Yes, ‘over’ half of Kenya’s debt owed to external lenders, with China lending nearly 70% of bilateral debt

In a talk show focusing on Kenya’s debt levels, television station KTN News highlighted China’s lending to the country.

Kenya is part of a push by African countries to negotiate loan waivers after their economies were hit by the Covid-19 pandemic

 “The concern quite rightly is that over half [of Kenya’s] debt is owed externally,” said talk show Point Blank in April 2020. 

“China, in particular, is Kenya’s largest creditor, holding more than 70% of the country’s bilateral debt.”

Is this accurate?

External debt exceeds domestic

Africa Check contacted Point Blank for the source of its figures. A producer promised to respond but was yet to do so. We’ll update this article when we receive a  response.

The most recent quarterly report from Kenya’s national treasury gives the country’s total public debt as KSh6.05 trillion on 31 December 2019, as does the country’s central bank (Note: An official strategy paper on public debt puts the amount owed at KSh6.01 trillion for the same period.)

The debt was composed of KSh3.1 trillion in external debt – or 51.3% – and KSh2.9 trillion in domestic debt

The talk show was correct that “over half” of Kenya’s debt is owed externally. 

What of bilateral debt?

Economists have previously told Africa Check that bilateral debt generally refers to debt loaned by one state to another state.

The debt report from Kenya’s treasury lists the country’s major bilateral creditors.

The largest is China, which has lent Kenya US$6.84 billion. This is 68% of the total and more than twice the combined bilateral debt from other countries, who include Japan, the US, the UK, Germany and France.

The talk show would be broadly accurate if by “owed externally” it was referring only to bilateral debt. But “external debt” also refers to multilateral debt and commercial debt, in addition to bilateral debt.

China holds 22.3% of Kenya’s total external debt

Multilateral debt is debt 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.

Privately held international debt, like Eurobonds, would also be categorised as “external debt”. From the data, Kenya’s total external debt on 31 December 2019 was:

  • Multilateral debt of $10.24 billion (KSh1.04 trillion*)
  • Commercial debt of $10.25 billion (KSh1.03 trillion)
  • Bilateral debt of $10.1 billion (KSh1.02 trillion)
  • Guaranteed debt (debt the government would pay for other parties if they defaulted): $165 million (KSh16.7 billion) 

*(Note: The exchange rate at end December 2019 was KSh101.34 to $1.)

So China accounts for 68% of Kenya’s bilateral debt, but 22.3% of the debt that Kenya owes “externally”. –Vincent Ng’ethe

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