chapter in the same book, Herman Kiriama notes that the exact “date of [Mombasa] island’s first settlement is unclear”.

We visited the National Museums of Kenya in Nairobi where we found a little book published in 1985 titled The Old Town Mombasa: A Historical Guide. It says that the “first mention” of Mombasa “by name” was in 1154 by the Arab geographer Al Idrisi, “but there are references to trading towns on the coast of East Africa dating back to the second century AD”.

On the basis of the available evidence we therefore rate Kenyatta’s claim that Mombasa is Kenya’s oldest city as incorrect.

Claim

Over the last six years, the counties of Kilifi, Kwale, Lamu, Mombasa, Taita Taveta and Tana River, have cumulatively received close to KSh190 billion from the national treasury.

Verdict

correct

Kenya’s system of devolution rolled out in 2013, when the country’s 47 counties opened their doors. Every financial year, the national treasury distributes money to the counties as stipulated by law, but the amount is often a source of friction between the national government and the counties.

An August 2019 national treasury report showed the six counties have received KSh190 billion.

Cumulative payments to 6 counties between 2013/14 and 2018/19 (KSh billions)
County 2013/14 2014/15 2015/16 2016/17 2017/18 2018/19 Total
Mombasa 4.29 4.81 5.86 6.46 8.97 9.35 39.74
Lamu 1.51 1.8 2.17 2.51 2.76 4.04 14.79
Kwale 3.79 4.53 5.41 5.99 7.78 8.25 35.75
Kilifi 5.51 6.57 7.84 8.56 10.65 12.07 51.2
Taita Taveta 2.44 2.92 3.49 3.84 4.26 4.59 21.54
Tana River 2.92 3.5 4.14 4.63 5.71 6.02 26.92
Total 20.46 24.13 28.91 31.99 40.13 44.32 189.94

SOURCE: National Treasury, 2019

Claim

“Under this administration … at Kilindini we have more than doubled the volume of cleared cargo passing [through] the port annually.”

Verdict

incorrect

Kilindini harbour is the main part of the port of Mombasa, the largest in East Africa and the country’s main seaway.

President Kenyatta attributed the increase in cargo passing through Kilindini to investments made in ports and harbours by his administration.

Data on how much cargo goes through the port of Mombasa is available from the research unit of the Kenya Ports Authority, according to Dr Paul Gachanja, the dean of the school of economics at Kenya’s Kenyatta University. Among his research interests are maritime economics, including studying efficiency at the port.

We requested these figures from the ports authority but are still waiting for the data. 

Kenyatta was sworn into office in April 2013. The port agency’s annual 2014/15 report shows that in the 2013/14 financial year, which started in July 2013, some 25 million deadweight tonnage (DWT) passed through the port. This is a widely used measure of a ship’s carrying capacity.

The port manager’s most recent publicly available report shows that in 2016/17, this had climbed to 28.2 million DWT, an increase of 12%. A ship’s carrying capacity is sometimes measured in twenty-foot equivalent units, and these increased from 894,000 in 2013 to 1.3 million in 2018, or by 45%.

Statistics bureau data shows 41% increase, not over 100%  

Annual data from the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics shows that in 2012, before Kenyatta’s government took over, the port handled 21.9 million deadweight tonnage. The national statistics office most recent data shows cargo volume was 30.9 million DWT in 2018, a 41% rise.

None of the publicly available data shows cargo volumes more than doubling – or over a 100% increase. We therefore rate the claim as incorrect.

Claim

Our life expectancy [has increased] from 35 years at independence …

Verdict

incorrect

Kenyatta said the country’s health workers had boosted life expectancy in Kenya: “These professionals … have been responsible for, among other milestones, increasing our life expectancy from the 35 years at independence to 67 years currently.”

According to the World Bank, Kenya’s life expectancy when the country became independent from Britain in 1963 was 48.7 years

(Note: The 2014 Kenya demographic and health survey dates back only to 1969, when life expectancy was 50 years.

Prof Charles Shey Wiysonge of Cochrane South Africa, a research unit of the South African Medical Research Council, has written extensively about life expectancy. He was  a collaborator on a study of global mortality and life expectancy covering 1950 to 2017. (Disclaimer: This study was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which also supports Africa Check’s work.

People in sub-Saharan Africa live longer than they did two decades ago but they are also living more years in poor health, Wiysonge wrote in 2018.

He shared life expectancy estimates for Kenya from 1950 to 2017 with Africa Check. In 1963, life expectancy was 54.4 years – or 53.2 years for males and 55.8 years for females. The data was from the 2017 Global Burden of Disease study. 

We haven’t found any reliable public data that shows that life expectancy in Kenya in 1963 was as low as 35 years. We therefore rate this claim as incorrect.

Claim

Our life expectancy [has increased] … to 67 years currently.

Verdict

mostly-correct

Life expectancy estimates up to 2019 from the Global Burden of Disease study will be finalised “soon”, Prof Charles Shey Wiysonge of Cochrane South Africa told Africa Check. 

World Bank data shows that life expectancy in Kenya in 2017 was at 65.9 years. The most recent publicly available data from the United Nations Population Fund puts Kenya’s life expectancy in 2019 at 68 years.

World Health Organization data also indicates that in 2016 the life expectancy for men in Kenya was 64 years and 69 years for women. President Kenyatta’s claim of 67 years was close to the mark. 

Further reading:

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