A tale of twists and turns in Kenyatta’s claims about improving Kenya’s roads

Comments 1

Claims

Three claims about paved roads built in Kenya

Source: Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta (Madaraka Day speech, 1 June 2020)

checked

Verdict

One correct, one incorrect, one unproven

  • The president is accurate about the length of tarmacked road that the country had at independence.
  • But his figures as to what his three predecessors built are inaccurate.
  • Establishing how much new tarmacked roads his administration has built since he took office in 2013 is, however, an uphill task.


With two years left in his second and final term in office, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta is keen on securing his legacy. 

On 1 June 2020 he gave a speech highlighting his achievements. The event was Madaraka Day, marking 57 years of Kenyan self-rule. 

Top of his list was infrastructure, which he described as the “backbone and enabler of any economy”.

Kenyatta, who took office in 2013, promised to extend Kenya’s paved roads from 11,000 kilometres to 24,000 kilometres in his first five years as president. 

But seeking re-election in 2017, he acknowledged that his administration had built only 1,950 kilometres of road, with another promise that a further 7,000 kilometres still under construction would be completed. 

Paved road can mean tarmac or bitumen road. What is the progress so far? We examined three claims about the construction of roads in Kenyatta’s official speech.

Access to information?

Africa Check first asked Kanze Dena-Mararo, Kenyatta’s spokesperson, for evidence of the three claims. She directed us to the ministry in charge of roads.

A publicist then contacted Africa Check saying he had been instructed to help us get the information. We emailed our specific data requests.

We also reached out to James Macharia, the cabinet secretary in charge of infrastructure, and to the Kenya Roads Board, the state agency that manages the road network. 

None of these government representatives have responded. We will update this report when they do. (Note: Africa Check has been trying to get this data since 2017. In 2018 we filed an access to information request and followed it up with meetings at the ministry. So far, this has not yielded much fruit.)

Claim

‘At independence, we had only 1,800 kilometres of tarmacked roads.’

Verdict

correct

Kenya became independent from British colonial rule on 12 December 1963. Africa Check scoured the archives of the national statistics bureau for data on the length of paved roads at independence.

The bureau’s economic survey for 1983 notes a growth in the road network “from 1,800 kilometres of paved roads at the time of independence”.

A 1968 World Bank document published in response to Kenya’s request for a loan to build a highway gives historical data from 1957 to 1966, citing a 1966 statistical abstract as its source. 

The document says Kenya had 1,112 miles of paved road at independence in 1963. We could not find the 1966 statistical abstract, but according to the 1967 edition, Kenya’s data agency recorded 1,112 miles of paved road in 1963.  

This works out to 1,789.2 kilometres. Kenyatta said there were 1,800 kilometres of paved road at independence, so his claim is correct.

Claim

‘After independence, our Founding Fathers built an extra 11,200 kilometres of tarmacked roads. This was done in a period of 50 years by President Jomo Kenyatta, President Moi and President Kibaki, at an average of 224 kilometres per year.’

Verdict

incorrect

Jomo Kenyatta was Kenya’s first president, ruling from 1963 until his death, 15 years later, in August 1978. Uhuru Kenyatta is his son. 

In 1978 the national statistics office recorded that Kenya had 4,330 kilometres of paved road. The first Kenyatta presidency increased the paved road network by 2,541 kilometres in 15 years, an average of about 170 kilometres a year.

Daniel arap Moi, Kenya’s second president, was in office from 1978 to December 2002. In 2002, the country had 8,937 kilometres of paved road. Another 4,607 kilometres had been built during Moi’s 24-year rule, an average of 192 kilometres a year. 

Pre-independence road network included

Mwai Kibaki was the third president, in office from 2003 to April 2013. During his term the country’s paved road network increased from 8,937 kilometres to 11,230 kilometres. This was an extra 2,293 kilometres, or 229 kilometres built each year.

New paved roads built between 1963 and 2013
President Period Kilometres built Total kilometres of paved road at end of term
Jomo Kenyatta 1963-1978  2,541 4,330
Daniel Toroitich arap Moi 1978-2002 4,607 8,937
Mwai Kibaki 2003-2013  2,293 11,230
Total   9,441 11,230

-Source: KNBS Statistical Abstracts 1962-2019

Uhuru Kenyatta used the 11,230 kilometres as the baseline in his 2013 election manifesto promise. But that figure includes paved roads built before independence.

From 1963 to 2013, in the 50 years of Kenya’s first three presidents, the country’s paved road network was increased by 9,441 kilometres – not by the “extra 11,200 kilometres” Uhuru Kenyatta claimed.

We therefore rate the claim as incorrect. 

Claim

‘My administration has built 1,000 kilometres of tarmacked roads every year.’

Verdict

unproven

Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2017 election manifesto says his administration built 1,950 kilometres of paved road from 2013 to 2017. That’s an average of 390 kilometres a year, not 1,000 kilometres.

But even that figure is difficult to ascertain. In February 2017, infrastructure minister James Macharia tweeted: “In 4yrs, President @Ukenyatta has ensured we have achieved 9000Km of 10000Km of road network promised to Kenyans.” A month later, he said on national television that it was, vaguely, “more than 2,500 kilometres”.  

In 2015 the national treasury recorded that only 366 kilometres of paved road had been built in 2013/14, the first financial year of Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency. A year later, the treasury reduced this to 260 kilometres built that year. 

‘Embarked on completion’

In January 2018, the treasury said 1,659 kilometres of paved road had been built in 2014/15 and 2016/17, the next two financial years of Kenyatta’s presidency. A month later, Macharia tweeted that the government had “embarked on completion of the 10,000Km road projects across the country”.

The treasury’s January 2020 annual policy statement, its most recent, reports that 3,939 kilometres of new road has been built since 2016/17 – 725 kilometres in 2016/17, 1,200 kilometres in 2017/18 and 2,014 kilometres in 2018/19.  

[TABLE]

Treasury reports on new road built between 2013/14-2018/19
Financial year Kilometres of road built Cost (KSh billion)
2013/14 366 31.6
2014/15 471 (494*) 42.3 (48)
2015/16 463 33..2
2016/17 725 58.2
2017/18 1,200 52
2018/19 2,014 54.2

*The October 2015 report shows 494 kilometres in 2014/15, but the January 2018 report shows 471 kilometres

More road, less money

Interestingly, as the length of paved road increased in those three years, the money spent on building it dropped from KSh58.2 billion in 2016/17 to KSh52 billion in 2017/18, before rising to KSh54.2 billion in 2018/19.

This indicates that 2,014 kilometres of road was built in 2018/19 at a lower cost than building 725 kilometres in 2016/17, three years earlier and despite inflation. We have asked the minister for comment.

In a further twist, the statistics office’s most recent economic survey shows that from 2015 to 2019, the paved road network increased from 13,033 kilometres to 21,295 kilometres – a jump of 8,261 kilometres in just three years. 

The source of the survey’s data is given as the Kenya Roads Board. We have asked the agency to explain the difference, and will update this report when they respond.  

So far, we have found no coherent data to back up the president’s claim that he has built 1,000 kilometres of road a year. By his administration’s admission in 2017, the data shows an average of 390 kilometres each year of his first term.

In previous research, we found out that data on roads built during Uhuru Kenyatta’s presidency was problematic.

Until we can get logical data to verify the claim, we rate it as unproven.

Further reading:

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